Since being elected chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, former Miss America Gretchen Carlson has led the charge to change the way people look at the nearly 100-year-old Atlantic City event.

Months of closed-door meetings led to last week's announcement that Miss America would be eliminating the swimsuit portion of the competition.

Carlson spoke to The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday about the overall reception of the "bye-bye, bikinis" announcement and how the Miss America Organization looks to maintain a relationship with its hometown. 

Q: Last week, you made the announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America” about the changes to the competition, namely the end of the judged “lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit" category and changing the format of the evening wear category. What has been the reaction you have received?

A: Overwhelmingly, the reaction has been incredibly positive, and we’re really grateful for all the outreach that we’ve had. I’ve heard from a lot of people with varying reactions — everything from “it’s about time” to “this is a great move” and “this will be more inclusive for many more young women who maybe thought that they didn’t have a ‘perfect 10’ body.”

In the spirit of being totally transparent and honest, I’ll just also say that change is tough, and no matter what people are changing, when you’re dealing with something that’s been around for so long, you know you’re going to hear differing opinions. And we are incredibly accepting of every opinion. We live in a free world, and I’m sure some people want to see swimsuits still stay in the competition but at this point it was a unanimous board decision to move us into the 21st century of relevancy.

Q: How did the recently implemented Miss America board decide on making these changes?

A: We made this decision at our annual meeting that was held in Atlantic City during the last weekend in March. We looked at several different factors. We looked at our own opinions as former Miss Americas, former state executive directors and former state titleholders. We looked at a study that was done five or six years ago by a marketing firm which did extensive interviews with people about Miss America, and we looked at other research with a marketing firm we’ve been working with over the last six months, all of which the interviews were with stakeholders and former candidates, former winners, former volunteers.

Also, I went to the Miss America Reunion in Florida in January, where the whole mission of the reunion ended up being a bunch of whiteboards and sessions about brainstorming different ideas. Obviously, we have put together a board currently made up of stakeholders, which was very important when we started anew to have people who understand the system and have been involved in it for quite some time.

Q: The big quote from last week’s announcement was “We’re no longer a pageant, we’re a competition.” What other changes to the language of Miss America can we expect?

A: Even though on the telecast we had called it a competition for the last several years, nobody ever really paid attention to that. What we meant in re-pointing that out was that we are not a pageant, if you define that as women walking across a stage in high heels and a swimsuit, or if you define a pageant as women being judged on their physical appearance.

Q: What about those who say “competition” invokes a negative “me vs. you” environment for the 51 women?

A: First off, we’ve called ourselves a competition for three years, now you have an issue with it? And also, the most popular shows on television are competition shows, any kind of reality show with regards to music or dancing is a competition. I don’t think we’ve come to the point where we’re not going to believe in being the best you can be. And by the way, as a former winner, I will tell you that the biggest opponent for me in the competition was myself. And I was only competing with myself to do the best job I could do. In the end, in 2018, I think it’s still okay to have a “competition.”

Q: Have you been in contact with Atlantic City officials?

A: We’re going to be in Atlantic City next week, and we’ve been in touch with CRDA via email since our announcement. On "Good Morning America," I thanked Atlantic City for hosting us, and for the first time this year, we’re going to be bringing ancillary programs to Atlantic City during the competition week.

For example, I will have my Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative on Sept. 8. We come in to do workshops that empower women who don't have the resources like I may have had to bring my lawsuit against Fox, regarding sexual harassment.

We’re bringing other programs in and around Atlantic City during the competition week with the 51 candidates. Those details are still being ironed out, but I think that it will be different from years past. We really want to be more integrated into the community than just coming for two weeks, saying “thank you very much” and then leaving.

Q: I noticed in the last news release Miss America 2018 Cara Mund was mentioned as an ambassador for Atlantic City. How is Miss America looking to promote the city? 

A: We are hard at work developing a partnership where it’s a 365-day-a-year partnership and not just two weeks. Cara has been in Atlantic City many times throughout her year. She was there for the annual meeting when I was last in Atlantic City, she did her Miss America Serves Day and she’ll be back at the end of the June when the Hard Rock is opening.

This is a mission that when we started back in January, we went to CRDA and we apologized for the way the relationship may have played out before and we said we’re a new team and we’re here to form a new partnership where we’re here to give back, so that’s what we aim to do.

Contact: 609-272-7286

Twitter @ACPress_LC

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.