Benson Odom has come to Atlantic City every year since the Miss America pageant returned in 2013.
“Hearing the pipe organ play before the show each night gives me goosebumps,” the 31-year-old volunteer and South Carolina local-pageant director said. “It is one of the most exhilarating experiences attending Miss America in Boardwalk Hall.”
But Miss America’s return to its home venue may be short-lived. According to a request-for-proposal document, the Miss America Organization is searching for a host city for the scholarship competition.
Fans of the annual event are hoping Miss America will continue on, maybe in Atlantic City, to meet a milestone year.
“It would be lovely if Miss America could continue in Atlantic City till at least its 100th anniversary,” Atlantic City historian and author Vicki Gold Levi said Wednesday.
Levi, whose Miss America history started at 5 years old, when she was a page for Miss America 1947 Bess Myerson, and culminated 50 years later when she was a judge in the 1997 pageant, has said Miss America’s identity is synonymous with the seaside resort.
Since 1940, the annual pageant has been held at Boardwalk Hall — at least during the years it was in Atlantic City. The MAO previously moved the pageant in 2005, citing financial issues under then-CEO Art McMaster and claiming too high a price for the historic venue. The pageant was held in Las Vegas for eight years before the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, under the request of then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, subsidized the pageant’s costs for a return to Atlantic City.
Miss New Jersey 2018 Jaime Gialloreto said one of the things she most looked forward to competing in Miss America was being at Boardwalk Hall.
“I want the next class of state titleholders to be able to experience the magic of competing in Boardwalk Hall and riding in the iconic Show Me Your Shoes Parade,” Gialloreto said.
However, Gialloreto understands the MAO’s current financial issues may scale back the production.
“I want the longevity of the pageant, and if the funds aren’t there to keep it at Boardwalk Hall next year, then that’s something to consider,” she said.
“It saddens me,” said Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles. “It would be really a shame if it left Atlantic City. It goes to show, with the new leadership, they don’t know how to preserve a 100-year tradition.”
Charles said the Miss America volunteers, along with several former Miss Americas, remain divided on how the current leadership is running the organization. The Miss America Competition continued a trend of low TV ratings this year, as its leadership stood accused of bullying Miss America 2018 Cara Mund.
Following the 2019 Miss America Competition in September, after a $12 million contract with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority expired, the MAO submitted a request for proposal to the CRDA for a new contract, according to documents obtained by The Press through an Open Public Records Act request.
The RFP was an outline of the two weeks before and after Labor Day 2019 and 2020, when the pageant would be in the host city. An email between an MAO representative and the CRDA said Miss America CEO Regina Hopper mentioned the possibility of using other venues in Atlantic City besides Boardwalk Hall.
“It is a long tradition associated with the city, and if another venue in town could successfully take it on, that would represent a win-win for all,” Levi said.
Ocean Resort Casino owner Bruce Deifik said he had spoken to MAO Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson on Tuesday but has not received any official proposals for hosting. Atlantic City’s other casinos declined to say whether they had been approached by MAO.
Requirements listed in the RFP ask a lot of the potential host city: 4,289 room stays over the two-week period for more than 680 staff members, production staff, titleholders, security, pageant judges and friends and family, including a presidential suite for Carlson, a venue with no fewer than 3,000 seats, and a week’s worth of available meeting spaces for orientations and receptions.
The host city is also expected to provide a financial subsidy between $2.5 million and $4.9 million for the pageant’s production costs and an additional contribution of $325,000 for other expenses.
The CRDA said Tuesday the board has not discussed any proposals to fund Miss America, and city officials have previously said the pageant’s price tag was more than the city should spend.
Many of the traditions Miss America fans loved went away when the pageant moved from Atlantic City in 2005 — including the crowning date, the parade and the full-length runway stage.
“I am one of those fans that just feels like Miss America is at home in A.C.,” said Odom, “so it’s difficult for me to imagine Miss America anywhere but A.C. for her 99th and 100th anniversaries, or beyond.”