Earlier this month, the Miss America Organization announced sweeping changes for the 2019 competition, including the elimination of the swimsuit portion of the event. Chair of the org’s board, Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America and Fox News contributor who sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment in 2016, discussed the new-look event at Cannes Lions today while also addressing naysayers and speaking about the #MeToo movement.
Carlson said she “never thought” she would be in the position she is now, after having resigned from the MAO board five years ago, but felt taking on the role of chair was “a call to duty.” Re-branding Miss America does present its challenges, however. Carlson said, “We never really messaged correctly” the talent and scholarship aspects.
Carlson said the decision to no longer judge candidates on physical appearance was unanimous. But some public reaction surprised her. She called it “disingenuous” and “sexist.”
People say, “nobody will watch because there’s no swimsuit competition… What that says is if we put in place an interactive section with the judges where you get to know the candidates, somehow that’s not worth watching. Somehow finding out about the substance of a woman isn’t entertaining. I find that highly sexist.”
Leslie Sims, COO of Miss America partner Y&R, chimed in, “The women who come out of the organization are high performers who are top of class and also happen to be beautiful. People want to confuse it with that other brand which is not about substance at all.” She was referring to Miss USA, the pageant formerly owned by Donald Trump.
Given the calendar, some of the women who will be competing for the Miss America title this year are coming in from state contests which still include bathing suits. Carlson said the hope is to get everyone “up to speed” after this September.
The org is also “still an advocate of a healthy lifestyle,” but Carlson noted there has been a “disconnect with regard to a woman who is smart, talented, educated, self-confident — and by the way she’s physically attractive as well, there must be something wrong with her. We want to celebrate somebody and their beauty from inside and out, we shouldn’t be ashamed to celebrate that.”
Speaking about the era of #MeToo and taking on Ailes, Carlson said, “My life has always worked in mysterious ways. It’s not like you wake up and say, ‘Boy, I hope I’m going to be the face of sexual harassment in the workplace.’ I jumped off a cliff taking on one of the most powerful men in the world.”
Since then, “every day has been unpredictable. I had no way of knowing what was going to happen to me. I thought I was going to sit at home and cry my eyes out because I’d been fired… Then I heard from so many women” and realized, “this is a freaking pervasive epidemic and that is pathetic.”
She talked about seeing Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs, calling it “a reckoning” for “all the women out there who were never believed… We could have never dreamed that would have happened.”
Global Road Entertainment this week joined the MAO and Tall Pony Productions as a producer of The 2019 Miss America Competition. Global Road’s head of Unscripted & Alternative Television Phil Gurin will executive produce. The show airs live on ABC on September 9.
Carlson contended, “I think people are going to be interested in what the telecast is this year.” She later added, “We have to nail it. We have one shot to make an amazing impression.”