Full disclosure: I'm writing this blog having purchased much of my MAO wardrobe from Ms. Robin when she owned La Casa Hermosa, I work closely with JC Productions at the USA Ambassador national pageant, am a former MAO state contestant who earned scholarships, and I am a sponsor of a state program.
The Miss America pageant was held on January 14, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. It is now headed by Robin Fleming and identifies itself as the "Miss America Opportunity". It also now references five points of the crown, including scholarship, style, success, service, and sisterhood. Here's a quick review of the evening's show:
- Hosts: while some complained about their ad-libbing or extra content (which yes, I can agree with), you could not beat that they seemed like they actually wanted to be there, understood the program, and understood the job for the evening(s) (or didn't say something that ended up sounding condensing, sexist, or racist, etc). There's something to say about hosts that can energize an entire room to dance or cheer on command. It's called commanding the room and commanding the attention of the audience. If your audience leaves feeling tired, bored, or ready for bed, your hosts did not do their job right. And let me say that I often complain about non-pageant people as hosts and I did not have much to complain about with these two. Kudos!
- Staging: If the stage or production looks boring, cheap, flat, or ugly...you likely choose to not participate because it doesn't look "quality" or of the "caliber" you want. Well, at least that's me. I'm not investing money and time into a rinky dink pageant that claims to be #1...and let's be honest, that's why productions like National American Miss command the attention that they do. Staging matters. Production matters. The "showmanship" matters! This year, we had the lights, the music, the risers...kudos again here.
- Featuring the titleholder: While I think Grace could have come to chat during that weird down time in the middle of the talents, I'm happy to see that she was introduced right after opening number and was given ample time to have her final walk/moments. I could have used a few more snippets of her year as filler/commercial etc though. I also heard (total hearsay) that her instrument got wet at her last appearance so she could not give a final talent performance like Morgan did...otherwise, yes, I would have enjoyed a final talent feature from her.
- Glam/Magic/Energy: The contestants understood the assignment when it came to wardrobe and styling. The music choices were energetic and made you want to move! The energy overall was what we needed to show that Miss America is alive, moving forward, relevant, and thriving.
- Commercial-less production: While I did miss my snack break, I have to give kudos here in that the production (generally) just kept rolling. Without any commercial breaks, it was definitely a hustle for the contestants, but a 2.5ish hour show is not bad at all.
- The Expo is back: when I visited Miss America (many moons ago), the expo was one of the highlights of the experience. It featured so many sponsors and vendors - it was always an enjoyable experience. I'm glad that others get to witness this tradition as well.
- The schedule was posted: Ok, this feels so minor to some, but every time I went to Miss America, I never knew when events were or where they were happening. This year's team created a full experience with the expo, fashion show, breakfast, and more. Is there room for growth? Yes. Was this awesome for a first time? Yes. Only up from here!
- Surprising the contestants: Ok, hear me out first. Any titleholder should be prepared to speak off the cuff with the public on any of those topics, so they should have all been prepared to speak in a traditional "question" format AND a "public speaking" format. However, I'm sure it was incredibly anxiety inducing for the contestants in that moment...then announcing they had not rehearsed it...then making them play musical chairs on stage? Meh. Also, the "production person" in me panicked when they got out of order - panicked because I didn't know if the judges would know who was who. Then they were asked questions in contestant order anyway? Meh. Some details here felt unnecessary.
- Diversity of the judging panel: Yes, there was diversity in job, age, and experience, but I love to see diversity in backgrounds/heritages/races too. For a number of years, there was a rule (perhaps unwritten??) that the judges panel should demonstrate diversity. Personally, it's really cool (and quite empowering) to see someone of your own background in that position. Just food for thought that if you require it of your franchisees, that you do the same. And if you don't, perhaps you should.
- That weird intermission: Again, I understand that it could have been a number of things...for example, maybe those tap mics were not on and production needed a minute. But to say "we'll be right back" was weird and made people think it was an actual intermission and so they actually got up. Ok, so maybe it was a hosting mishap and they just shouldn't have said that. But then Terrence J. coming on and calling people back. Awkward. Again, I was a fan of the hosting, so maybe that was just an awkward moment.
- The robe: Ok, I get the want to throwback to tradition, but it's always so weird...the contestant is freaking out, is likely sweaty, and you're throwing a robe on her. That's like the fur coat the winner used to win at Miss Maryland - it's great. Great idea. Cool. But she's likely sweaty and sticky. Maybe a cool, formal robing ceremony on Facebook live or something? Just food for thought.
- More videos: Contestants are there for a week. Instead of awkward pauses or down time, throw up a video showing the experience...or them coming out of interview...or something. Show future contestants what the experience is like. Or what about self-produced commercials...like 'where to go to register for your local pageant' OR 'check out how much we love these sponsors' OR 'scholarships paid by the program' OR 'it all starts at a local' etc etc.
- Asking the 'Forever Miss America's" to come backstage: ok, this felt like a local, basic production here. If you know formers are coming, tell them ahead of time when to come back (i.e "after talent, head back stage for the Forevers segment"). They should automatically report backstage. Send an email or make a phone call or something - just felt basic to me.
- The theatre was...small: It does sound super cool to say they sold out. Yes! But there were so many people who wanted to be in attendance that it almost felt like (scholarship) dollars were missed out on. Hearsay says that MAO will be back in the same theatre for a few years, but I hope they definitely think about something bigger as they continue to make their comeback...because I want to come back and watch, but couldn't get a ticket!
These points for improvement by no means outweigh the energy of the final shows, the magic of having the expo back, and the (exhausting) countless amount of hours that Ms. Robin and her team putting into bringing the magic back to Miss America. To those who complain that it 'was not the Miss America' that they know and love, you're right. It's bigger. It's better. It's improving. If we want the program to survive and thrive, we have to move forward and the boring basic days of flat productions, boring music, and energy-less shows are OUT. While I still love a good 'ol swimsuit (and still pray for it's eventual return), I can enjoy saying: welcome back Miss America - I missed you!