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This year's Miss America Pageant will be held on September 14, 2014.

The Miss America Pageant began in Atlantic City, New Jersey as a bathing beauty contest.
There have been years since it's origin, that the pageant has been held in other towns in the United States. But, Atlantic City, NJ is considered the birthplace of this pageant, which is held either in September or October for one week every year.

The idea of this bathing beauty contest was an idea by some businessmen to help boost the beachfront economy of Atlantic City. Two local reporters then suggested having a newspaper convention, in which the editors would also help increase their circulation by holding entry-level contests where their readers could send in photographs of beautiful girls in bathing suits.  Winners of these photographic contests would then compete against each other live in Atlantic City.  And, the overall winner (chosen by a panel of well-known artists) would then be crowned, "Miss America".

The very first pageant was held in 1921. The contestants wore wool bathing dresses with baggy tunic tops over leggings or bloomers.  They posed on wicker chairs and paraded along the beach with local officials. The very first Miss America winner was 16 year old, Margaret Gorman. She was chosen for her athletic good looks and potential "to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood" according to one judge.

In 1928 the Miss America Pageant was discontinued due to charges of indecency by women's organizations. They said that the bathing suits were too revealing, but there was also a little bit of a scandal with two of the contestants. One was discovered to be married. Another one was discovered to have an infant child. So the pageant remained inactive and didn't start up again until the 1930's.  At this time, Leonora Slaughter, was the pageant's director. She focused on getting more refined women ages 18 to 28, who had never been married as contestants.  Leonora Slaughter established the Miss America Pageant as we know it today and she remained in charge for more than 30 years.

During the years, the pageant has undergone many transformations as well as controversies.


The first Jewish Miss America was Bess Myerson in 1945.  The first African-American Miss America was Vanessa Williams in 1984.  Ms. Williams also became the very first Miss America to have her crown taken away from her when it was discovered that she had once posed nude for some sexually explicit photographs.  The first visibly disabled Miss America  contestant was Theresa Uchytil  (Miss Iowa 2000) who competed in the  2001  Miss America pageant. Theresa  was born without a left hand but in the talent competition performed a very impressive baton-twirling routine. Another disabled  contestant was  Heather Whitestone  (Miss Alabama 1994) who was deaf.  She competed in the 1995 Miss America pageant and won! She is credited as being the first Miss America with a disability.

In 1968 feminist protestors disrupted the pageant by throwing bras, girdles and makeup into a trash can outside Convention Hall and setting them on fire. This gave rise to the term "bra-burners." In 1999, there was a brief consideration to remove a waiver that contestants had to sign stating that they had never been married or pregnant.  Basically, the evolution of the Miss America Pageant seems to parallel the changing attitudes towards women in society also.

The pageant is a week-long event.  The winning contestants from each of the 50 state pageants arrive in Atlantic City on Monday.  It ends on Saturday with a live television broadcast showing the judging down to the 10 semi-finalists, then 5 finalists and then the winner. There is also a guest entertainer who performs as well as song and dance numbers by the contestants.

The contestants are judged in 4 categories by celebrity judges: Talent, Swimsuit, Evening Gown and Interview.  In order to get rid of the rumor that the contest is solely based on physical attraction only, there are numerous scholarship and other financial prizes to the winners, finalists and semi-finalists. A few other contestants can also win in specific areas such as talent, photogenic, physical fitness, and Miss Congeniality.  

The pageant has been televised since 1954.  Bert Parks, who is the most well-known host, began in 1955.  He made the pageant's theme song, "There She Is, Miss America" famous. And, his version is still the most recognized, although a few others have sang it.

 

Further Information on...

 

The Judging Format

Originally, contestants in the Miss America pageant were judged on the basis of body measurements.  However, around the 1940's things changed.  They were ranked in evening gown = 25%, talent = 25%, swimsuit = 25% and personality = 25%. In 1960, talent grew to rate 30%.  But then in 1986, Talent became 40% of the score.

Today, contestants are given scores in four basic categories:
Talent, Interview, Evening Gown and Swimsuit.

The preliminary judging is done by a panel of 7 judges, who then chose the top ten semifinalists. This group of 10 then gets narrowed down by the final panel of 7 judges (usually well-known celebrities). Then to five finalists and then, the winner, who is the one with the highest score of the final five.

The preliminary scoring goes as follows:

Talent=40%
Interview = 30%
On-Stage Personality in Evening Wear = 15%
Physical Fitness in Swimsuit=15%

Final scoring goes as follows:

Swimsuit =10%
Evening Gown=10%
Talent = 20%
Interview=20%
Preliminary Phase Performance which exhibiting various qualities=40%

In 1996, television viewers got to participate in the judging. They were invited to call in their choice for the five finalists, thus becoming the 8th judge.

 

The Evening Gown Competition

As I said above, the first Miss America contestants wore bathing suits because it began as a bathing suit contest. So, the winner was always crowned in a bathing suit, until 1948.  At this time, Beatrice (BeBe) Shopp began a new tradition by being crowned in her evening gown.  In the 1920's the evening gown competition wasn't that much of a big deal. It was a low-key fashion parade.  Now it is an important part of the pageant and judging. This part of the contest lets the contests show off how successful they are in choosing  gowns that best expresses their personality and self-image.  Over the years, gown styles have changed from loose-fitting Roaring Twenties "Flapper Dresses" to real poufy, and elaborate ball gowns with a lot of fabric, netting and heavy beading to real form-fitting gowns that make the women look like (in the words of one judge) "walking chandeliers."

Due to pressure from feminist groups, an attempt has been made to de-emphasize the way women look in their gowns by renaming the competition, "On-Stage Personality in Evening Wear" to try to show more of their poise they display while wearing them.

Interview

The interview part of the contest began in 1990 as a way of showing how a contestant can handle the unexpected, as well as their ability to handle questions under pressure while under public scrutiny.  When it began, it was just an extemporaneous, onstage interview based on one single question.  But often times the type of question, or the type of responses that it got, soon made pageant officials look for a better way to showcase contestant's intelligence and pressure handling abilities.  From 1972 to 1987 contestants memorized short speeches which they delivered during the Evening Gown Competition.  This soon lead to the individual questioning of each contestant about an issue of public interest.  Then in the 1990's, contestants were asked to write an essay on whatever issue they had committed themselves to support or pursue if they won the crown.  Contestants have chosen in the past such topics as sexual abstinence, underage drinking, and organ donation.  The interview accounts for 30% of a contestant's score during the preliminary judging, and then 20% in the final judging.

Swimsuit Competition

As stated previously, the origins of this contest pertained to swimsuits. Today, this competition has been renamed by the pageant officials and is titled, "Physical Fitness in Swimsuit" to help tone down the image that the pageant is merely a "bathing beauty" contest.  And, over the years, the swimsuit styles have also changed with the times.  For a while, all contestants had to wear the same suit. That rule no longer exists. And, in 1997, two-piece suits have been allowed. But, bikinis and thongs are still forbidden!  Contestants must register their swimsuits in advance to make sure they aren't to risqué.

The first Miss America to refuse to wear a bathing suit during her reign was Yolande Betbeze, 1951. At that time, Catalina (the well-known bathing suit manufacturer) provided all the suits for the pageant contestants since the early 1940's.  After Miss Betbeze refused to participate in any activity (during her reign) in a bathing suit, Catalina dropped it's sponsorship.  Today, contestants choose their own suits, with the emphasis on physical fitness, rather than actual body measurements.  

Jill Renee Cummings, Miss Vermont, raised some eyebrows in 1997. Why? She appeared in a two-piece bathing suit exposing a belly-button ring. But, since swimming suit only accounting for 15% in the preliminary scoring and 10% in the finals, the contestants' priority is more on developing their talent and speaking skills.

Talent Competition

In 1938, the Talent Competition became mandatory.  Maybe it's because so many contestants want to pursue a career in show business, that the Talent Competition seems to be dominated by singers and dancers? However, the pageant has had it share of other talents as well such as hula dancers, baton twirlers, gymnasts, ventriloquists, oral recitals, and many different musical instruments besides piano to name a few.  In 1949, performances that included live animals were banned. This is due to an accident that happened when a horse that was brought on stage barely missed plunging into the orchestra.  Also, due to a fire baton that almost landed in the judge's booth, led to a ban on anything that might insure spectators.

The judging on the Talent Competition is a little more complicated because it has so much variety.  Basically, the judges take into consideration the amount of discipline involved in developing their talent, how difficult the talent is and how accomplished the performer appears to be.  They also look at stage presence, facial expressions and showmanship. The idea is NOT to select someone who "will take her act on the road" as the reigning Miss America, but a woman who is comfortable with being in the spotlight and has the poise and confidence to handle the a lot of public appearances.  On Saturday night (the final contest night) only the top 5 performers get to perform their talent on the live television broadcast (due to time). But, a separate talent award is given during the preliminary judging.

Scholarships

The Miss America Pageant is one of our countries largest scholarship programs for young women today.  It was Leonora Slaughter who came up with the idea of offering scholarships to pageant finalists.  Her message was that "she wanted winners to become something" rather than just heading off to Hollywood at the end of their reign.  The first Miss America to receive a scholarship was Bess Myerson in 1945.  She used it to pursue her graduate studies at Columbia University.

Today the winner receives $50,000 in scholarship funds. The runners-up receive $40,000 (1st Place), $30,000 (2nd Place), $25,000 (3rd Place) and $20,000 (4th Place). The five other semi-finalists (who didn't make it to the top five) all receive $10,000 each. Other scholarships given out at the preliminary level are: Artistic Presentation, Lifestyle & Fitness, Presence & Poise, and Presentation & Community Achievement.  The amounts of these other scholarships vary and go up to $8,000. There is also a Bernie Wayne Performing Arts Award Scholarship.  (Bernie Wayne wrote the theme song. See below for further information).

Rose Walk

The Rose Walk was designed as a tribute to all Miss America winners. It was designed by artist Lauren Ewing and unveiled on September 7, 1997.  It consists of a series of bronze plaques set into the sidewalk on Michigan Avenue, extending from the Atlantic City Convention Center (where the pageant is usually held) all the way to Atlantic Avenue.
It begins with the first Miss America in 1921, each of these plaques bears the name of the winner, the year she held the crown and a quotation describing her response to her new role. The $250,000 monument is illuminated by rose-colored lights and has now become a real popular Atlantic City tourist attraction.

 

Bert Parks

 

Bert Parks was born on December 30, 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia. His original name was Bert Jacobson.  He originally began in radio. For more information on his career, click here!  He joined the Miss America Pageant in 1955, and served as it's emcee from that time until 1980.  He became an indispensable part of the show, with his easygoing on-stage personality.   Bert Parks made the theme song famous and sang it every year as the newly crowned Miss America took her walk down the runway. Some memorable events during his emceeing days include the time Parks' microphone went dead in the middle of the Miss America theme song. Another time he was given a list of the top ten finalists to read, only to discover that it really was listing all the names of the previous year's winners.

In 1979 Bert Parks was replaced unceremonially after 25 years. This upset Johnny Carson so much, that he began a campaign in 1990 to bring Bert Parks back.  He returned in 1990 for one year and never came back.  Actor Ron Ely replaced Bert for two years.  Then Gary Collins and his wife, Mary Ann Mobley (who also happened to be Miss America 1959) hosted the show until 1990. Since then, Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford have hosted it. So have brother and sister team, Donny and Marie Osmond.

Bert Parks died on February 2, 1992 of lung cancer, and will forever be remembered as the emcee of the Miss America Pageant.

 

"There She Is, Miss America!" 
Theme Song

The Miss America theme song was written by Bernie Wayne (1919-1993) who also wrote the hit song "Blue Velvet."  Mr. Wayne was inspired to write a song for the pageant when he read in the newspaper that it was going to be on television for the first time. So, in 1954, he sat down to write a song. It took him one hour.  Once Bert Parks started performing this song when he joined the pageant in 1955, it became so well-known that most people watching could actually sing along to at least a few lines.  I'm sure you can too!  Below are the lyrics to the Miss America theme song if you want to hit refresh and sing along again.

Bernie Wayne died in 1993, but every year a special award is given to a Miss America contestant in his memory to wants to pursue a career in the performing arts.

Lyrics to the Miss America Pageant Theme Song:

There she is, Miss America
There she is, your ideal.
The dream of a million girls,
 Who are more than pretty,
Can come true in Atlantic City.
For she may turn out to be...
 The Queen of femininity!

There she is, Miss America.
There she is, your ideal.
With so many beauties
 She took the town by storm,
With her all-American face and form.

And there she is!
Walking on air, she is!
Fairest of the fair, she is!
Miss America!!!

Midi made especially for us by Ron Tilden
Thanks Ron!

 

Return to our September Monthly Holidays Listing!
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Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

Note: Special thanks to Davene Blankenship for writing me and correcting me regarding Miss Iowa Theresa Uchytil.  My wording  gave the impression that she won and was Miss America 2000. She did not win. Miss America 2000 was Heather Renee French (Kentucky). 
My apologies to both great women!

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