UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Miss America will be crowned Thursday night for the first time at a Connecticut casino, marking the latest change to the nearly century-old contest that has recently undergone new leadership and a new direction.
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The competition, now dubbed “Miss America 2.0" and no longer referred to by organizers as a “pageant,” had announced plans this summer to leave Atlantic City, New Jersey — for the second time in its history — and hold the multi-day event at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. Miss America also switched from ABC back to NBC to broadcast the glitzy finale to an estimated 4.5 million viewers. And for the first time, preliminary events and the finale — held in Mohegan's 10,000-seat arena — are being streamed live on the NBC app.
“We are looking forward to a fresh take on this historic competition that will showcase the incredible women vying for the job of Miss America 2020,” Regina Hopper, president & CEO of the Miss America Organization, said in the July announcement.
For Mohegan Sun, it's been an opportunity to showcase the massive casino, entertainment and convention complex, located on an Indian reservation in suburban southeastern Connecticut, to a national audience. The Mohegan Sun name has been mentioned prominently in NBC's TV ads promoting the event, which is being held later in the year as part of NBC's holiday programming.
“We've had many, many large events. This probably reaches the most people," said Jeff Hamilton, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun. “We're just really, really excited about it.”
Hamilton said Mohegan Sun hopes it will be chosen to continue hosting the event, which is credited with filling up the casino's hotel rooms during a relatively slow time of year and attracting an estimated 15,000 visitors to the complex, which bills itself as a destination resort in a Northeast casino market that has become more and more crowded in recent years.
“I think as we try to grow group and event room-nights, hosting these large events has been a strategic initiative for us,” he said. “Our goal is to host these large events which are going to bring people to the property that might not have come.”
Miss America organizers and NBC have not yet agreed to a multi-year contract with the Connecticut casino. A decision is expected in the coming months.
Fifty-one women, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, have spent the past week competing in different events for more than $300,000 scholarship money, including talent exhibitions and interviews. Preliminary competitions were held Dec. 15 and 16. The ultimate winner will be awarded a $50,000 scholarship and "the job of Miss America,” succeeding 2019 Miss America Nia Franklin, a classically trained opera singer from New York who didn't have to don a swimsuit to win the coveted crown.
For the second year in a row, there will be no swimsuit or evening gown competitions, with organizers stressing that participants are not judged on outward physical appearance. Those events were replaced by onstage interviews and opportunities for the women to discuss their personal achievements, life goals, talents and a planned “social impact initiative” as the 2020 Miss America.
This year's talent winner, Camille Schrier of Virginia, was emblematic of the changes at Miss America under the now all-female leadership team. Schrier won a $2,000 scholarship for her chemistry demonstration of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.
The decision to drop the swimsuit competition did create great controversy and criticism of Miss America officials, including former board chair and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who said in 2018 that Miss America would represent “a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment.” Carlson has since stepped down.
The competition's departure from Atlantic City had been expected since the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority declined to renew subsidies for the pageant following the 2018 competition.
Atlantic City businessmen came up with the idea for a pageant in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourism season beyond Labor Day weekend. It became synonymous with the New Jersey seaside resort but moved to Las Vegas in 2005, returning to Atlantic City in 2013.