2015 – Miss America apologizes to ousted Vanessa Williams (1984)
2011- Dominique Ramirez, Miss San Antonio becomes first person to regain crown from Miss America affiliate
The Miss America organization’s tradition of controversy continued during their recent 2018 pageant aired on September 10, 2017. Four out of five of the questions presented to the final round of competition for the finalists were political. Many viewers considered them anti-Trump or biased against conservatives type questions.
Judge Jordin Sparks asked Miss Missouri, Jennifer Davis about the many investigations concerning the Trump campaign and charges of Russian collusion. When asked about the Trump campaign being innocent or guilty, Miss Davis said, “Innocent.” The audience cheered.
See more questions and answers of the finalists below.
Blemished by a provocative history, the Miss America pageant has attempted to make amends for some of their past controversies. Vanessa Williams, the first ever African-American Miss America of 1984 who endured death threats, ridicule and discrimination during her reign, would return years later to the Miss America stage to accept their apology. During her tenure, Williams was pressured to resign early after nude photographs from her past were leaked and published in Penthouse magazine.
On September 13, 2015, as head judge for the Miss America 2016 event, Williams received an apology from CEO Sam Haskell before a national audience. Although “none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”
The first ever winner of Miss America was Margaret Gorman a 16-year-old contestant from Washington D.C. on September 8, 1921. Gorman was crowned as the “Golden Mermaid” and won $100, the equivalent of over $1200 today. When newspaperman Herb Test coined her “Miss America,” the title stuck. The prior year, Atlantic City, New Jersey, held a “Fall Frolic” as a venue to bring more business to their Boardwalk. The big hit of the event was the showing off of 350 young maidens pushed along a parade route in rolling wicker chairs. With such success, organizers developed the 1921 contest with 100,000 spectators watching as the contestants paraded by.
The event was first officially titled “The Miss American Pageant” in 1940, and was not without controversy throughout the years. Prior to 1950, their rule number seven required “contestants must be of good health and of the white race.”
In 1945, Bess Meyers, Miss New York, became the first Jewish American Miss America. The antisemitism and hullabaloo against her was so great she was forced to cut her reign short. In the first fifty years of the pageant there were no African-American contestants.
1948 was a banner year when Irma Nydia Vasquez, the first Miss Puerto Rico, became the first Latina contestant and Yun Tau Chee, the first Miss Hawaii, was the first Asian-American participant.
The Miss America Pageant, hosted by Bert Parks from 1955 to 1979, became the highest-rated program on American television, but also became a target for civil rights—and what is now considered the second round of modern feminism. Robin Morgan, a champion of the movement in the 1970’s, claimed the Miss America Pageant “was chosen as a target for a number of reasons: it has always been a lily-white, racist contest; the winner tours Vietnam, entertaining the troops as a ‘Murder Mascot’; the whole gimmick is one commercial shillgame to sell the sponsor’s products. Where else could one find such a perfect combination of American values—racism, militarism, sexism—all packaged in one ‘ideal symbol,’ a woman?”
Morgan helped lead the first major protest against the Miss America pageant in 1968 with participants referring to the event as ‘The Consumer Con Game.’ They referred to the winner being jetted around the country as a “walking commercial” for paid sponsors of the pageant. Morgan released a press release stating pageant officials just “wind her up and she plugs your product.”
It wasn’t until 1970, that the first African-American contestant, Cheryl Browne, Miss Iowa, participated in the Miss America 1971 pageant. It took a decade, in 1983, before Vanessa Williams, Miss New York, became the first African-American Miss America of 1984.
In 1996, the Miss Universe Organization was pounded by the media as they attempted to de-crown Alicia Machado from Venezuela for weight gain. They reversed their consideration when images of her working out surfaced on television, newspapers and magazines across the world.
In 2011, after becoming the youngest Miss San Antonio in history at the age of sixteen, the pageant administrators stripped Dominique Ramirez of her crown. The story went viral as it was unleashed by the power of Internet, television, radio, newspapers and magazines globally.
“While systematically attempting to destroy my faith in myself,” Ramirez said. “They won a few battles only to lose the war, since I became the first winner of a Miss America-affiliated pageant to regain her crown in court.”
Miss America 2018 finalist questions
“There are multiple investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia on the election,” asked Sparks. “Well, did they? You’re the jury: guilty or innocent and please explain your verdict.”
“Right now I have to say innocent, because not enough information has been revealed,” replied Miss Missouri. “We are still investigating this and I think we should investigate it to its fullest extent. If we do find the evidence that they have had collusion with Russia, the justice system should do their due diligence and they should be punished accordingly.”
“Last month, a demonstration of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and KKK in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent and a counter protester was killed,” asked Jess Cagle. “The president said there was shared blame with quote very fine people on both sides. Were there? Tell me yes or no, and explain.”
“I think that the white supremacist issue, it was very obvious it was a terrorist attack,” answered Miss Texas, Margana Wood. “And I think that President Donald Trump should have made a statement earlier addressing the fact, and making sure all Americans feel safe in the country. That’s the number one issue right now!”
“195 countries signed the Paris Agreement, in which each country sets non-binding goals to reduce man made climate change,” Maria Menounos asked. “The U.S. is withdrawing from the agreement citing negligible environmental effects and negative economic impact. Good decision, bad decision? Which is it, and why?”
“I do believe it’s a bad decision, once we reject that we take ourselves out of the negotiation table,” said Cara Mund, Miss North Dakota. “And that’s something we really need to keep in mind. There is evidence that climate change is existing so whether you believe it or not, we need to be at that table and I think it’s just a bad decision on behalf of the United States.”
“A recent poll found slightly over half of Americans favored leaving confederate statues in place while others want them removed,” questioned Tara Lipinski. “Keep them or get rid of them? What’s your vote and why?”
“I don’t think the answer is to get rid of these statues,” Kaitlyn Schoeffel, Miss New Jersey replied. “I think the answer is to relocate them into museums. Because we are truly defined by our country’s history, and I don’t think it’s something we need to forget. We need to always remember it and honor our history of America because it truly makes us who we are as Americans. But they should be moved to museums. Thank you.”