On Thursday, Dec. 16, the Miss America competition — on its 100th anniversary — will not air on broadcast TV for the first time since 1954.
But that doesn’t bother Bettendorf native Emily Tinsman, who was first named Miss Iowa in 2019, and served for two years, since the 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID. She crowned the current Miss Iowa — Grace Lynn Keller — in June 2021 at Davenport’s Adler Theatre. For the first time, Miss America will be named on a streaming service, Peacock, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal.
“Being able to stream is an easier way to reach a younger audience and cable is the way to reach an older audience,” Tinsman (a 2019 Drake University grad who teaches elementary-school music in Des Moines) said Tuesday. “But as they’ve been rebranding Miss America and moving towards this 100th year, I think it is a smart move to be able to stream.
“They are trying to reach younger people and sharing about the scholarship and service opportunities within the program,” she said. “So I think it’s a smart move. I hope it all goes according to plan on Thursday, and people are able to log into Peacock on the app — it’s free — and it goes smoothly. I hope they get those numbers that they’re hoping to see for viewership.”
Since launching in 1921 in Atlantic City, N.J., the Miss America competition has had an eventful, tumultuous history, chronicled in the new book, “There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America,” by former Dispatch-Rock Island Argus reporter Amy Argetsinger, who’s been at The Washington Post since 1995.
Now on its centennial anniversary, the competition has been part of a live broadcast on a TV network since 1954. But in recent years, turmoil over the organization’s mission and declining ratings have given Miss America less leverage, according to a recent bizjournals.com piece.
In 2018, the swimsuit competition was dropped as an attempt to modernize the pageant, and it moved from its longtime home of Atlantic City to the Mohegan Sun casino complex in Connecticut. 2019 was the first year Miss America was held in December, away from its traditional date the Sunday after Labor Day, Tinsman said.
Deadline reports that the 2019 viewership of the competition on NBC drew 3.6 million people, a 17% dip from the previous year.
In its heyday, Miss America was viewed by tens of millions of people nationwide. From its giddy origins as a summer’s-end tourist draw in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, it blossomed into a cultural phenomenon with a national network. “For all of its pomp and kitsch, the Miss America pageant is indelibly written into the American story,” says the promo release for the Simon & Schuster book, “There She Was.”
Argetsinger (a Washington Post editor since 2014) brings the hidden world of the iconic competition to life in a deeply reported journey through Miss America’s past and present, featuring interviews with dozens of the women who won or desperately sought the title.
She explores how the institution confronted a women’s liberation movement that sought to abolish it, and how it was reborn thanks to the new energy of baby boomer and Generation X contestants, through stories of both the superstars of Miss America—Gretchen Carlson, Vanessa Williams, Phyllis George—and those that never became household names.
The last winner, Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, was a pharmacy student who won the talent competition by demonstrating an explosive chemical reaction.
On Monday, Dec. 13, the second and final preliminary night of competition for the 100th Anniversary Miss America took place at the Mohegan Sun Earth Expo & Convention Center in Uncasville, Conn., where 50 candidates representing the states and the District of Columbia were vying for the crown and a $100,000 college scholarship. The two-night Centennial Miss America preliminary competition was streamed live at watchmissamerica.com.
One contestant drops out due to COVID
Women are competing for over $435,500 in scholarships this week, including a record $100,000 scholarship for the winner. The final night of Miss America will air live on Peacock, on Thursday at 7 p.m., from the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena. This year’s competition will return with a new and enhanced format allowing audiences to stream the event live across all time zones for the first time.
“We look forward to entering the streaming world with Peacock this year to help introduce our 51 outstanding individuals to a younger, broader audience and showcase their unique personal stories, while building role models and community leaders of tomorrow, today,” said Shantel Krebs, interim president and CEO of the Miss America Organization, per Variety.
Well, it’s not 51 now. On Monday, the contest lost its Miss Maine, as the fully-vaccinated candidate fell ill and tested positive for COVID.
“While we are all disappointed by this development, the candidate will still be awarded her national scholarship and maintains her eligibility for any other scholarships that require no further competition,” said Brian M. Lowe, spokesperson for The Miss American Organization.
Miss Maine, Mariah Larocque, announced on her Facebook page that her “world has been turned upside down in the matter of hours.” She confirmed that she contracted COVID despite being fully vaccinated and testing negative for COVID upon her arrival at the competition.
Second night preliminary winners included Miss Illinois, Isabelle Hanson, who was named the competition talent winner and awarded a $2,500 scholarship courtesy of Kawai Piano. A native of Glen Ellyn, Ill., she is an anchor for KFVS-TV (based in Cape Girardeau, Mo.), which serves southern Illinois. Hanson’s talent is the classical violin.
Supporting Miss Iowa
Tinsman, a 2015 Bettendorf High alum, was happy to get back to Miss Iowa in person this year at the Adler, with about 20 women competing.
“It was a fairly normal Miss Iowa experience. I think it definitely helped with the comfort of being in the summer, which we’ve been able to see that COVID numbers are lower in the summer months,” she said Tuesday, noting the competition was shorter and smaller than usual, and the women were required to wear masks at all times when they were around each other.
Miss Iowa this year also didn’t have contestants room together, and they didn’t have the “Princess” youth program, Tinsman said. She was thrilled with the winner, 2021 University of Iowa graduate Grace Lynn Keller (of Island Lake, Ill.), whose platform is child literacy for grades K-3.
“Grace is a wonderful individual that I’ve gotten to know, actually, over the last couple of weeks in particular,” Tinsman said. “We were able to connect in that way, helping her to prepare for the interview days of competition. Prepping with current events, talking about her social impact initiative.”
After two years of serving as Miss Iowa (she put 55,000 miles on her car the first year and the second was mainly virtual appearances), Tinsman was glad to part with her sash and crown.
“It’s nice to pass the torch to the next girl, and two years is a long time, but I definitely made the most of it,” she said Tuesday.
The top scholarship awarded at the Dec. 16 finale will double to $100,000 — a change made possible by a donation from Miss America 1996 Shawntel Smith Wuerch and her husband Ryan Wuerch.