Camille Schrier, the 24-year-old Miss Virginia, won the title of Miss America 2020 — which comes with $50,000 in college scholarships — on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
“We need to show that Miss America can be a scientist and a scientist can be Miss America,” Schrier, a biochemistry and systems biology major at Virginia Tech, had said earlier in the evening during the competition, broadcast live on NBC from Uncasville, Conn., and cohosted by Kit Hoover and Mario Lopez, both of Access Hollywood.
With her unique performance of a theatrical chemistry demonstration, Schrier wowed celebrity judges Lauren Ash, Kelly Rowland and Karamo (née Brown), who offered post-performance commentary to all of the women, á la America’s Got Talent.
During the newly formatted interview part of the evening, Schrier was asked by Karamo how she would respond to a person who thinks Miss America is a waste of time. “By being a woman of science and redefining Miss America for 2020,” she said. She also mentioned having dealt with mental-health issues, including an eating disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her social justice platform, which she will promote on a national level for the next year, is drug safety and abuse prevention, and she spoke about it passionately before the three-judge panel.
The first runner-up was Victoria Hill, Miss Georgia, who won $25,000 in scholarships after singing opera and pitching a powerful social justice platform of foster-care advocacy. The second runner-up was Miss Missouri, Simone Esters, who won $20,000 in scholarships.
Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019, from New York, passed on the crown to Schrier.
This year’s competition had big changes that built on last year’s overall rebranding of what’s now being called “Miss America 2.0” — a “competition” and not a “pageant,” with “job candidates” and not “contestants,” who will no longer be judged on their appearance. Last year also saw the end of the swimsuit competition — a highly controversial move brought to fruition by then-chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, who stepped down from her post in June.
Miss America press materials this year stressed that the contest would be “no longer judging on physical beauty,” but on how well the women proved their case for why they should be chosen for the job of advancing their social impact initiative, which ranged this year from psoriasis and children’s leukemia awareness to mentoring at-risk kids.
The changes drew a very mixed reaction on Twitter throughout the evening.
This year’s relocation to the casino in Connecticut marks only the second time in its 98-year-history that Miss America has not been held in Atlantic City, NJ — where it was founded, in 1921, as publicity stunt called the “Atlantic City Bathing Beauty Contest” to extend the summer tourist season on the Jersey Shore. And though it soon evolved into a competition for college scholarships (for women who were both smart and gorgeous), it remained in its traditional home — with the exception of one foray, to Las Vegas, in 2006.
The Miss America contest in general has been limping along over the past several years, due to both a declining TV viewership and various clouds of controversy — including, but not limited to, a turnover in leadership after a sexist email scandal involving former CEO Sam Haskell, who fat-shamed those including 2017 titleholder Mallory Hagan (who had an unsuccessful run for Congress in Alabama in 2018 and who is now Miss America’s head of communications and social media); the appointment of former Fox News anchor (and Miss America 1989) Carlson as chair of the board; accusations from 2018 titleholder Cara Mund of “silencing” and “bullying” by Carlson and other staffers during her reign — and, of course, the axing of the swimsuit competition, which in part led to a rebellion at many state levels, plus a lawsuit, which was dropped.
In the days leading up to this year’s final showcase, Carlson’s replacement, Shantel Krebs, told the New York Post, “I think we envision Shark Tank with the [candidate] interaction. We are going to say those same things. ‘Tell us why you are the best.’ ‘We want to see your business plan.’ ‘Have you set metrics and goals?’”
Schrier did just that.
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