There she is, Miss America, there she is, your ideal. Or so they sing once a year when the new Miss America is crowned.
The pageant used to be controversial. The pageant used to undermine equality and spark protests. People used to pay attention to it.
But those days are over.
The swimsuit competition, now called the “Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit” competition, is no longer risque. The term “beauty pageant” is hardly used and the Miss America Web site describes it as being more of a scholarship organization than a pageant. Each contestant’s resume reads like a dream with awards and honors peppered throughout. The contest has become dull and viewers are tuning to other programs.
Ratings began to decline in the 1970s, but they hit the lowest last year when only 9.8 million viewers watched Miss Alabama become Miss America. To put this in perspective, in September 2005, the week the pageant was aired, 28.3 million viewers watched Desperate Housewives, 29 million viewers watched CSI, and 23.4 million viewers watched Lost, according to the Nielsen ratings.
Networks consider dropping a show when its viewership reaches 9.8 million. Miss America knows this all too well. Last year, ABC aired the pageant. This year, Country Music Television aired it. CMT, a cable network, will also air the pageant next year.
The pageant has been trying to make itself more marketable. The running time has been nearly cut in half, celebrity judges and hosts have been added, but in the end, people aren’t caring like they used to. The organization would be better off if it was only a scholarship organization and dropped the pageant aspect.
Perhaps it’s time to donate the crown to the Smithsonian Institute and hang up the sash for good.
Television is now inundated with reality shows. The Miss America Pageant is no different from or better than America’s Next Top Model or American Idol. Every girl doesn’t dream of being Miss America anymore, in fact, almost none of them do.
This generation grew up mocking Miss America. We grew up pretending to wave, overdramatically cry, and talk about our deep desire for world peace. This generation is part of the big backlash against beauty standards and the pageants that enforce them. Since they developed cognitive reasoning, most girls have been told that it’s what’s on the inside that matters. College and careers take a much higher priority than any form of beauty pageant.
Why does Miss America flop and other reality shows achieve record audiences? There’s no underdog element to Miss America. People don’t think about how Miss Nebraska faltered in the talent competition but was able to make it up in eveningwear.
Audiences don’t identify with the contestants. They don’t know them as well as they feel they know people on reality TV shows. It also lacks the it-could-happen-to-you feel.
When more people tune in to watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition than they do the annual Miss America Pageant, when only a handful of people can name the winner and runner-up of the most recent pageant, and when girls have better and more important things to do than dream about being Miss America, it marks the end of an era.
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at email@example.com.