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State pageant directors ‘concerned’ about Miss America pageant changes

From the Vicksburg Post

VICKSBURG — In June, shortly before the Miss Mississippi Pageant was held in Vicksburg, the Miss America Organization under new leadership made the decision to do away with the swimsuit phase of the competition.

The choice to get rid of the 97-year-old tradition was met with some debate. Especially since the decision was made during the middle of the pageant year when some state contestants had already competed in the swimsuit phase and others were on the verge of competing.

Nonetheless, state directors were agreeable in accepting the change.

But as time went on and less and less information was being released from the national organization about other changes, state directors became concerned, Vicksburg resident and executive director of the Miss Mississippi Pageant David Blackledge said, and 22 states, including Mississippi, decided to sign a petition asking the Miss America Board and its CEO Gretchen Carlson to step down.

“The main thing is we were concerned about the transparency and the lack of communication between them and us,” Blackledge said.

This bold act did not, however, come without its risks, since these states knew they could have been putting their franchises on the line, he said.

And in fact, the Miss America Organization responded with an email calling out those who had been vocal indicating they would be under scrutiny.

“We interpreted this as a threat,” Blackledge said, and it wasn’t just directed at the 22 who had signed. “I think they were wanting to make sure others did not join.

“But we felt that strongly that if changes were going to be made, the state directors needed to have a voice in this for the betterment of the organization,” Blackledge added. “We did not have any ulterior motive. We were just wanting some stability. We were not hearing anything about sponsorships, and we were concerned about scholarships. All of this was up in the air and they were not providing information to us to let us know what was going on.”

No contract

And in addition to the lack of information that was not being provided, Blackledge said, to date, state contestants who will be competing for the national title have still not received their contracts.

Blackledge said both the local and state levels of competition require contestants to sign contracts, so they will know exactly what the requirements of the job entail. “Our contestants should be able to see the contract before she leaves to go up there,” he said, especially since there are changes being made not only within the organization but also to the contract.

One of those changes Blackledge was referring to, which has filtered through the organization, includes the power of the Miss America CEO.

Blackledge said it stated the CEO at their discretion and at any time could terminate the reigning Miss America.

“That just flew all over people, because basically it says if the CEO is not satisfied with her performance then she can terminate her,” Blackledge said, adding, “this is something that should not be decided by one person, but by a board.”

Some have speculated if this controversial clause was added to prevent a Miss America from speaking out like the current Miss America Cara Mund has done in a 3,000-word letter against the current board and Carlson.

In Munds letter, she describes instances of being controlled, manipulated, silenced, and bullied by the organization and Carlson.

“I was shocked and disappointed to hear how her year has gone and felt sorry for her because this is supposed to be a once in a life time experience,” Blackledge said.

New leadership wanted

Following these latest developments and the letter from Mund, Blackledge said there are now 30 states that have signed the petition, along with 23 former Miss Americas, asking Carlson and her board to step down.

With this much support from the states and former Miss Americas, Blackledge said, he feels like there will have to be a change with the Miss America Board.

“They are going to have to do something. They are going to have to step aside,” he said.

When and if this may happen, no one knows.

Nevertheless, Blackledge said, he remains faithful to the organization.

“I think the Miss America Pageant will continue to be a very relevant organization. This is non-profit organization and you see non-profits go through difficulties with their leadership and may temporarily affect the organization, but the Miss America Pageant has been here since 1921, and I think it can bounce back with the proper leadership,” Blackledge said.