Did you miss the 100th annual Miss America competition on Thursday, when Miss Alaska, Emma Broyles, was named the state’s first-ever pageant winner? If so, you are far from alone. While the annual broadcast used to be a much-hyped TV spectacle, reliably drawing huge ratings, this year it was shipped to Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming platform, with almost no advance promotion.
It’s not a huge surprise, given the state of the event, which was embroiled in a controversy several years ago involving crude emails sent by pageant leaders about contestants. As The Washington Post’s Amy Argetsinger, who just published a book on the history of Miss America, wrote in a piece this week: “Miss America is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a shadow of its former self, plagued by infighting, litigation, a damaging email scandal and slow-burning financial challenges.”
“A praised but polarizing decision to jettison its famed swimsuit competition in 2018 triggered an identity contest for the pageant, while doing nothing to stem a long exodus of sponsors and viewers,” she noted, adding that “whether Miss America can make it to its 101st birthday remains an open question.”
Here were the best, worst and weirdest moments from the event, returning after a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic:
Best: Miss Alaska’s victory
Broyles, a 20-year-old student at Arizona State University who sang “Let Me Be Your Star” from “Smash” during the talent portion, already picked up a win in a preliminary competition, receiving a prize for her social impact initiative supporting the Special Olympics. But she really impressed the judges - all former Miss America winners - during the interview segments. Debbye Turner Bell, Miss America 1990, mentioned that in a pre-interview, Broyles said it’s important to be vulnerable and transparent on social media. So how does she do that without oversharing?
“One thing that I’ve really tried to do, especially as Miss Alaska, is show people that I’m real. I have flaws. I have ADHD, I have dermatillomania, which is a form of OCD,” Broyles said, referring to the chronic skin-picking disorder. “I’ve struggled with all of those things, and because of that, I am a better person.”
Broyles added that she hit “rock bottom” during the pandemic when she was isolated in her college dorm, and that’s when she received her diagnoses for both attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dermatillomania. “I finally got everything figured out, and that was an incredibly important moment for me. I think that a lot of people don’t recognize that their low points are what are going to propel them to their future,” Broyles said, to huge cheers from the audience.
Bell told her that she was very brave for sharing, and asked for Broyles to educate them about the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding people with ADHD.
Broyles responded that a lot of women go undiagnosed with ADHD for years because they’re dismissed as “daydreamers” while it can be more evident in boys when parents see them “running around the classroom.” “Women with ADHD tend to go unrecognized and they tend think so poorly of themselves because they’ve gone so long thinking something is wrong with them,” she said. “Now that I’ve become medicated and been in so many support groups with other people who have ADHD, I’ve been able to find my true self.”
During the new “Miss America Challenge” question, where contestants explain how they would handle a situation that another winner has already faced, Broyles was given this query: What would she do if she was at an event with a major Miss America sponsor whose male executive started making inappropriate comments and sexual advances? Broyles said while it would be a difficult situation, she would confront the man: “I am never going to let somebody treat me like that, because women should never be treated like they are objects.”
Several minutes later, Broyles was announced as the winner of the $100,000 scholarship and six-figure salary, triumphing over runner-up Lauren Bradford of Alabama; second runner-up Elizabeth Pierre of Massachusetts; third runner-up Sydney Park of New York; and fourth runner-up Abigail Hayes of Oregon.
Worst: All the technical glitches
If the event wanted to lure people back, it wasn’t ideal that many tweets about the show just complained about the production value. There were confusing camera angles and audio, long pauses, awkward interruptions, flubbed lines and multiple missed cues. The lighting made the stage difficult to see at times, while glowing gold dots sparkled in the background on giant screens to the point of distraction.
The issues started in the first minute as host Ericka Dunlap, Miss America 2004 (co-hosting with Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014) started talking while there was an announcer’s voice in the background, and extremely loud music began playing on and off as she was reading her introduction.
At the end, the hosts started to announce the winners before getting cut off by a producer. “Just kidding - we have more script to read!” Dunlap said, bringing out a group of “forever Miss Americas” onstage.
Weirdest: Miss Alabama’s double take
Viewers were extremely confused when, at first, it appeared that the sound on Miss Alabama Lauren Bradford’s electric violin wasn’t working at first during the talent segment - and even more confused when she appeared again onstage to repeat her performance, and went after another violinist. (There were three violin performances overall among the Top 10 finalists.) But she was a good sport about the glitch.