From evening gown to swimsuit, talent to interview, more than 10,000 young women participate at the local, state, and national levels of the Miss America Organization (MAO) each year. The organization promotes itself as one of the most rewarding and beneficial experiences available to young women in the United States.
Among the general population, pageants are not always held in high regard. However, MAO is unique in that the crown stands for four distinctive and critical components of the Miss America brand that impact the lives of local, state, and national titleholders. The four points are style, service, scholarship and success.
“Some of my favorite things are people, performing and philanthropy; competing in pageants combines all of them with a touch of sparkle,” said Ashley Monasmith, Miss Mark Twain, a local MAO titleholder.
The road to competing for Miss America ensures that those who make it to the top level are ready to carry the responsibilities that go with the crown. A contestant must first enter and win a local competition, and then compete at the state level. Any eligible young women, ages 18 to 24, can compete in an “open” local, preliminaries not specific to a town or geographic region.
Monasmith, along with 29 other young women, is competing in Miss Missouri with hopes of joining 51 national finalists in the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Miss America travels approximately 20,000 miles a month performing, visiting and speaking at events across the country and takes a year of absence from school.
“Not only do people assume contestants are ditsy and unintelligent, they also assume that we are 6’2” and 100 pounds soaking wet and total snobs,” Monasmith said. “I love that Miss America embodies ‘the girl next door’ vibe. She’s the girl who is real and friendly, with a heart of gold but can be fierce and glamourous all at the same time.”
The Miss America Competition, and all local and state preliminaries, consist of five distinct areas of competition: evening gown, onstage question, interview, talent, and swimsuit, with talent equating to the largest portion of a contestant’s overall score. The contestants also submit a resume and essay prior to the 10-minute interview for “the job of a lifetime.”
“I have picked up on the best interview skills through learning to be quick witted and relaxed while knowing every little detail about myself and events occurring in the world,” said Aimee Stockard, Miss Heart of St. Louis. “I [have] gained confidence, self-respect and poise.”
The organization distinguishes itself from other pageant systems with its platform requirement. According to the Miss Missouri website, each contestant must have a “platform,” an organization and/or a cause she supports and would support throughout her year of service. For Monasmith, this cause is “S.A.F.E Protecting Futures” where she advocates about sex trafficking. Stockard, on the other hand, advocates for “Believing in the Cure.” From HIV/AIDS awareness to veteran’s causes, agricultural education and civic participation, each contestant pours into her community through her platform.
Erin O’Flaherty, current Miss Missouri, serves with a platform “Suicide Prevention: We’re All Responsible” which addresses suicide and bullying, with special attention on individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.
Current Miss America Savvy Shields, with a platform of “Eat Better, Live Better”, focuses on educating people on how foods impact their lives and has sparked social media hashtag campaigns of #MissAmericaWerk and #SavvyChoices.
In addition to platform work, Miss America contestants serve in their communities and work for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Each new Miss America becomes the goodwill ambassador for the organization, speaking on behalf of kids treated at children’s hospitals and raising awareness nationwide.
The organization also participates in Miss America Serves Day, where local and state contestants engage in a day of volunteer activities. Miss Missouri contestants, including Stockard and Monasmith, divided among three service sites in Mexico, Missouri, the host of the Miss Missouri competition. This year, the Miss Missouri Team, captained by O’Flaherty, raised a record breaking $21,319 for Children’s Miracle Network and Miss America Organization during the day’s event.
In addition to service, scholarship is a big draw for potential contestants. As the nation’s largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women, participants, win or lose, can leave the competition with funds for higher education through in cash awards and in-kind tuition waivers. The next Miss Missouri will receive a $13,000 scholarship, and the next Miss America will receive at least $50,000 in college funds. Annually, the Miss America Organization provides over $45 million in scholarships.
The fourth component of the crown, one that is often misunderstood by pageant outsiders, is the sisterhood aspect of the Miss America Organization.
“There is a very deep sense of sisterhood that holds through all of the women I have met and continue to meet in this organization,” said current Miss America Savvy Shields.
“I can confidently say that every single part of my life has been touched by this organization. From the character qualities I have gained, the friendships I have made, to the way I view the world around me, I am forever changed for the better.”