The History of Pageants: 2000-2017
Crowning of a New Millennium and a New Era for Pageantry
The Miss America Organization celebrates its 80th Anniversary.
Nicole Johnson, the last Miss America of the 1990s, crowns her successor as the new Miss America 2000, the first major titleholder of the new millennium. Heather Renee French, Miss Kentucky, is awarded the first Miss America title of the new millennium. She is a University of Cincinnati Masters candidate who teaches fashion illustration.The daughter of a disabled Vietnam veteran, French’s platform – “Homeless Veterans Outreach” – strikes a note with Americans who have made the film Saving Private Ryan, with its graphic depiction of the horrors soldiers face in war, a hit only one year earlier.
French becomes the first ever Miss America to also receive the Miss America Woman of Achievement award. In previous years the distinction had been bestowed upon First Ladies Barbara Bush and Betty Ford. French later remarks during a 700 Club interview, “Only God could orchestrate me being Miss America.”
• Visit Heather French Foundation for Veterans: Honoring our Nation’s Heroes
Miss Colombia, Andrea Noceti, threatens to sue David Letterman, host of the famous late night talk show, for quipping that her talent performance would include swallowing bags of heroin. “I don’t know if you’ve seen a beauty pageant lately, but you know what’s really gotten very impressive, the talent competition…For example, Miss Colombia … swallowed 50 balloons full of heroin.” Letterman later apologizes.
Due to security concerns, Miss Israel, Ilanit Levy, an 18-year-old soldier from Haifa, wears a bulletproof dress at the Miss Universe Pageant.
Oksana Fyodorova, a police lieutenant from Saint Petersburg with a stunning mane of sleek jet black hair, becomes the first Miss Russia to win the Miss Universe title. She is
stripped of her title on September 23rd, 2002 for reportedly failing to fulfill her duties, although what actually transpired remains murky. Fedorova claims that no one informed her of the demanding schedule she would face if she won the international title. Justine Pasek of Panama assumes her duties as Miss Universe.
As Miss World Pageant contestants gather for the international pageant in Nigeria, a predominantly Muslim country, anti-pageant protests and rioting breaks out. The violence is ignited after a woman journalist pens a story suggesting that Mohammed, Islam’s prophet, might well have married one of the Miss World contestants. Several hundred people are killed in the violence that ensues.
Worldwide outrage had already put pressure on Nigeria after their Islamic court sentenced a woman to death by stoning after she was charged with adultery. Julia Morley, director of the pageant, moves the event to London, England on short notice after several contestants leave the country for safety.
At the Miss Universe Pageant, Miss Lebanon, Christina Sawaya, drops out of the competition after stating that she will not compete in a pageant with Miss Israel, Yamit Har-Noy. Miss Isreal hesitates to wear her titleholder sash in public due to security concerns.
Halle Berry, the first runner-up in the1986
Miss USA pageant and the first African American to represent the USA at the Miss World pageant, wins the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film, Monster’s Ball.
Erika Harold, Miss Illinois, who has been accepted to Harvard Law School, is crowned Miss America 2003. Her platform focuses on ending bullying in school. She later earns her law degree from the prestigious law school, becomes a practicing attorney in Illinois, and runs for Congress as a Republican.
The Miss America celebrates 50 years on television. For the first time in pageant history, the U.S. Virgin Islands sends a contestant to compete in the Miss America national competition.
Miss America 2004, Deidre Downs, Miss Alabama, becomes the first aspiring physician to be named Miss America when she wins the title in September 2004. Downs, 24, a resident of Birmingham, will begin medical studies at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in 2005. She was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist and an Echols Scholar at University of Virginia. She attended Samford University in Birmingham Alabama, from which she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s in history.
In 2004, ABC announces that it will no longer televise the Miss America Pageant. The network, which has broadcast the event since 1997, notifies the Miss America Organization that the network would not renew its annual contract. According to the Associated Press, the MAO’s acting President and CEO Arthur McMaster remarks, “We are now free to pursue other parties who have expressed interest in our organization, and we are excited at the limitless opportunities that are now available for us to grow our brand.”
Miss America Pageant Goes Country
The Miss America Pageant, dropped by ABC in 2004 due to low ratings, signs an agreement with cable television’s Country Music Television network to telecast the pageant in 2006. In August, the pageant leaves Atlantic City, New Jersey, its home since 1921.
CMT Airs its first Miss America Pageant. The 2006 Miss America Pageant is held in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Aladdin Resort and Casino – marking the first time the famed competition has been staged outside Atlantic City. The pageant is televised live on the Country Music
Television network on Saturday, January 21st, 2006.
“Las Vegas is the perfect host city to bring new energy to the Miss America Pageant as we continue to grow our brand,” says Art McMaster, MAO president and CEO. “It will truly be exciting to take our contestants there. It should make for a fantastic pageant and great television.” James Denton, star of the hit TV show Desperate Housewives, hosts the Country Music Television network’s 2006 Miss America Pageant. Jennifer Berry, Miss Oklahoma, a ballet dancer, wins the 2006 title.
Miss USA 2006 nearly loses her title.Tara Connor, Miss USA 2006, is nearly stripped of her title after media reports surface of excessive partying at bars and nightclubs, underage drinking (in New York, the legal drinking age is 21), kissing Miss Teen USA, and other unspecified “misbehavior”. Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions, sends the former Miss Kentucky packing back to her home state and announces that, after reviewing the facts, he will announce his decision as to whether Connor will be dethroned. In a public statement, pageant organizers note that Conner “will keep her crown for now”, but they will “be evaluating her behavioral and personal issues to see what we can do to work with her, and what we will do about her reign going forward.”
On December 15th, in a media packed press conference in New York, Trump surprises onlookers by announcing that he has decided to give the titleholder “a second chance”. “She got caught up in the whirlwind of New York,” he states, “It’s a story that has happened many times before to many women and to many men who came to the Big Apple.” With Connor seated at his side in tears, Trump adds, “I’ve always been a believer in second chances. Tara is going to be given a second chance.” He explains that Conner will enter rehabilitation and will resume her duties at the appropriate time. “She knows that if she even makes the slightest mistake from here on she will be immediately replaced.”
As Connor walks to the podium, she turns to Trump and profusely thanks him for his “heart of gold” in allowing her to retain her title. “In no way did I think it would be possible for a second chance to be given to me,” she sobs. “You’ll never know what this means to me…and I swear I will not let you down.”
The Miss America Pageant moves out of Atlantic City for the first time in its 85 year history. Las Vegas hosts the Miss America Pageant which is held in January.
- Jennifer Berry, Miss Oklahoma, is named Miss America 2006.
- Tara Connor, Miss Kentucky USA, is named Miss USA 2006.
- Zuleyka Mendoza, Miss Puerto Rico, is named Miss Universe 2006.
The pageant industry’s commitment to championing public service expands as the Miss Black USA Organization announces it has officially partnered with the American Diabetes Association.
The Miss America Organization adopts the national platform, Children’s Miracle Network.
The Miss America Pageant and TLC sign a multi-year deal for telecast rights to the Miss America Pageant.
The Miss Black USA Pageant reaches a milestone, over $300,000 is awarded in scholarships, and announces a new division, “Miss Black USA Talented Teen”.
Miss Black USA Becomes Celebrity Advocate for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)
Miss Black USA Pageant partners with Dr. Ian Smith and the 50 Million Pound Challenge to fight obesity in the African American community.
Miss Puerto Rico rejoins the Miss America Pageant after a fifty-year absence.
The Miss America Pageant returns to ABC with a multi-year deal.
Osas Ighodaro, Miss Black USA 2010, is the first Nigerian-American to capture the Miss Black USA Crown. Shawnta Watson-Wolcott is awarded the first ever Miss Black USA Legacy Award. In another first, Connecticut becomes the first state to have two winners crowned Miss Black USA.
USA 1957, Leona Gage dies. Gage was forced to resign her title after her mother-in-law informed the press that the 18-year-old was not only married to an Air Force sergeant, but was also the mother of two small sons. In a sad scene, the teary-eyed titleholder explains that she entered the competition to earn prize money to supplement their family’s military salary.
Miss Colorado Diana Dreman becomes the first daughter of a Miss America ever to win a state title and compete for the Miss America crown. Dreman, a University of Colorado at Boulder graduate and the daughter of Miss America 1974, Rebecca King Dreman, won the Miss Colorado title on June 25th, 2012. Unfortunately, the unique family winning streak ended there when she failed to make the televised finals.
The America’s Junior Miss program, founded in 1958, and known for such famous winners and Diane Sawyer (1963), changes its name to “Distinguished Young Women”, but keeps the proud achievement of being “the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls. The first America’s Junior Miss, Phyllis Whitenack, who represented West Virginia, dies at the age of seventy.
Laura Kaeppeler, a popular Miss Wisconsin, is named Miss America 2012, with a platform advocating “Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents”. In another first in pageant history, the Miss America’s father was a former criminal who had served time for mail fraud.
The Our Little Miss Pageant, the first of its kind in children’s pageantry, celebrates its 50th year of international pageantry. Organizers maintain they are “proud to carry the same values and principles it was started with”. The program is founded in 1962 by Marge Hannaman “to promote an outlet for young girls to have a way to better their social, business and personal speaking skills to enable them to grow in the business ‘man’s’ world.” The Our Little Miss pageant system is owned and operated by Marge’s daughter, Teri Hannaman Chandler. Organizers point out that Morley Safer once stated on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “The parents consider Universal Pageant System, World Youth Federation/Our Little Miss to be the most prestigious of all children’s pageants.”
The Northeast makes pageant history when its contestants hold three of the most prestigious titles in the world at the same time: Miss USA 2013 Erin Brady of Connecticut, Olivia Culpo Miss Universe 2012 and Miss USA 2012 of Rhode Island, and a Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan of New York. It is the first time the the Northeast has accomplished such a prestigious coupe in pageantry.
Miss America 2013, Erika Harold, a graduate of Harvard Law School, announces that she will run for Congress, challenging Republican Rodney Davis.