— Kira Kazantsev (@MissAmerica) September 15, 2014
Last night, we crowned a brand new Miss America — Miss New York Kira Kazantsev. This marks the third time in a row that New York has taken the crown. Her talent was singing a version of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” while tapping cups on the floor, and during that performance an on-screen pop-up touted her love of “anything Jane Austin.”
Meanwhile, Miss Ohio moved her lips while singing a duet of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with a ventriloquist’s dummy. And we learned Miss Virginia is “terrified of frogs.”
All of this is news in and of itself (sort of). But judging by the emphasis placed by the Miss America pageant organizers, the college scholarships that are awarded is really what they want all the chatter to focus on. I guess we were all distracted by the bathing suit portion of the competition.
As the runners up were announced at the end of the broadcast, Chris Harrison made sure to note the thousands of dollars that each of the contestants would receive for their education for being the top choices. Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made an appearance in a clip with last year’s Miss America, Nina Davuluri, to talk up the importance of going to college and the opportunity that participation in the pageant affords.
However, this message is undermined by the continued inclusion of the bathing suit competition. This portion is made all the more contrary to the education message when you consider that the score for “Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit” is 15 percent of the final score while the “On-stage Question,” which gave each of the contestants 20 seconds to answer questions about things like sexual assault on college campuses and domestic violence, only counts for five percent.
We’re all tired of hearing variations on the word “authentic,” but we have to use it here. It’s inauthentic for the Miss America pageant to talk up all of the scholarships they’re handing out while judging its own contestants on something that has nothing to do with intellect or college achievement. It’s absolutely great and important that they’re handing out so much in funding towards educational pursuit. But the fact that you have to look good in a bikini and be judged “better” than a bunch of other beautiful (and seemingly pretty smart) women in order to get that funding doesn’t match their message. The pageant has been around for decades and has made strides as an organization. But this very important bit shows the pageant isn’t quite with us in the year 2014.