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Surprising Miss America 2023 Recap: Admiring the Year from Afar

Hey, hi, happy new year!

I hope you all had exactly the holiday break that you needed - whether that was time away from work, time spent with family (or time spent without family), time to work on that special project you've been wanting to tackle, or just some days to simply rest!

After Miss America, I took the train up to NYC to celebrate a milestone birthday for my mama, promptly got the flu when I got back to Kansas, spent a week as a snotty mess, and healed up in time to visit my dad in Virginia for Christmas. Miraculously, we did NOT encounter any of the crazy flight delays or cancellations and made it back to Kansas to dive into a big rebuild for my boyfriend's business relocation. We spent every day (and night until 2am or later...!) building from the concrete up to have his grand opening on January 2nd and I think we did a pretty good job!

After Miss America - I put out a question box on IG asking what y'all wanted to know in my recap blog. So I compiled the most-asked questions and figured I'd roll through them here with you!

So without further ado... My Miss America 2023 Recap - Admiring the Year from Afar.

Before I get into the questions - here's the context: I went to watch Miss America for the first time in 2017 as a local titleholder back when it was still in Atlantic City. I competed at Miss America 2020 at the end of the 2019 calendar year. It was the organization's first year in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun. Lots of changes were going on both on and off stage. And quite frankly... was not remotely the experience I expected out of Miss A. I came back to watch when we resurrected after the pandemic for the 100th anniversary and was also very underwhelmed. So this was my third year back in Connecticut, my second year back as a former, and my fourth time experiencing Miss America live.

This year, I watched the first night of preliminaries on the live stream, then watched the second prelim night and finals live and in person - so I think I got a pretty thorough experience from all viewing options! Okay - let's dive in.

Photo by K Garcia Productions
Miss Arizona - Photo by K Garcia Productions

What was the stage like in real life? Was it really dark lighting?

So when I saw pictures of the stage, especially the weird runway blip off to the side, my first reaction was, "This again? Who in the world is sitting onstage? A runway doesn't go to the side, it goes in the center." But THEN... when I saw how the production team was using the runway with the camera angles on the live stream, I really liked the red carpet moment the candidates got to have. I loved having the onstage question happen on the red carpet and for them to have their full gown moment solo on the main stage.

I personally would not want to sit onstage the entire time and keep my face in check (poor teens had to be SO mindful the entire show. props to them!), but I did really love that they got a unique experience and perspective to watch their Misses and cheer them on. That was cool.

The live stream definitely translated entirely differently than in real life. I don't remember being concerned about the lighting when I was there in person, so it must have been fine. I'll say that the direct audio feed to the live stream sounds worlds different than what the audio sounds like in person. The arena's acoustics was like a Snapchat filter for your voice. There were vocalists that I was really unsure of on the live stream (actually the prelim night 1 talent winner was one of them), and then I heard them in real life and completely understood how they received high marks from the judges. On the flip side, I think the dancers had a better advantage if you were viewing on the live stream at least you could see their footwork most of the time. There were so many tappers and cloggers this year and not a single one of them was properly mic'd. Did y'all notice there weren't any dancers in finals? I can't say for sure that it was because of poor attention to the sound of their taps, but I'd bet money that played into it, and the restricted space to dance due to the shape of the stage.

Photo by K Garcia Productions
Miss Vermont - Photo by K Garcia Productions

What did you think of the Rebel Athletic number and the Rebel side stage?

Based on what I've read online... I may have an unpopular opinion here. I loved it. Do I think there could be tweaks and adjustments to make it really hit next year? Sure! But I also appreciated the opportunity to see ALL of the candidates onstage again, great photo op with the social impact signs, and an awesome way to highlight a major sponsor of MAO.

As for the side stage - again, I think there can be some content tweaks and shifts to make it feel a little bit more fluid, but it reminded me of the backstage commentators we see at Miss USA and Miss Universe. I always love hearing from those commentators almost more than the hosts, so this felt like a step in that direction where we could bring back former Miss Americas in the future to be added into these segments with Rebel and help with the flow and conversationality of the show. In-person, the additional stage felt like a level-up and something special, and again - we got to know more about one of our national sponsors that is investing a ton into our organization in a way that felt like it made the most sense.

In short: I'm a fan and I like where this is going.

Why do you think they aren't airing the competition on tv anymore?

Listen - do you have cable TV? I certainly don't.

The conversations I've seen include comments like, "This is the first year Miss America isn't on network television...!!" *gasp* Every time Miss America has been on a network station in the last 10 years, I've had to maneuver how to get that channel to play on whatever streaming service I'm subscribed to. I can't speak for everyone, but I would venture to say that a majority of our target market doesn't have regular TV to tune in to channel 12.

With the way media is going, I actually think that streaming on platforms like Hulu, Amazon, or PageantsLive is the most accessible and makes the most sense. Your average tv watcher isn't scrolling through channels anymore - they're scrolling through Instagram and TikTok. I would rather the organization find a way to make the stream free again, and spend part of their marketing budget on ads and marketing on social media to direct to our live stream.

Do you feel the organization really did try to improve the candidate experience this year?

Yes, yes, yes.

Having been in the inaugural class to experience Miss America in December in Connecticut, watching the flop of the 100th anniversary competition, and now coming back for the third year to see how it goes - I could see major steps that were taken by the organization to make the experience of the young women better, and implementing feedback from the fan base for this year. Again - was it perfect? No. Did they take huge steps in a positive direction? YES.

Of course, I wasn't a candidate and didn't have the behind-the-scenes this year, but from what I've heard, it was leaps and bounds ahead of the last two years' experiences for the candidates. Still, there's room for improvement to get it back to those Atlantic City days ;) - but I feel the shift and I think it's important to recognize that and name it.

I saw Shantel (CEO of MAO) in the hall after prelims and told her that I really appreciated the intention behind the changes this year and that it seemed like they were listening to the feedback that has been provided. I'm interested to see how they move forward and what the competition and experience look like in the future.

What are your thoughts on where Miss America should develop?

GREAT question... and one that I ask frequently with our clients in mock interviews ;)

My thoughts aren't necessarily pointing towards an "end goal", but rather a practice and culture. Miss America needs to continue to evolve and develop as it always has - but with the way our world works right now, it needs to do this at a much faster rate to stay on top of media and marketing trends, and ultimately to stay relevant to potential candidates, investors, and sponsors.

MAO needs to figure out what value they offer to their candidates that no other pageant system offers right now, and capitalize on that. If our thing is scholarships? We need to step up our game. $50k for the top spot doesn't cover much in today's higher education economy. If our special sauce is something else? We need to lean into it and own it.

As a candidate, it's tough to be in the middle of the transition years. But know that this has happened before, and it will happen again. MAO simply needs to build a staff that can be quick on their feet, smooth with their transitions, and continue to keep the lines of communication open between the organization and its stakeholders. (of course, easier said than done... and a lot of what "needs to be done" also needs funding... so... that's all I'll say on that)

What are some ways to get involved as a has-been?

It really depends on what your groove is! I speak to this a little bit in my blog entry, "Dear Forevers: It's Complicated". I'd ask yourself what fills your bucket and what are the human needs you're looking to have satisfied by being involved. Is it contribution, siginificance, certainty, variety, love, or growth?

You can write a check to your local, state, or national org and they will definitely appreciate it, but is that the thing that makes you feel good? I think in most states there is a restriction of how many years you have to wait before you can volunteer with a local or state board - but if you've hit that mark, I'd find the organization in your area that could use your expertise!

If you're in the limbo of being fresh out of your competition years - I'd put aside pride and see how you can use what you built (sponsors, partners, platform resources), and reach down and pull up the next girl. Keep in mind, you don't have to stay within your state lines. If you see a local titleholder on social media with a similar social impact who could benefit from your recourses and connections - I'm sure she would love support from a sister across the country (:

What are your thoughts on how you balance staying involved vs not feeling like you're living vicariously through the next girl?

Also something I speak to in this blog ;) I really do think it's different for everyone. I found my purpose after the crown in supporting the women competing in a way that made sense for me. When I've returned to the national competition, I have not attended with my state faction - partially because they've never invited me, and partially because I realized I enjoyed going as just me rather than being attached to a state organization.

There are ways to stay involved, as I mentioned in the response above, that don't have to be tied to your recent experience with the organization. You can virtually cross state lines and offer support in different ways either directly to candidates or to local organizations that may be desperate for volunteer capacity.

Also-also - is living vicariously through them necessarily bad? I love following the candidates who are active on their socials during the competition and seeing the behind-the-scenes that they share! I think that's something I'll look forward to every year. There's absolutely a healthy balance you can create for yourself and set some boundaries, but I don't think it's bad to be a social-media-fly-on-the-wall as long as it's a safe mental space for you to be in.

Final thoughts

This was my favorite year experiencing Miss America by far. I felt the glamour start to come back in, I felt like we really got to know the candidates from a wholistic perspective (loved the compilation vids on finals night!), I could tell that feedback from the fan base was taken into account and implemented in ways that made sense for the organization right now.

I know from my full-time job on the inside of a non-profit organization with a lot of young people and stakeholders to satisfy - it's virtually impossible to please everyone, and there's always more to the story than the public is privy to know.

I also loved getting to meet some of my blog readers in person (HI!!!) and connecting with our clients in 3-D. And my last unpopular opinion - I think I'm a big fan of being at the Mohegan Sun in December in Connecticut..! The Mohegan is a really wonderful host, has great food options that you don't have to go out into the cold for, and it was a quick train ride up to NYC to experience Christmastime in New York. Again - credit where credit is due. It has its challenges, but it's not all bad.

This was also my favorite year because I think it gets better the further away I get from my year competing. I have less sentimental attachment and I can get up on the balcony to see the experience as it is, rather than how my emotions are tied to it. If I had to give it a number - with where we've come from, and what I perceive the state of the organization to be, and the resources I think we have available right now - I think I'd score Miss America 2023 a solid 8/10.

I could keep writing, but this is already pretty long so I'm calling that a wrap. Super interested to hear your thoughts and what your score would be for Miss America 2023... pop over to IG and send me a message and let me know what you thought!

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