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More Than a Beauty Contest – How Ms. America is a Launching Pad for Success

“There she is, Miss America. 


We’ve all heard the song and watched the pageant, but how much do we know about Miss America? I’m not talking about the young woman with the sash and the crown. The Miss America Organization is more than a beauty contest (in fact, I learned during this episode beauty isn’t even part of the competition). It empowers women through college scholarships.  


I know you’re not supposed to ask a lady her age, but next year Miss America will celebrate a key milestone — turning 100. While it’s aged gracefully, Miss America is a long way from its roots as an Atlantic City, NJ swimsuit contest whose original goal was to bring more people to the city’s famed boardwalk for Labor Day Weekend.  


Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting Shantel Krebs, the Chairwoman and interim CEO of the Miss America Organization on All Business with Jeffrey HayzlettNot only is she running the organization, but she was also a contestant. 


“1997, I was Miss South Dakota, and that really shaped who I am today,” Shantel said. “For me, it was a launching pad. It not only was the launching pad for my scholarships that I applied to go to college. I was the first one in my family to attend college and essentially was paid for by Miss America.” 


“We always compare Miss America to the Super Bowl. Is it more likely your daughter compete in Miss America versus your son competing in the Super Bowl? It’s a really difficult process to get on that stage, but the benefits in the process of getting there are so worth it of the lady that you become.” 


While most of us think of Miss America as a national television event, the work making that show possible involves many from across the country. It’s all made possible by volunteers from the state-level all the way up to the boardroom.  


“The whole organization is made up of volunteers, boots on the ground that have these organizations established in local communities. That have local titleholders crowned, and then they go on to the state competition and volunteers really run the state organizations,” Shantel said. “So, when you look at the impact that we have for those 99 years. It’s an organization that’s been run solely by volunteers. You can’t compare that to another nonprofit.” 


Those volunteers and contestants put in countless hours at local, regional, and state competitions. Shantel says even the women who don’t win gain valuable experience you can’t get anywhere else. 

“If you see somebody who’s competed in Miss America on their resume, you need to jump on them. These are the overachievers. The ladies really have it all together,” Shantel said. “At the same time (the contestants) have heart and soul. They’re authentic.” 


“We don’t want to put her on a pedestal and say this is what she is and what everybody thinks she is. She’s the girl next door.” 


She’s also heavily involved in her community. 


“When you talk about how do we make a difference? It is not just with the lives of the scholarships that these young ladies are winning, but it’s in their community. So many of them volunteer or have a particular social initiative that they are advocating for, and they are making a difference in their local community or their state.” 


Miss America is not without controversy. Many believe that it’s a pageant that sexualizes women, exploiting a contestant’s beauty instead of their brains. Shantel says it’s a stigma the organization works hard to rebel against. 


“It’s frustrating,” Shantel said. “Yes, we have a national (TV) network broadcast, but it’s the day-to-day, 365 days a year that we actually are working out there. The social impact initiatives, these causes (the contestants) are supporting, that they’re advocating for in their local communities.” 


She added, “We don’t say you have to be invested in a brand-new dress. We don’t judge in one area of our competition on physical beauty. I know it’s hard to believe.” 


It’s also hard to believe that there isn’t a swimsuit competition, either. Miss America did away with that in 2018.  


“The organization was founded in 1921 on the boardwalk in Atlantic City to extend the vacation season,” Shantel said. “So, they thought, ‘let’s have them parade around in bathing suits.’ Which was very disruptive back then (a swimsuit competition) was something you didn’t do.” 


“What we want to make sure people understand the Miss America candidates is that it’s not about the personal and the beauty physical component of it, we’re judging these ladies on the impacts they’ve made, their education and career and where they want to go with it.” 


Shantel says you should think of Miss America as a job interview that the world can see because becoming Miss America is a full-time job for the winner. It isn’t just a crown, a sash, and a bouquet of roses.  


“What happens if she wins the crown and the title, she gets up before the press and asked what her goals and objectives (are) and what she wants to accomplish. What’s her business plan? So, right off the bat, she’s answering tough questions,” Shantel said. “The next morning, we send her off to the major networks in New York, or wherever it may be, put her on camera the next morning on the major morning shows. From there, she goes right on the road speaking. In a non-pandemic year, she’s traveling every 48 to 72 hours in a new location. Miss America is a 365-day job. She’s totally making a difference.” 


She continued, “Beyond that, not just focusing on Miss America, but all those 50 other state titleholders. They go back to their communities and are continuing to advocate for the cause and make a difference in their states.” 


While the pandemic did slow Miss America down in 2020, the pageant plans to come roaring back in 2021, just in time to celebrate its 100th Birthday. 


This discussion was eye-opening and opened up my understanding of the Miss America Organization and what these young women do year-round. We all could learn a lesson from these future leaders.  


There’s a lot more to our conversation, including talk about sponsorship and branding. Click here to hear the rest of our chat. 

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