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Miss America eliminates swimsuit competition and won't judge contestants on physical appearance

File photo of contestants in the 2015 Miss USA pageant attending a welcome reception at De La Ronde Hall in Baton Rouge, La., July 2, 2015. (William Widmer/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

After months of controversy within the Miss America organization, executives announced Tuesday, June 5, that the nearly century-old pageant will no longer judge contestants on their physical appearance.

Effective this year, the show will scrap the famed swimsuit competition. Instead, the organization said in a press release, "each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges, where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life, and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America."

The changes come on the heels of a major shakeup of the Miss America board. Last December, chief executive Sam Haskell and board chairman Lynn Weidner stepped down after a story by HuffPost revealed disparaging emails sent by pageant leaders and staffers about former contestants, using crude language.

Shortly after, Gretchen Carlson - the former Fox News anchor who won Miss America in 1999 - was named as the organization's new chairman. Carlson released a statement Tuesday that also credited the Me Too movement with overhauling the event. Carlson, who sued Fox News chief executive officer Roger Ailes for sexual harassment in 2016 and received a $20 million settlement, has become one of the most outspoken advocates for victims in the Me Too era.

"We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment," Carlson said in a statement. "We're experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement."

Carlson also appeared on "Good Morning America" Tuesday morning and emphasized that the "pageant" will now be known as a "competition." The organization's goal is to be "open, transparent and inclusive," she said, particularly to women who may not have felt comfortable participating in the past.

"We've heard from a lot of young women who say, 'We'd love to be a part of your program, but we don't want to be out there in high heels in a swimsuit.' So guess what? You don't have to do that anymore," Carlson said. She added that the telecast will also revamp the evening gown competition: "We're no longer judging women when they come out in their chosen attire, their evening wear, whatever they choose to do. It's going to be what comes out of their mouth that we're interested in, when they talk about their social impact initiatives."

When "GMA" anchor Amy Robach asked about potential ratings drop, given that some viewers may want to see women in swimsuits, Carlson dismissed the idea.

"Interestingly enough, that's not a highly rated part of the competition. People actually like the talent part of the competition," Carlson said.

On social media, the organization has already a new hashtag for the occasion: #byebyebikini. The 2019 Miss America competition will take place Sept. 9 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Story by Emily Yahr. Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.

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