The Miss America competition has had a rocky couple of years, public-relations-wise, but the annual show returned to NBC on Thursday night and doubled down on its new message: This is Miss America 2.0.
In other words: Instead of bikinis or evening gowns, the focus is on interviews and social impact initiatives. For the second year in a row, the competition stayed away from even alluding to physical appearance. At the start of the two-hour broadcast, the 51 women were introduced by career category: science, business, arts and education.
So it was quite fitting for this revamped show that the winner (of the crown and $50,000 scholarship) was Miss Virginia Camille Schrier, a 24-year-old scientist from Richmond studying to earn a doctor of pharmacy degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. She certainly stole the show during the talent portion - as the other four finalists performed jazz dances, twirled batons and sang songs, Schrier put on a chemistry demonstration.
"Science is all around us! I've loved science since I was a little girl," she said, beaming, dressed in a white lab coat. "It's my mission to show kids that science is fun, relevant and easy to understand."
She then poured potassium iodide into three separate flasks that contained concentrated hydrogen peroxide, food coloring and dish soap.
.@MissAmerica can be a scientist because a scientist IS NOW #MissAmerica2020!! Congratulations to @VT_alumni @MissAmericaVA — you've made @VT_Science, #HokieNation, and #WomenInSTEM everywhere so proud. https://t.co/1Ubxp29yaa pic.twitter.com/57eTxkpjz3— Virginia Tech (@virginia_tech) December 20, 2019
"What we are about to watch is the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide," she said. "But be careful! Don't try this at home." Foam started pouring out everywhere. The judges were in awe.
"Camille, that was so fun," said actress Lauren Ash of NBC's "Superstore," who judged along with singer Kelly Rowland and "Queer Eye" star Karamo Brown. "I feel like if my science teachers were half as vivacious as you, maybe I would have paid more attention."
Schrier, who won over runner-up Victoria Hill of Georgia and second runner-up Simone Esters of Missouri, also impressed the judges with her platform (drug safety and abuse prevention) and her interview answers. In response to various questions, Schrier advocated for awareness about mental health; agreed that Miss America should not post anything controversial on social media; and argued that Miss America should always be a single woman without children, because being in a relationship or having kids could distract from the demanding job.
One answer in particular drew a lot of applause, as Rowland asked, "How do you handle those who might make fun of Miss America?"
"I think that what I'm doing by being a woman of science and redefining what it means to be Miss America in 2020 is how I deal with those people," Schrier said. "I've had people that don't think that what I do is necessarily a talent. But you know what? Miss America is someone that needs to educate, be able to communicate with everyone, and that's what I do as a woman of science. And we need to show that Miss America can be a scientist and that a scientist can be Miss America."
This article was written by Emily Yahr, a reporter for The Washington Post.