For the last few weeks, I've been predicting that Miss America 2.0, the first under controversial chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, would be an unmitigated disaster. After a hellish nine months of backstabbing, catfighting, accusations of bullying, demands for Carlson's resignation, and a "Gretchen Sucks" sash around the Miss America statue on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, it's a miracle the show went on at all.
But despite my predictions, after watching Sunday night's telecast, I am going to go out on a limb and say that Miss America isn't going anywhere.
At least not yet.
She may not be on ABC again — the viewership was the lowest ever at 4.3 million, down from 5.4 million last year — but that's fine. It really belongs on C-Span anyway.
Of course, the pageant — yes, I still call it a pageant — is always boring, except to true pageant obsessives. But Sunday night's show wasn't that bad.
Except for the questions.
In Miss America 2.0, swimsuits were supposed to be replaced by a display of intellectual prowess. At one point, there was talk of having the finalists converse freely with the judges while on stage. I liked that idea, but instead we got several segments of really stupid questions.
>> SEE MORE: Pictures of the 2019 Miss America Competition
The worst was a lightning round with the "candidates" each asking a question of another. Some examples: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" "How do you empower women to overcome their fears?"
I wrote on Facebook that whoever wrote these questions should be dragged out to the Boardwalk and shot. Then someone alerted me that the candidates themselves wrote the questions. NO! I don't believe these smart, poised, 2.0 women wrote that crap. ('Fess up, Gretchen. You wrote them, didn't you?)
Then there was the question each finalist was asked by an emcee during the "red carpet" segment in place of the evening gown competition. (Although, all the women wore gowns anyway and I thought they were much more stylish and sassy, and less pageant-y, than they were in years past.)
"What do you want to say to America?" "What do you have to say?" "What's on your mind tonight?"
This inevitably resulted in canned and rehearsed answers that made all of the women look like bubbleheads in ways swimsuit never did. If any of them had any personality, you'd never know it from these questions.
Except for Miss Massachusetts, who was funny and lively. She exuded personality. She quickly became a contender.
Until the talent segment where she sang like a moose being milked.
The talent segment! This, too, needs work. To someone's credit, each display was limited to 90 seconds. (Which is a little hard when you are singing Puccini, as the winner did, and beautifully so.) The first runner up, Miss Connecticut, was also someone I could have watched for more than 90 seconds. She did an Irish step dance and moonwalked. It was wonderful.
But when one of them came out and did a treacly monologue about having had cancer, I wanted to shoot myself. Cancer?! Gah! Can't you twirl?
If the pageant continues, they should restore the runway. Without it, Miss New York just wandered aimlessly across the stage after she was crowned. What on earth was the logic of getting rid of the runway?
And who had the fakakta idea of taking MISS off their banners? The candidates were told to introduced themselves by state alone — "I'm Virginia" — instead of "I'm Miss Virginia." Mercifully, only 19 followed the directive.
Organizers should also bring back the crowning song. The pageant is strapped for money, so maybe they couldn't secure the rights to "There She Is." But "Whatever it Takes" by the Imagine Dragons? Seriously?
Despite these complaints, some elements of Miss America 2.0 bode well for the future. This was undoubtedly the most diverse group of finalists I've ever seen at this pageant. I would argue that ditching swimsuits had a lot to do with that diversity. There were fewer white Barbie dolls. And a few chubsters, too. (Oh, lighten up. I'm not fat-shaming, I'm being accurate.) Someone commented to me that it was like they all stopped going to the gym when swimsuits were tossed out. Good for them. Seriously.
One thing that was appropriately missing? Gretchen Carlson. Despite her haters' fears that she'd try to host the show herself, she never went near the stage.
The first question the new Miss America got in her backstage press conference after the show came from a male reporter. He wanted to know, after all the crapola of the past nine months, "What needs to happen to keep Miss America going?"
Miss America 2019 didn't bat one of her very long eyelashes. "I don't mean to sound cocky," she replied, "but I think you're looking at her."