In the minds of many, pageants are pageants - If you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all. In reality, pageants are much more diverse than that. There are countless organizations to compete in, including Miss America, Miss USA/Universe, National American Miss, Miss World, and more. They may sound the same, but I know I'm not the only pageant girl who has to explain to her friends and family that the title she's competing for isn't synonymous with another. The most infamously confused are Miss USA and Miss America. After competing in Miss America for seven years and being asked how the two are different, I decided to flesh it out here!
How they got their start
The Miss America pageant was initially started as an attempt to extend the tourism season in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Dubbed the 'Fall Frolic', the first ever pageant took place on September 25, 1920 where Margaret Gorman was crowned the first Miss America at the age of 16. The pageant turned into a two-day event the following year, and by 1923, it's estimated that three hundred thousand people attended the pageant.
The Miss USA pageant was actually came to be from the Miss America pageant, when Miss America 1950, Yolande Betbeze, refused to pose in her swimsuit for publicity photos. Then-Miss America sponsor, Catalina Swimsuits, decided to pull their sponsorship and create an entirely new pageant organization, Miss Universe and Miss USA.
How the competition differs
The first step in the Miss America Organization is winning a local pageant, which then qualifies you for your state's pageant. In the Miss America Organization, Miss America is the highest title that you can win.
Candidates in the Miss America Organization are required to have a Social Impact Initiative, previously known as a platform. This is a cause, organization, or mission that they've chosen to embrace and promote throughout their time competing. They may fundraise, attend events, or otherwise raise awareness for their Social Impact Initiative.
The Miss America Organization places a heavy emphasis on the scholarship component of the competition, stating that they are one of the largest scholarship providers to young women in the world.
In this Miss USA Organization, you're not required to compete at and win a local pageant in order to compete at a State Pageant - Instead, you fill out an application online. Local preliminary pageants are offered in some places for Miss USA, and if you win one of those local titles, you don't have to go through the online application process. In Miss USA, you go on to compete at Miss Universe, meaning that Miss Universe is the highest title that you can win.
Contestants in the Miss USA Organization aren't necessarily required to have a platform or Social Impact Initiative, though many states are starting to encourage them.
Phases of competition
Every level of the Miss America Organization - local, state, and national - contain the same phases of competition. However, they are scored differently. More information on Miss America's scoring can be found on their website.
Pageants in the Miss America Organization include:
A private interview with the judges. Interviews are 10 minutes long and with all five judges at once.
An on-stage interview/Social Impact Initiative Pitch
Talent, which must be 90 seconds or less
Red carpet (Evening gown)
Pageants in the Miss USA Organization also contain the same phases of competition at every level, but only the top 5 finalists - which are selected based on their scores in the following areas of competition - are asked an onstage question.
Pageants in the Miss USA Organization include:
A private interview with the judges. Typically two contestants walk into the interview room, each going to a different panel of three judges. You get two minutes with that panel before switching and spending two minutes with the other panel.
How their missions differ
According to the official Miss America website, the mission of the Miss America Organization is to 'Prepare great women for the world, and prepare the world for great women'.
"Miss America is more than a title, it’s a movement of empowering young women everywhere to dream big, to insist that their voices be heard and to inspire change in the world around them."
According to the official Miss USA website, by competing in the organization, "contestants and titleholders have the opportunity to grow as women and be confident in any goal they choose to pursue. While we are a competition, the women who participate also learn to help one another and create a network of friends and colleagues on which to draw support.
The mission of the Miss USA/Universe organization is to "[Empower] women to realize their personal, professional and philanthropic goals through experiences that build self-confidence and act as catalysts for future success."
How the job of Miss America/Miss USA differs
According to the Miss America Organization, Miss America will be logging some miles - the winner will be changing locations every 8-24 hours and traveling 20,000+ miles per month. She works to "Develop goals and execute on tactics to advance her chosen Social Impact Initiative, setting metrics and developing partnerships which will show positive results at the end of her year." In addition to her personal Social Impact Initiative, Miss America also serves as an ambassador for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, the national Social Impact Initiative of the Miss America Organization. Miss America will research and prepare speeches for a variety of different audiences, she'll interact with the media and MAO sponsors or partners, and more.
In many ways, Miss USA will have a similar year. The most notable difference is that Miss USA will go on to compete at Miss Universe. Additionally, Miss USA will move to the Miss Universe apartment in New York City. From there, she will spend a significant amount of time traveling, speaking, and achieving her own personal and professional goals. "Through the organization, the winner is provided a platform for possibility based on her objectives for the year. Alongside The Miss Universe Organization, she will plan how to achieve her goals on the national and global scale."
Both the Miss America Organization and the Miss USA Organization, as well has the many other pageant organizations available, provide a unique set of opportunities and experiences to contestants. While no organization is 'better' than any other, some may be better suited to an individual's goals or preferences, and it's up to each girl to determine what organization is best for her!