Miss Georgia got the crown and a former Miss America got what was coming to her — an apology — at the 95th Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City on Sunday night.
Vanessa Williams, who became the first African American Miss America in 1983 and served for 10 months before resigning in 1984 over nude photos, was head judge on the panel that awarded the 2016 title win to Betty Cantrell, 21.
After the state-by-state roll call at the start of the broadcast, during which the Georgia student declared that she hoped “to top off my Miss America crown with a Tony” down the line, Williams was brought to the stage to perform “How the Years Go By” as images from her past were shown behind her.
Among those images: A 1984 front-page L.A. Times headline, “Miss America Gives Up Crown.” What was scandalous at the time seems almost demure in the era of selfies and celebrities posing nude in magazines on a regular basis: Black-and-white pictures of Williams that were taken in 1982 had surfaced and were published in Penthouse.
In the hubbub that followed, she stepped down; on Sunday, the pageant stepped up.
“You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned,” Sam Haskell, executive chairman of the Miss America pageant, told the singer, wrapping his arm around her as he spoke. “Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are, and the Miss America you always will be.”
Williams accepted the apology, calling it “so unexpected, but so beautiful,” as her mother smiled in the audience and those in attendance cheered and applauded.
Then it was back to business as host Chris Harrison introduced the first round of cuts. Next came a bunch of women in bikinis, followed by a fully-clad parade of former Miss Americas introduced by last year’s winner, Kira Kazantsev.
Confidence is the first thing” judges look for in the swimsuit competition, Williams said. “From the first four steps, you can see the confidence, how they carry themselves, because it’s not comfortable standing out there in a bikini — back in my day, it was a one-piece — but a bikini, to be exposed like that, but also to pull it off with confidence. Nobody wants to do it, but they pulled it off.”
Evening gowns led to the talent competition led to seven of the final 10 contestants answering questions that count for 20% of their final score.
It was here that Miss Georgia, who’d performed an opera selection, “Tu Tu Piccolo Iddio,” with gusto thought she blew it.
The questions, incidentally, rolled out like a current-events quiz. The answers: Miss Colorado Kelly Johnson would put Ellen DeGeneres’ face on the $10 bill. Miss South Carolina Daja Dial doesn’t support a ban on military-style assault weapons but is in favor of increasing gun education. Miss Tennessee Hannah Robison doesn’t think federal funding to Planned Parenthood should be cut off.
Miss Alabama Meg McGuffin said that Donald Trump is leading in the polls because he’s an entertainer and that the Republican Party should be “absolutely terrified” that Trump is pulling attention from candidates such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie “who could absolutely do the job of president of the United States.”
Miss Mississippi Hannah Roberts said that Kim Davis issuing same-sex marriage licenses as part of her Kentucky county clerk job doesn’t violate Davis’ religious freedom. And when asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Miss Louisiana April Nelson put in a vote for body cameras on police and said, “I believe that black lives matter, all lives matter, and it shouldn’t matter what we base our labels on, everybody matters.”
And Miss Georgia’s query? Whether New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had cheated in the Deflategate scandal.
Cantrell said she’d have to be there to see and feel out the footballs herself, but noted that if there was any question about the inflation of the balls, she’d have to say he cheated. “I think he definitely cheated, and that he should have been suspended for that. That’s not fair.”
Guess the judges thought she did well enough. Following Cantrell in the final results were first runner-up Miss Mississippi, second runner-up Miss Colorado, third runner-up Miss Louisiana and fourth runner-up Miss Alabama.