It has been a wretched year for Miss America, an event that started life as a wheeze to attract tourists to the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 1921.

Last December the venerable institution was mired in scandal when a raft of emails from executives running the organisation was leaked to the Huffington Post.

They laid bare how senior figures had ridiculed previous winners, making crude remarks about their appearance and sex lives.

Sponsors disowned the pageant and 49 former Miss Americas called for the heads of those at the helm.


They got their wish - a new executive team was brought in headed by Gretchen Carlson who was Miss America in 1989 and more recently a Fox News anchor best known for bringing down the network chairman, Roger Ailes, whom she accused of sexual harassment.

Miss America was relaunched and the bikini parade consigned to history.

Carlson certainly gave an uplifting message when she was interviewed at the National Press Club in Washington DC at the end of July.

"The two reasons why I entered the programme were talent and scholarship, and these are the two things we need to make sure we are messaging better."

It could be argued that in the age of the #MeToo movement, Miss America has claimed the feminist high ground from Miss USA, a comparative newcomer dating back to 1952, where the swimsuit competition remains a key part of the show.

Instead, there are question marks over whether it can raise the money needed to fund its ambitious programme of scholarships for high-achieving young women.

Its problems aren't new.

The company, which has struggled to achieve profitability in recent years, has declined to discuss its current position.

Things were very different during the heyday of the pageant. There were 27 million viewers when Miss America first aired in 1954.

For decades viewers would tune in to watch the glamour and glitz, which culminated with the crooner Bert Parks serenading the winner with the song's theme tune, There she is, Miss America, as she sashayed down the runway.

Even without the brouhaha of the last few years, the show's popularity was on the wane, with a paltry 5.6 million viewers last year - a drop of more than half a million on the previous pageant.

Gretchen Carlson has made changes.
Gretchen Carlson has made changes.

Perhaps expecting the new management team to achieve financial sustainability only a few months after taking over is unrealistic.

But there are some worrying straws in the wind.

The US$11.25 million three-year contract with Atlantic City's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority finishes after the 2019 Miss America, which takes place in just over a month.

A spokesman for the authority said no decision had been taken over whether it will be renewed.

There is similar uncertainty over the contract with ABC, which is in its final year.

The rebranding has been worthy.

It has a new mission statement that says the purpose of the organisation is "to prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women".

However, not everyone is happy about the changes brought in, which have seen the pageant relabelled as a "competition" and contestants now described as "candidates".

Some of the volunteers and organisers who run the state pageants that produce the participants for the national show have complained about not being consulted.

There has been a petition calling for the new team to step down and four members of the new Miss America board have walked away.

Judges, from left, Howie Mandel, Mel B, host Tyra Banks, Martina McBride and Heidi Klum on the set of America's Got Talent.
Judges, from left, Howie Mandel, Mel B, host Tyra Banks, Martina McBride and Heidi Klum on the set of America's Got Talent.

Some experts believe all the efforts are in vain.

"I think they have had their time," says Douglas McCabe, a media specialist at Enders Analysis.

"They feel old-fashioned in every way. They have been replaced by media and content that can be accessed in different ways."

There is a sense that Miss America has failed to adapt to the modern media landscape where shows like American Idol are drawing the huge audiences.

"Miss America was once an icon but being an icon is no guarantee it will live forever," says Stephen Greyser, professor at Harvard Business School.

The show is suffering from "institutional fatigue", Greyser adds. "It has been an issue of changing customs and norms.

"The notion of the beauty contest has become increasingly dated."

John Quelch, dean of the Miami Business School, is more withering.

"There are two problems with Miss America... Miss and America. The salutation "Miss" is entirely anachronistic.

"Meanwhile, in an era of increasing demographic diversity, America is no longer the unifying cultural rallying point that used to draw large audiences.

"The pageant selection format has become a lowest common denominator compromise that satisfies neither the feminists on the left or the evangelicals on the right."

There are two problems with Miss America ... Miss and America.

Arguably the new team has taken on an almost impossible task, given the legacy it inherited.

"It is not like this is a new crisis. You could argue that in the past decade or so it has not been run in the most financially responsible way," says Hilary Levey Friedman, sociology professor at Brown University.

"Major companies wanted to be associated with it and that does not exist today.

"Household names are missing from the list of sponsors and that is adding to its troubles. The TV contract is the most important because it primarily funds the scholarships."

The rebranded competition can hardly be accused of gratuitous sexism - a criticism some might make of Miss USA, which has not ditched the bikini portion of the show.

But in the age of America's Got Talent and countless reality shows, there is a danger that, praiseworthy and empowering as the latest iteration is, it might lack popular appeal.

The point is made succinctly by Levey Friedman. "There are reasons why they don't televise Rhodes Scholarship interviews."