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With swimsuit competition gone, new Miss America embraces win

On Sunday night, Nia Imani Franklin became the first woman in Miss America history to win the crown without donning a swimsuit. Ms. Franklin believes the change will empower more young women to get involved in the scholarship competition. 

Noah K. Murray/AP
Nia Imani Franklin poses during a news conference on Sept. 10, 2018 in Atlantic City, N.J. Ms. Franklin is the first woman in Miss America history to win the crown without participating in a swimsuit competition.

The first woman to win the Miss America crown without having to don a swimsuit says she's glad she didn't have to.

Nia Imani Franklin, who won the title Sunday night in Atlantic City while competing as Miss New York, said the changes in the 98-year-old pageant are a welcome modernization.

"These changes, I think, will be great for our organization," Ms. Franklin said. "I've already seen so many young women reaching out to me personally as Miss New York asking how they can get involved because I think they feel more empowered that they don't have to do things such as walk in a swimsuit for a scholarship.

"And I'm happy that I didn't have to do so to win this title tonight because I'm more than just that," Franklin said. "And all these women onstage are more than just that."

Her victory resurrected a string of successes the Empire State has had in the pageant in recent years. Mallory Hagan, Nina Davuluri, and Kira Kazantsev won the title from 2013 to 2015 competing as Miss New York.

A classical vocalist whose pageant platform is "advocating for the arts," Franklin sang an operatic selection from the opera La Boheme on Sunday night.

She wrote her first song at age 5. It went "Love, love, love, love, is the only thing that matters to me, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey." At the prompting of an Associated Press reporter, she sang the song at her post-victory press conference as audience members snapped their fingers.

Franklin won a $50,000 scholarship along with the crown in the first Miss America pageant to be held without a swimsuit competition.

She said during her onstage interview that she was one of only a small number of minority students in school growing up, but used her love for music and the arts to grow and fit in.

The fourth runner up was Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras; third runner up was Miss Florida Taylor Tyson; second runner up was Miss Louisiana Holli' Conway, and the first runner up was Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei.

The judges narrowed the field of 51 candidates during the pageant Sunday night from Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The decision to drop the swimsuit competition created a good deal of controversy and criticism of current Miss America leadership. Minutes before the nationally televised broadcast began, a comedian warming up the crowd mentioned that there would be no swimsuit competition this year, and was met with loud boos in the hall.

The swimsuits were replaced by onstage interviews, which have generated attention-grabbing remarks from contestants regarding President Trump and NFL player protests, among other topics.

Behind the scenes, a revolt is underway among most of the Miss America state organizations who demand that national chairwoman Gretchen Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper resign.

The former Miss America, Cara Mund, says the two have bullied and silenced her, claims that the women deny.

Upon taking over at the helm of the Miss America Organization last winter following an email scandal in which former top leaders denigrated the appearance, intellect, and sex lives of former Miss Americas, Ms. Carlson and Ms. Hopper set out to transform the organization, dubbing it "Miss America 2.0."

Unhappy with how the swimsuit decision was reached, as well as with other aspects of Carlson and Hopper's performance, 46 of the 51 state pageant organizations (the District of Columbia is included) have called on the two to resign.

Ms. Mund only appeared at the very end of the pageant before the next winner was crowned. She was not allowed to speak live; instead a 30-second taped segment of her speaking was broadcast.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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