Change is hard, said Carlson at the July press conference, recalling that when the pageant got underway in 1921, a year after women gained the vote, it was radical for a woman to be seen “parading” on the boardwalk in a bathing suit. In the 1940’s, a talent competition was added, prompting critics to say that would be boring, and in 1989, when Carlson was Miss America, representing her home state of Minnesota, celebrity judges were brought in for the first time, “and I wasn’t a fan,” she said. “I was a classical violinist and I wanted someone who understood classical music.”
Some of the pushback to Carlson stems from a feeling among longtime volunteers that she is using the organization to expand her own brand at the expense of pageant traditions. Carlson successfully sued Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment, settling for a reported $22 million. “Obviously, we’re experiencing what I refer to as a cultural revolution now,” she said at the National Press Club, and Miss America if it is to survive as a viable organization, has to change with the times.