BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Miss America Organization said "bye, bye bikini," last month but some 22 state pageants are now calling for the scholarship program to say goodbye to current Chair of the Board, Gretchen Carlson.
Carlson, who won the Miss America 1989 pageant, took leadership of the historic organization earlier this year in the wake of controversy surrounding former CEO Sam Haskell. Now in-fighting and power struggles among pageant insiders could further complicate the production of this year's show and pose major challenges for the non-profit's future governance.
The Miss Georgia Organization posted a statement purportedly signed by the 22 state pageant directors, including Alabama, that asks Carlson and several others to resign. WBRC's calls to the Miss Alabama state director were not returned this weekend.
The Miss Georgia post states, "As dedicated members of our state and local communities who lend our reputations, financial support and voluntary efforts to facilitate MAO's long and powerful mission of empowering women to stand up and speak out, we find ourselves needing to use our own voices of leadership to express our profound disappointment regarding what, in our view, is the failed leadership of the entire MAO Board of Trustees."
This follows the resignations of two former Miss Americas, Kate Shindle and Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, who were elected to the board only months ago. Two other board members elected from the Miss America State Title Holders Association claim they were forced off the board without notice in June. The four issued a joint statement expressing concern that the current leadership was creating a toxic culture where asking questions would not be tolerated.
Almost immediately, dozens of former Miss Americas shot back with a statement supporting the pageant's leadership. Alabama congressional candidate, and Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan is among the former queens backing Carlson.
What happens with the national organization impacts thousands of women across the country. This weekend in Alabama alone, at least three women and three teen girls earned money for college in preliminary pageants.
On one high school auditorium stage, future pharmacist Aly York began her quest to become Miss America and earned $500 in scholarship money. York, a student at Samford University, was crowned Miss Center Point 2019 and moves onto the Miss Alabama pageant next year.
"Getting involved in the Miss America Organization has not only helped me pay for part of my education but also given me a servant's heart that I did not know that I had," York told WBRC.
York is among the last of local titleholders required to compete in the swimsuit portion of the pageant. She will be among the first class of state contestants to be judged under a new scoring system that gives more weight to talent and an on-stage interview.
Also moving on to the next stage is Grayson Gann, a student at Jemison High School, who was named Miss Center Point's Outstanding Teen 2019. The younger division of the Miss America pageant has never competed in swimsuits but does perform a fitness routine.
Both new titleholders heartily encouraged others to get involved in the Miss America Organization, the world's largest provider of scholarships for women. Miss Center Point and Miss Center Point Outstanding Teen say their speaking abilities, community service and personal confidence all improved through their years of competing.
"I trust in this organization and that they're doing what's best for us moving forward and I'm excited to see what the new changes will bring," said York.