Gone is the pomp and pageantry of the 98-year-old Miss America competition you probably grew up watching, with those infamous swimsuit struts and judging primarily centered around a woman’s physical appearance. In this new era, coined Miss America 2.0, the competition puts intelligence and talent at the forefront, showering winners with a multitude of scholarship and philanthropic opportunities. New York’s Nia Franklin was crowned Miss America in September 2018 and was the first candidate to win under the organization’s new direction.
“My year has meant so much to me,” tells Franklin. “I was the first Miss America 2.0, so I’ll be able to say that for the rest of my life.”
Franklin was in grad school at the time struggling with debt when she first considered the Miss America organization for its scholarship opportunities. In three short years, she worked her way through area competitions for her chance at the title.
To win, Franklin shares, contestants have to focus on “how you speak, how intelligent you are, how relatable you are to other people, and obviously talent.” Talent is 50% of the preliminary scoring, and for Franklin — an amazingly gifted opera singer, composer and writer — it was her golden ticket.
“People are just fascinated with opera. When you’re young and you sing opera — a black woman that sings opera — it’s different. People don’t expect that, and it’s just amazing to just be able to go outside of the box. I think that’s what Miss America 2.0 is. It’s not something that’s cookie cutter or you have to do it this way. It shows that you can be anything you want to be.”
For Franklin, she’s proving just that. She plans to release new music in 2020 and continue her work at the organization she founded, Compose Her (composeher.org), which is dedicated to supporting, encouraging and highlighting female composers and musicians.
On Dec. 19, NBC will air live The 2020 Miss America Competition from the Mohegan Sun casino and resort in Connecticut.