Group will switch to Miss Volunteer America organization

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, April 11, 2021
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The Miss Montana Scholarship program will now be the Miss Montana Volunteer program as the local organization makes the switch to the Miss Volunteer America organization. Ranger-Review file photo

The Miss Montana program will no longer be associated with the national Miss America Organization, choosing instead to align themselves with a new national operation. According to Jan Holden, executive director of the board of directors for I.M.A.G.E. Production, Inc., which organizes the Miss Montana competition, the state competition will now be joining the Miss Volunteer America organization.

Miss Volunteer America is a new organization that began in Tennessee in late 2019. It is a service-oriented scholarship program that seeks to empower young women across the country through educational scholarship and “extraordinary opportunities,” according to their mission statement. Their inaugural pageant was scheduled for last year but had to be postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Holden explained that the Miss Montana organization decided to change which of the national organizations it would be associated with because they did not agree with structural changes that Miss America was making to its competitions. These included the organization’s decisions to remove the swim suit and evening gown portions of the competition.

“It’s a direction we’ve chosen to take because we don’t believe in the direction Miss America is taking,” she said. “Miss America eliminated evening gown, for one thing, they eliminated swim suit, two very key important competitions that the program had been part of ... when you take out those two elements of the competition, the only thing you’re left with is a talent competition and on stage questions.”

Miss America eliminated the swim suit portion of the competition as part of a series of sweeping changes the organization implemented in 2019. Rebranding as “Miss America 2.0,” the organization’s board of trustees said the changes were made because contestants would no longer be judged on their physical appearance. Both the evening gown and swim suit portions of the competition have been replaced with opportunities for contestants to highlight their previous achievements as well explain their future goals as the competition moves away from pageantry and more towards promoting female leadership.

“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment,” said Gretchen Carlson, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees. “We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”

Holden explained that the discussion of moving Montana to this new national organization has been ongoing for less than a year, but their concern with the direction the organization has been moving in has been present for longer. She noted that Montana was one of several states that actually signed a letter to the Miss America organization, encouraging them not to keep moving in the direction that they were a few years ago. Following that, Holden said they stayed with Miss America for as long as they could but ultimately found themselves at odds after the organization implemented its sweeping changes in 2019.

“We’ve been discussing this since probably last September but we wanted to stick with. The Miss Montana that’s under us is phenomenal and we didn’t want to leave her high and dry, but Miss America has made some decisions between September and now that we just, we’re not going to be a part of it,” Holden said.

Holden also explained that the current Miss Montana, Jessica Criss, will still go on to the Miss America competition but this year’s Miss Montana, whoever it may be, will instead be sent to the Miss Volunteer America pageant.

Other than which national organization they are associated with, Holden said the Miss Montana pageant will remain largely the same as it has been in previous years, including retaining the swim suit and evening gown portions. Interviews, however, will still be worth the most when it comes to the contestants’ final scores at 40%. The talent, swim suit and evening gown portions will otherwise be worth 20% of the final score each. The scholarship program will also remain unchanged.

The Miss Montana Volunteer program will be held in Glendive July 18 to July 24, with the competition taking place the evening of July 22, 23 and 24. The Miss Volunteer America competition will be held September 1 to Sept. 4 in Jacksonville, Tenn.

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“It’s a direction we’ve chosen to take because we don’t believe in the direction Miss America is taking,”

Jan Holden, I.M.A.G.E. Production executive director