The Miss America 2019 competition took place in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 9 and took on a decidedly different appearance from past years.
With the announcement in June that the swimsuit portion would be eliminated from future events, the much-criticized competition assumed a more empowered stance and contestants followed suit.
WATCH BELOW: Miss America drops swimsuit portion and won’t judge on looks
In her introduction during Sunday’s telecast, Miss Michigan Emily Sioma took the opportunity to call out the Flint water crisis, instead of using the moment to highlight her accomplishments, as contestants are expected to do.
“From the state with 84 per cent of the United States’ fresh water but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan Emily Sioma,” she said.
The Flint water crisis first came to light in 2014 when it was discovered that the state was using water from the Flint River as the city’s primary source. It is estimated that 100,000 people from the mostly low-income city have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead contamination through the water, and it is blamed for at least 12 deaths. Although the crisis was headline news in 2015 and 2016, it has fallen off the radar and Flint residents are still being told to use filtered bottled water. Replacement pipes are not expected to be completed until 2020.
She was roundly praised on social media for shining a light on the ongoing issue.
It wasn’t the first time during this year’s competition that contestants let their political leanings shine through. In the final night of the preliminaries that took place on Sept. 7, Miss West Virginia Madeline Collins called out President Donald Trump for dividing the nation.
When asked during the onstage interview portion (which replaced the swimsuit pageant) what she thought was the biggest threat facing her country, the contestant, who represents a state that voted for Trump, cited the president.
“Donald Trump is the biggest issue our country faces,” she replied. “Unfortunately, he has caused a lot of division in our country.”
The previous evening, Miss Virginia Emili McPhail stated her support of NFL players who choose to kneel during the national anthem.
She said standing “is a right you have. But it’s also not about kneeling; it is absolutely about police brutality.”
Swimsuits are out; pantsuits are in
The winds of change also swept through the fashions seen during the competition. With the elimination of swimsuits, contestants readily opted for other suits — namely pants and jumpsuits.
Although pants have been allowed at the competition since 1993, they’ve rarely been seen onstage. This year, however, at least 10 contestants wore a pantsuit or jumpsuit for their interview and introduction segments.
Despite an outcry from the pageant community that this would be the first Miss America contest not to feature a swimsuit portion (there were audible jeers from the audience when it was announced during Sunday’s show), many followers were pleased to see contestants in less traditional pageant attire.
During a post-show interview on Sunday evening after being crowned Miss America, Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin applauded the organization’s decision to ban the swimsuit portion, crediting it with opening up the competition to a new generation of women.
“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,” she said.
“I’m happy that I didn’t have to do so to win this title tonight, because I’m more than just that. And all these women onstage are more than just that.”