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The crown carries with it a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run as an advocate and role model. The winner will go on tour, speaking to groups around the country and raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the pageant’s official charity.

The pageant started as little more than an Atlantic City bathing suit revue. It broke viewership records in its heyday and bills itself as one of the world’s largest scholarships programs for women.

But like other pageants, the show has struggled to stay relevant with the advent of feminism and the civil rights movement. More recently, the rise of reality television has provided a superabundance of options for Americans interested in seeing attractive young people in competitive pursuits.

The beauty queens are also striving to rebrand themselves.

“Every pageant girl, it’s become the thing to say that you were a big tomboy growing up,” said Miss District of Columbia Allyn Rose, before going on to describe herself as a kid who loved to play in the dirt.

Rose plans to undergo a preventive double mastectomy after the competition to reduce her risk of breast cancer, the disease that killed her mother and grandmother.

She is one of several contestants who have grabbed headlines this year because of their unusual backstories. Other include Miss Montana, the pageant’s first autistic contestant, Miss Iowa, who struggles with Tourette’s syndrome, and Miss Maine, who lost more than 50 pounds to win her state crown.

Judge Mary Hart said these hard luck personal histories will not sway her scoring because every contestant has overcome adversity. What she is looking for is “really the full package.”

“Each in their own way is so admirable, and has faced the odds, that they’re already winners in life,” said the former “Entertainment Tonight” host. “Each woman is capable in her own right of being a role model, and already in fact is.”


Hannah Dreier can be reached at