Internal strife put aside as Miss America hopefuls arrive

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The official arrival of the 51 hopefuls vying for the title of Miss America went off Thursday without direct mention of the recent public tensions between the reigning titleholder and the pageant’s leadership.

Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson has feuded on Twitter with reigning Miss America Cara Mund after Mund said she’d been “silenced” by pageant officials seeking to control what she says publicly. Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper also have come under fire for their decision to discontinue the swimsuit competition. Many state pageant officials have called for Carlson and Hopper to resign.

Mund and Carlson sat several seats away from each other during Thursday’s introduction ceremony on the boardwalk but didn’t appear to have any interaction. During her comments, Mund said she was confident whoever wins this year’s competition “will be 100 percent ready and supported throughout her entire year.” Afterward, she deflected questions about her Aug. 17 letter criticizing the pageant’s leadership, choosing to focus on the current crop of candidates.

Carlson and Hopper declined to answer questions after the ceremony.

Contestants from the 50 states plus the District of Columbia will meet the public Thursday afternoon. The next Miss America will be crowned at Boardwalk Hall in a nationally televised broadcast on Sept. 9.

Carlson and Hopper took over earlier this year after previous pageant officials were revealed to have circulated emails denigrating the appearance, intellect and sex lives of former Miss Americas.

Mund said in a letter to former Miss Americas on Aug. 17 that she has been left out of interviews and not invited to meetings, and that she had a televised farewell speech cut to 30 seconds after she indirectly hinted at trouble with pageant leadership in a newspaper interview.

Carlson responded on Twitter that Mund’s actions had cost the pageant $75,000 in new scholarships and that she was “already seeing a negative ripple effect across the entire organization.”

The Miss America Organization told The Associated Press this month it hopes to hand out at least as much in scholarships this year as it did last year, approximately $500,000.

Pageant officials also announced Thursday that music producer and television host Randy Jackson and news anchor Soledad O’Brien will be among this year’s celebrity judges. Joining them will be former boxer and author Laila Ali; on-air personality and author Bobby Bones; country music star Jessie James Decker; founder of Dry Bar Alli Webb; and singer/songwriter Carnie Wilson.

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