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Miss America CEO Talks A&E’s ‘Secrets’ Doc About Beauty-Queen Culture – The Hollywood Reporter

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When Robin Fleming posted on her LinkedIn that “the first 90 days as CEO of Miss America Organization has been a whirlwind,” she wasn’t mendacity. Over the past six years, America’s oldest magnificence pageant practically crumbled below the burden of its former government leaders. In 2017, CEO Sam Haskell, as soon as exalted for reviving this system to its glory days as must-see TV, was revealed to have been sending disparaging and misogynistic emails in regards to the weight and sexual historical past of previous winners. Former Miss Americas Regina Hopper and Gretchen Carlson (Fox Information host from 2005-2016) have been introduced in to salvage the fallout by way of an intensive rebranding referred to as Miss America 2.0 and instituted one vital change: nixing the showering go well with competitors. Their impression was short-lived: After public accusations by the 2018 Miss America Cara Mund of alleged bullying, Carlson stepped down in June 2019. Hopper, then president and CEO, resigned six months later. Because the Miss America Group (MSO) was gearing up for its one hundredth anniversary in 2020, interim CEO Shantel Krebs was holding down the fort. Final January, Fleming, a vogue entrepreneur who was the official eveningwear designer for Dancing With the Stars for 3 years, was named its first full-time CEO.

Now, seven months into the job, Fleming is prepping for the backlash absolutely to flood timelines as A&E’s Secrets and techniques of Miss America airs July 10. By way of interviews with greater than 20 previous title holders, the four-part restricted collection unveils the poisonous tradition of physique shaming, misogyny and bullying that led to MAO’s scandals. For Fleming, recasting Miss America into extra favorable gentle is not going to conceal its checkered previous. As a substitute, she’s listening and studying as a result of “you really can’t fix something unless you know it’s broken,” she says. “To know who you want to be, you have to be able to look backwards and see where you’ve come from.” Shortly earlier than Secrets and techniques of Miss America premiered, Fleming chatted about her ideas on the collection and the way she plans on bringing Miss America again to the longer term.

What was your first introduction to the pageant world?

Robin Fleming: The very first introduction to the pageant world most likely was sitting on a sofa consuming popcorn with my mom, watching numerous pageants that have been doing reside productions on TV… Miss America, Miss USA.

Within the early 2000s, you launched a costume store in Wellington, Florida, and it catered to ladies shopping for robes for balls, galas, weddings, in addition to pageants. By 2009, you have been a costume sponsor for the Miss Florida state competitors. With your entire expertise as a artistic entrepreneur, what made you need to step into this position as CEO of Miss America — particularly now?

Fleming: That is actually my give-back chapter. I used to be a single mother for a number of years. I’ve a daughter and a son, they usually’re each younger adults now. As an empty nester, I used to be searching for one thing to deploy all of the issues I like to do. I like branding and advertising. I like working with manufacturers. That entire reinvention storytelling piece appeals to me. I had run right into a girlfriend who was doing manufacturing for Miss America, and he or she had informed me they have been actually in unhealthy form and in want of recent management. That kind of bought me curious and I threw my hat within the ring.

Was there ever a second while you have been like, “Do I really want this much drama?”

Fleming: Most of that drama occurred not round me. I’ve to say that’s positively been a part of the educational curve. I’ve solely been doing this just a few months, however would I do it once more? Completely.

A&E says the Secrets and techniques of Miss America collection, premiering July 10, might be “exposing the shocking scandals at its core.” When did you first discover out that this may be the docuseries?

Fleming: I had been informed, after I first sat down as CEO, that there was one hundredth anniversary celebratory collection that was popping out. It was shared as if this was improbable, that each one these folks all through the group had been interviewed and everybody was very excited to have fun the 100 years of Miss America. My first introduction was it being referred to as Secrets and techniques of Miss America, and it was one of many former Miss Americas who had reached out to me and gotten an e mail from the producers and was involved about a few of the trailers for it. I’ve seen all 4 episodes, truly.

What are your ideas? Do you assume they get it proper or improper?

Fleming: To start with, with any 100-year-old model, there’s positively going to be organizational missteps, to place it mildly. I’d say my inclination is to help all the ladies who share their tales with the A&E producers. Nevertheless, in speaking with those self same ladies, I’ve talked with about 35 completely different Miss Americas who’ve indicated they felt the whole lot of their voices weren’t heard. That for those who spend eight to 14 hours interviewing and it finally ends up as a two-minute biting soundbite, there’s far more… Proper? After all, that’s what leisure’s all about, modifying to suit a story that’s going to get some eyeballs and get some views. Yeah, my takeaway is that plenty of what is nice and true and appreciated and celebrated by the previous Miss Americas on this program didn’t make the modifying minimize.

Is there an instance of one thing that didn’t make it?

Fleming: Lots of the Miss Americas had shared with me, for instance, Heather Whitestone. She was, I feel, arguably some of the inspirational Miss Americas of her time. She is deaf and he or she had spent over 12 hours interviewing. And never one minute of her interview seems on Secrets and techniques. I do assume they invoice it as 20 Miss Americas, however I imply, I misplaced rely. I feel perhaps they solely characteristic six or seven, so she was very disenchanted. However once more, they thought they have been celebrating a one hundredth anniversary.

Watching the primary episode, “Dirty Tricks,” the previous CEO Sam Haskell is described as a dictator and the phrases “anger,” “rage” and “controlling” are used to explain him. How do you intend as CEO to deliver change to this group that has such a stained previous?

Fleming: Let me first handle the entire Sam Haskell scenario. After all, I had met Sam very briefly as [a Miss Florida dress] sponsor for the Miss America group and shook a hand, mentioned hi there. That was the extent of that. He did have a popularity within the business as an agent [Haskell had worked for WME as worldwide head of television], however I didn’t have that have with him. I didn’t work with the group when he was on the helm.

I’d hope that Miss America’s type of a mirror [for] America. And clearly, [when Haskell was CEO] that was just about the #MeToo period — ladies standing up and saying, “Hey, men sitting in these power positions are abusing their power.” I feel that’s a narrative that individuals can relate to as a result of they’ve heard it already and there’s been persevering with conversations, clearly, about that.

You’re additionally up towards right this moment’s tradition requirements: inclusion, sexism, feminism. How are you going to stack up towards what lots of people might really feel are outdated norms that MAO is showcasing?

Fleming: You possibly can agree that stereotypes are actually arduous to take care of and pageantry positively has been stigmatized by the stereotype: ladies in bikinis parading round in excessive heels and so forth. And that’s, whereas it was part of the previous group, I’ve to provide because of Gretchen Carlson who eliminated the bikini from the stage. In truth, they commit a complete episode to that within the A&E particular.

On condition that these stereotypes should not simply overcome, what I’m going to lean into is what Miss America’s alternative is for younger ladies, which could be very related. It’s an empowerment platform. I feel ladies discover their genuine voices, they turn into leaders inside their communities, they additional their educations and hopefully launch their very own companies.

However Miss America total isn’t going to be only a single closing evening the place the women are taking the stage; it’s a 365-day surroundings alternative. We give out over $3 million in money scholarships. With the present dialog on scholar debt, I feel it’s extremely related that this group is the world’s largest scholarship group for ladies. We give out most likely 10 occasions that money award yearly in in-kind scholarships. For instance, each teen winner on a state degree who completes her nationwide competitors and has a sure GPA, receives a four-year full journey to the College of Alabama.

It’s fairly weighty with regards to serving to households afford school, in addition to hiring ladies to get engaged of their neighborhood, turn into neighborhood leaders, discover their voices, be taught interview abilities, discover ways to converse from a place of management. These are all related to ladies right this moment. Completely.

For the ladies who’ve spoken out in Secrets and techniques of Miss America, what are plans to maintain the conversations going with previous winners who’ve been bullied or had actual points with the group?

Fleming: That was the very first thing I did after I noticed the collection, was attain out to the previous title holders, each those that had participated and those that had not. We had a number of Zooms, and I wished to reassure them that we help them of their genuine sharing of their story.

From my perspective, they have been all very beneficial. They spent a 12 months as Miss America. They’d quite a lot of experiences, most of which have been, I’d guess, constructive. They helped their profession initiatives, and the possibility to encourage ladies to be brave and to share from the guts and absolutely. That was No. 1 for me, was simply to allow them to know they’re nonetheless the sisters of this group, and sisterhood is the inspiration upon which this whole program is constructed.

I’m in solidarity with them and I’m so excited to say, I feel most of them, after many conversations, really feel like it’s a new period at Miss America they usually’re excited to be part of it. Cara Mund, who had a really well-documented journey along with her 12 months, was a choose this 12 months within the state of Washington. We had Kelly Money on stage. Heather French Henry, who was former Miss Kentucky, after which Miss America for the Millennium, was additionally a bunch on a special stage. Carissa Cameron’s mom was a choose. So, lots of the ladies that have been featured have already come again into this system with the reset, if you’ll.

We’re not going to name it Miss America 3.0 although. I feel we’ll simply stick to Miss America. However what I did, I’ll say, I modified the identify. Miss America was all the time referred to as Miss America Group or in lingo, MAO, proper? Now stands the O stands for the Miss America Alternative. We’re going to pivot from the deal with the group, and I need to turn into a extra consumer-centric enterprise. The customers are the younger ladies going by way of our program and O stands for alternative.

On the finish of the primary episode of the docuseries, there are listings for helplines for psychological well being and suicide. What is going to Miss America Group do to deal with these necessary points?

Fleming: Essentially, the position of Miss America has additionally modified this 12 months. Earlier than, the previous group had Miss America on a really tight schedule. They weren’t allowed to return residence, they weren’t allowed to have boyfriends. It had very archaic viewpoints on how ladies, who’re ambassadors, ought to be dealt with, managed.

Once I sat down with our new Miss America, Grace Stanke, she was enrolled in class as a nuclear engineer. That is her senior 12 months. My first query to her was, after we ripped up her previous contract, “Do you want to help me write a new contract? My second question is, would you like to stay in school full time and finish your class this year?” Truthfully, she was excited to get began on her 12 months as Miss America. We labored out an association the place she was going to high school part-time and learning overseas, and he or she might select to return to her hometown in Wisconsin.

She might keep at an residence we had for her in Florida, or she might stick with buddies when she’s touring. Much more flexibility, in addition to much more enter. I feel that’s the no. 1 factor by way of psychological well being, is treating the younger ladies in this system as if they’re younger adults, which they’re, and able to making a lot of these selections for themselves. Then additionally preserving in perspective for them that this is only one 12 months of their life, and that in the event that they do need psychological well being providers or wish to have a therapist, and so on., we’d completely help that.



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