I guarantee this high school senior's a better driver than you.
The Miss America contest has changed.
It no longer calls itself a “pageant,” but “Miss America 2.0.”
The swimsuit competition is gone. Instead, contestants take part in a “job interview” challenge and are – according to the new rules – not judged on their appearance.
A few weeks ago, Miss Virginia was crowned Miss America 2020. And she’s seemingly the embodiment of all that is new about the contest.
Camille Schrier holds undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and systems biology and is studying for her doctorate in pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She takes a break from her graduate work this year to travel the country wearing her crown and promoting her platform: medication safety, preventing drug abuse and encouraging young people to consider careers in science.
She’s facing criticism from both those who think the Miss America competition has no place in the age of #MeToo, and those who feel the contest’s updates have robbed it of its entertainment value.
What does the new Miss America have to say?
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Camille Schrier Miss America 2020 and the former Miss Virginia; @MissAmerica
KOJO NNAMDIYou're listening to "There She Is, Miss America," first heard at the pageant in 1955. But they don't play that at the Miss America pageant anymore. In fact, they don't even call it a pageant. Now it's called "Miss America 2.0," and organizers say their goal is to put the focus on the minds, hearts and ideas of the contestants, now called candidates. But some traditions remain, not enough for some viewers, and too many for others.
KOJO NNAMDIThe newest Miss America came to the competition as Miss Virginia, and with an unusual talent. What's going on with the remodeled Miss America contest? And is it poised to survive into the future? Joining me in studio is Camille Schrier, Miss America, and the former Miss Virginia. Camille Schrier, congratulations. Thank you for joining us.
CAMILLE SCHRIERThank you so much. It has been quite a whirlwind in the last few weeks, but I'm excited to be here.
NNAMDIYou qualified for the competition as Miss Virginia. Were you raised in Virginia? What's your stake in Virginia?
SCHRIERI actually was not a native Virginian. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I moved to Virginia in 2015 to attend Virginia Tech, where I got my two undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. And then I am now mid-doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. And I will be taking a hiatus to be able to do this job as Miss America.
NNAMDIWell, you won the talent competition by conducting a scientific experiment. We have a clip from that performance. Let's listen for a minute to you in action.
SCHRIERScience is all around us. I've loved science since I was a little girl, and now I have the opportunity to pursue the career in science that I had always dreamed of. Science is a talent, and it's my mission to show kids that science is fun, relevant and easy to understand.
SCHRIERNow, you've probably seen a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, maybe when you had a cut and used it to clean out the wounds. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that's breaking down, slowly, all the time. But have you ever wondered why it's packaged in a brown bottle? It's because the lights and the sun speeds up its breakdown, so it's packaged in a dark bottle to protect it from light.
SCHRIERBut light and time aren't the only things that break down hydrogen peroxide. Catalysts are chemicals that are used to speed up reactions. And what we're about to watch is the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. But be careful. Don't try this one at home.
NNAMDINo, I won't try this one at home, because I have seen it, but you can share with the audience. What did the audience see you do during that experiment, and what was the result? It was quite literally explosive.
SCHRIERIt was, and I was hoping that it would be. The cool thing about science is once you've done it once and you have a certain procedure, you know it's going to happen the same way every single time. So, I took a smaller beaker and poured it into a large Erlenmeyer flask, which has a little bit of a curved shape on the bottom. And colored foam shot out of it about 17 or 18 feet in the air, which is what I had pre prepared.
SCHRIEROne of the interesting parts about this demonstration and why I chose it was because it's so visual. And I wanted every person from the back of that stadium to be able to see what I'm doing on stage. It really is quite a performance. I call it scientific entertaining, and it's a way that I can be able just to get people excited about the sciences, that maybe they wouldn't have really expected to be.
NNAMDIBut you did that thing three times in like 10 seconds.
SCHRIER(laugh) I did. I was trying to dodge the foam, too, as it was falling, so it wouldn't hit me.
NNAMDIThe foam was very colorful. You can see the experiment on YouTube. That's where I certainly looked at it. What did you choose to wear when you conducted that experiment on national television?
SCHRIERI had on a lab coat that has beading, actually, on the collar, almost like a tuxedo. And I wore sparkly black pants that were liquid beaded and heels. And I had an oxford shirt underneath. And I really chose that to pay, really, respect to the tradition of what Miss America always was. And so we see Miss America as being this glamorous display of women and their femininity. But I think that if we're able to show that in a way, but also bring that into 2020 by doing a science demonstration, I can be dressed in this certain, you know, feminine way and being able to represent what Miss America always was, but go and do a science demonstration. And that's okay and that's what Miss America really is now. And I'm really excited to be on the forefront of that.
NNAMDIIf you're looking at Miss America and somebody shows up in a lab coat, you're probably going to think, oh, this is a part of some skit that they're doing. No, it was not.
NNAMDIIt was a part of an experiment, indeed. How did you come up with science as your talent, as opposed to what most competitors do, sing, dance or play an instrument, appear in a skit? (laugh)
SCHRIERSo, this is a funny story because I only decided to compete in the Miss America organization this past April of 2019, because I didn't find myself wanting to be in a swimsuit on stage. And then there was that pesky talent competition, because I'm not someone that can sing, I don't dance, and I don't play an instrument or maybe do baton twirling, which are the traditional talents that we see at Miss America -- which are fabulous, by the way. But I wanted to do something that I felt comfortable with, but also represented who I am.
SCHRIERAnd I think the talent competition is very unique in the fact that you're able to show the judges something about you that might not be on your resume. And so to be able to show my excitement and enthusiasm for the science careers is why I really chose that.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Camille Schrier. She is Miss America. She's the former Miss Virginia, and she will be wearing that tiara, which she brought in studio, (laugh) for the next year or so...
NNAMDI...as she goes around the country. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Have you been part of pageant culture? Do you think it's good for girls and women? Do you think differently about the Miss America competition, now that it has dropped the swimsuit competition, and since it no longer judges women on their appearance? Give us a call: 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winning Miss America will mean a year's break from your studies. What degrees do you already have, and what are you studying toward?
SCHRIERSo, I have two undergraduate degrees from Virginia Tech. I got my first in biochemistry, and I have another in systems biology. And I did those simultaneously. Systems biology I was actually the first graduate at Virginia Tech to earn that degree, and so that was a really cool honor. I also am in pursuit of a doctorate of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University.
SCHRIERAnd I will actually have to take a total of two years off from that program. Miss Virginia was also a fulltime job, like Miss America is, so I took off this academic year to be Miss Virginia. And just because of the timing of the Miss America competition, I will now take a second year off to do my job here. But, the really important part is, this is now going to pay for my graduate education. You're about to get to that, aren't you? (laugh)
NNAMDIOh, no, no. I was about to -- yes, I was. How much scholarship money comes with the crown, and how far will it go to fund your education?
SCHRIERI earned $73,675 to go to my graduate education.
SCHRIERAnd I am more than grateful, because that will pay for almost all of the remaining bills that I'll have coming from pharmacy school. And so I'll leave almost debt free, but also with a doctorate. So, that's what Miss America really can do for young women.
NNAMDIWow. Why did you enter the competition?
SCHRIERIt was a lifelong dream for me. It's something that I had always admired when we think about, you know, Miss America. I had done some competitions in the past, and really idealized Miss America for its values. But I didn't see myself aligning with that swimsuit competition and the judgment on the physical characteristics of women. I didn't think that that would be healthy for me, particularly.
SCHRIERAnd so when they switched to Miss American 2.0, is when I came out and decided to compete. And I felt like it was aligned with what my interests were, and so I went out and did it. And I took a risk, and it paid off. (laugh)
NNAMDIIt certainly paid off in a big way. Here's Ned in Maple Grove. Ned, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NEDCamille, congratulations on being Miss America. I think I heard you say that you're hoping to speak to pharmaceutical companies during your reign. I was wondering if you've been able to arrange that, and if so, what will you say to them?
SCHRIERThat’s a great question. I absolutely hope to work with pharmaceutical companies. My personal social impact initiative is on drug safety and abuse prevention, and so to be able to partner with pharmaceutical companies to sponsor my tour to be able to go out and educate people on medication safety. It's a huge need and as a pharmacy student I've been able to see how much parents and caregivers need to know really about just basic, everyday medication safety. But we also have this huge opioid epidemic that's in our country. And I think that I, as Miss America, and pharmaceutical companies can collaborate to be able to find ways that we can go out into the communities and face this issue.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ned. You're focusing specifically on drug safety, abuse prevention and pediatrics to geriatrics?
NNAMDIThat is a mission.
NNAMDIWere you always interested in science?
SCHRIERI was. It was not a matter of whether or not I would pursue science as a career choice. It was what I would do with it. I was the child, maybe surprisingly to some, I wouldn't wear dresses. I wanted to be in the dirt with my dad and flip over rocks and find salamanders and go fishing and do things outdoors. And I was kind of a tomboy. And I really embraced that part of my life. And I still really am a grownup version of that little girl.
SCHRIERI always loved the natural sciences. It was my -- I dreamed that I wanted to be a naturologist as a kid, and that was my best description of that I loved biology. And I thought about doing a lot of different careers. I loved cooking and baking. I thought about being a chef or a food scientist. I considered meteorology and chemical engineering and landed in this realm of biochemistry and systems biology, which ultimately led me to pharmacy. And I'm grateful for the experiences I had throughout that.
SCHRIERAnd I am also grateful to have parents who encouraged my love of science throughout my childhood. They never told me that it wasn't something that I could do. They always said, okay, you like science. We're going to send you to a science camp this summer, and I would build rockets and learn about physics. And I was really spoiled to be able to have those experiences as a child. And it's something I hope to bring to my children one day.
NNAMDIYou were the kid walking around with bugs that everybody was running away from. (laugh)
SCHRIERI absolutely had all the bugs. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhat do you think stops young people -- and girls, in particular -- from going into science?
SCHRIERA couple things. Young people in general, I think, science is a hard career to be able to really be successful in and complete an undergraduate degree in science. It's not easy, and I've been there. And when you face those roadblocks, if you don't have a figure to look up to or a mentor that you can say, wow, this person did this, and I can do it, too, if they can. I think I can be that role model for young people in general, but especially young girls.
SCHRIERAnd some young girls just don't see themselves in these careers because they don't find it exciting. They don't see it as applicable. Maybe they're a girl that really likes cosmetics, if that's something maybe she likes. But you can be in a company that's developing those cosmetics. You can work in, you know, a consumer product company and do things that you might see as more applicable, but are science-based. And we have so many awesome careers that are open in STEM jobs right now. And to be able to encourage all people that they can find a place in science, if it's something they're interested in.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Camille Schrier. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Camille Schrier. She is Miss America and the former Miss Virginia. She joins us in studio, and we're taking your calls. The Miss America contest, over the years, has come in for a great deal of criticism from those who say that it objectifies women. It has also responded to that criticism. What, in your view, needed to change?
SCHRIERI think objectification isn't something that I really ever associated with Miss America. I always grew up watching it, and I thought that it was celebrating women. But I can understand why maybe critics could see that. It wasn't something that I felt, but I also was never competing in it.
SCHRIERI think that changing away from judging women on physical characteristics -- and I think that that's something that people don't really understand about the way that we've changed our competition in the last two years, is that I'm not judged about what I look like when I walk onto a stage at Miss America. I'm no longer required to wear a swimsuit onstage. And it gives me the opportunity to speak onstage and share my heart and what I have to offer in my experiences. And I think that, now more than ever, this competition is relevant for young women, and is empowering for people like me to be able to earn scholarship money, but also get an experience in my career.
NNAMDINo swimsuit competition, no evening gown competition. If the Miss America organization had not dropped the swimsuit competition, would you have participated?
SCHRIERI wouldn't have. It was something that held me back from competing. I think that a woman has a choice to compete in a swimsuit, if that's what she feels is comfortable for her. But I chose not to compete in an organization where there was a swimsuit competition, because I'm someone that's recovered from an eating disorder in my life. And that wouldn't have been healthy for my mind or body, to put myself in that situation. And so to eliminate that barrier gave me an opportunity to come out and talk about science on a national stage. And so I'm very grateful for that organization for changing that.
NNAMDIThought it's not your official platform, you do intend to talk about eating disorders and mental health as you travel the country. Why is that important to you?
SCHRIERIt's important, because it faces so many people, and it's not always discussed. I struggled with mental health for, really, my entire life, and didn't know that that's what I was going through. I struggled with an eating disorder and didn't know that I was facing it, because it's not talked about. And it's sometimes almost shamed, especially as a woman, that you're vain if you're worried about what your body image looks like.
SCHRIERI'm actually someone that has obsessive compulsive disorder. And, unsurprisingly, because I'm so scientific, I'm very focused on numbers. And that was something that, when I thought about, you know, caloric intake and weight and measuring, that it became an unhealthy compulsion for me. And to then relieve that pressure, I didn't have to worry about that going into a competition like Miss America. And I'm so grateful for that and hoping to open up that conversation nationwide.
NNAMDIYour struggles with food were serious enough to change the course of your education. What happened, and how did you get back on track?
SCHRIERThis is very true. I actually had entered a university as a freshman out of high school, freshman in college, straight out of high school, and struggled immensely because of the mental health issues that I was facing. And my parents took me out of that university halfway through my first semester of my sophomore year. And I went home, entered in community college, went through rehabilitation, and came out stronger and more understanding of myself, who I was, what I needed in my struggles.
SCHRIERAnd I'm grateful for that, because if I had never gone through that struggle as a young 20-something person, I would not be the mid-20 person that I am now. And I'm incredibly grateful for parents like mine who saw that I needed help. And I fought them tooth and nail the whole way, (laugh) and told them I did not need that. But I did and I'm so grateful, and I hope to encourage other parents to do the same.
NNAMDIHere's Christina in Fairfax. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINAThank you so much. Well first, I really appreciate your efforts to help publicize adverse drug effects. A lot of young adults age 18 to 24 are covered by the FDA's black box warning. And the black box warning says that some drugs, to include acne drugs, can cause suicidality.
CHRISTINAAnd I'm asking because, seven years ago, my daughter Abby was 19, and she received a drug from her doctor that had a black box warning. Unfortunately, the warning is not mandatory to communicate, and she died by what is called medication-induced suicide. And it is caused by a drug-induced disorder called akathisia. So, my question is, what are you going to do to help publicize the paradoxical, the adverse effects of some of these drugs that are given for things like acne, (unintelligible) or anxiety to help young adults read the black box warnings and get more information?
SCHRIERThank you for that question, and I am so sorry to hear what happened to your daughter.
SCHRIERAnd I am grateful for you sharing your story on this particular issue, because it's one that I actually didn't know about. And so because of exactly what you're talking about, that this is something that's not really publicized, I can use my platform, and I'll actually talk -- I'm going to my pharmacy school later this week that I was working at. And so I'm going to ask them about that, actually. And so that's something that I can include kind of in that medication safety.
SCHRIEROf course, I'm not able to advise. I'm not a licensed pharmacist yet, because I am still a student, but I can work with pharmacists in my community to be able to have them help advocate for patients and be able to communicate that information. I'm a huge advocate for patient education. I think patients need to have all of the information available to them, more than what they need, to be able to make effective decisions. And so that's something I hope to communicate this year.
NNAMDIChristina, thank you very much for your call. On to Jenny in Olney, Maryland. Jenny, your turn.
JENNYHello. Hi. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can, Jenny.
JENNYOkay, wonderful. First, I'd like to thank you so much, Miss America, for your candor and your honesty about your personal experiences. And also to comment a little bit and ask you a question about the Miss America Pageant, going back to that focus. Originally I thought all pageants that were women-based beauty pageants -- as Miss America historically was -- was awful, a terrible thing.
JENNYI came from a bra-burning, feminist mother. (laugh) And then I had the experience to share a classroom and co-teach with the former Miss Maryland, Christina Denny, who was a childhood pageant contestant and grew up with a lot of economic strife, single mother, and saw the pageants as a scholarship opportunity, which absolutely they are. And the classroom, we all supported her efforts very much. I learned a lot about the pageants, too.
NNAMDISpecifically what? We don't have a great deal of time left.
JENNYOkay. Going to the swimsuit, the evening gowns, that not being there, there are other parts of being a contestant that require a lot of money and time from families, parents and so on. And for the young women that are interested in possibly becoming Miss America or Miss State in these competitions, do you have any advice for them if they aren't able to reach the expense and the challenges of...
NNAMDIIf they're having trouble affording the expenses of participating in these pageants.
SCHRIERI would say -- you know, it was funny, throughout the process, if I heard our CEO say it once, I heard her say it a million times, it does not matter what you're wearing. We're not judging you on what you look like. We're here to get to know who you are, and what you have to offer.
SCHRIERAnd I think that the changes that we've made as an organization really allow people to focus less on what they're wearing, how much their evening gown cost, or other expenses that might have been associated with that traditional aspect of Miss America. And I think that it's opened it up for other people. I wore a reused gown for Miss Virginia that I bought off of a friend. So, there's ways to save money, and there's ways to make this really profitable for your education.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here's Debbie, in Silver Spring. Debbie, your turn.
DEBBIEHello. Congratulations, Miss America. What a thrill to talk to you.
DEBBIEI actually want to change my question. I wanted to ask how you got into it. Furthermore, could you expand on all that you went through, you had mental health issues and your eating disorder? Throughout the time that you are Miss America, I think that would be very, very helpful.
NNAMDIYes, she did indicate that she intends to talk about those things during her tenure as Miss America, as one of the more important things that she is going to talk about during that time. So, does that answer your question?
DEBBIEWell, yes. I look forward to it and reading about it in the interviews that you do. So, thank you very much for sharing that.
SCHRIERAbsolutely. It's my pleasure. I think it's an incredible opportunity to be able to share that with other people. You know, people think that Miss America's this perfect human, (laugh) which is so not true. I'm so far from it. And if I can share my story with someone and help them, it's really important.
NNAMDIDuring the competition, one of the judges asked you and the other finalists whether Miss America should stick with its rule that competitors be single and childless. What's your feeling about that?
SCHRIERThis was a really difficult question. And when I got this question onstage, I felt like I was going to upset half of the group. And I...
SCHRIER...either way. And I'm glad I don't have to be the one that makes this decision for the organization. From my own personal experience, I can't imagine being a parent, specifically, in this role. I'm traveling somewhere around 20,000 miles a month, and in hotels more than I am at home. And so I was really worried about how I was going to take care of my two cats that I have at home, quite literally what I was going to do with them .
SCHRIERIf I were in a committed relationship like a marriage, I don't think I'd be able to dedicate the time to that throughout this process. And so I don't think personally that I could be married or have children as Miss America. If a woman thought that she would be able to balance that, I think more power to her. But it's not up to me to be able to advise the organization either way.
NNAMDICan you be in a relationship and be Miss America?
SCHRIERI think that you can be. It's not something that I -- I'm not sure if I could do that personally, but I think that you should be allowed to. I think that you should absolutely be allowed to.
NNAMDIWell, I'm afraid that's about all the time we have, except for the fact that you did not hear the traditional Miss America song when you were crowned. And you've said that you were just too overwhelmed at the time to really listen to what was playing. So, we thought we'd give you a chance to hear that song right now.
SCHRIER(laugh) Thank you.
NNAMDIThis is Taylor Swift, singing "Me."
NNAMDICamille Schrier is Miss America and the former Miss Virginia. Thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
SCHRIERThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIThis segment about Miss America was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about the Afghanistan Papers was produced by Victoria Chamberlin. Join us tomorrow, when we talk about climate change in the Washington region. Our balmy weekend was only one symptom. On this first show in a series on the local effects of the global problem, we ask what it means for the species that call the DMV home. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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