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Date Posted: 10:27:06 05/17/15 Sun
Q: I would love to know your opinion on Kira and the hazing issue.
KS: It's a tough call, because although I know Kira, I've never spoken to her about what happened. My sense in terms of my own experience with the media is that if there was more to the story, or something really heinous, someone would come forward and give their story. The whole thing was based on an anonymous tip, a vaguely-written article (which described some horrible things and then basically said but we don't know if that was her) and then her own admission of some guilt. Another thing people may not know is that right after you win Miss America, the press is RABID. So it's not just a matter of nobody coming forward; it's a matter of many people being offered lots of money and turning it down to protect her.
Again, that's just my opinion but I do remember hearing that when Carolyn Sapp's domestic violence story broke, her friends were being offered tens of thousands of dollars JUST for a picture of her with her ex-boyfriend. And that was a long time ago
Q: We want you on the Miss America Board or the new CEO. Any interest
KS: Welcome to you as well! I think it's extremely valuable to have Miss Americas on the board, although given the climate, I don't expect to be invited anytime soon. As for serving as CEO, that has never been my goal. Frankly, I think that the CEO should be qualified, experienced, and vetted as someone who has successfully run a not-for-profit corporation. Especially given the current climate, IMHO MAO needs an expert leader who is also skilled in turnaround disciplines. But thank you for the compliment.
Q: Any thoughts on who could take that position?
KS: If a new CEO were to be hired, I think MAO should do what any other business does qne hire a headhunter and go find someone qualified.
Q: If you were in a room with Kira at this moment, what is the one piece of advice specific to her life you would offer to her?
KS: I would tell her to keep her head in the game, and make the best of each day that she can. I remember the feeling of having to defend my integrity at what should have been a blissfully happy time, and although it was a different situation, I feel for her.
Q: Do you think NAMASP should come back in some form, would that help some of the current issues to be resolved.
KS: I'm a big fan of NAMASP, although it wasn't perfect, and I do believe that there was a lot of good that resulted from having that entity advocating on behalf of the states. Checks and balances and oversight are important. For example: NAMASP used to battle the TV producers to make the stage safe for dancers every year. How many of them have to get hurt before MAO realizes that their safety is more important than a glossy stage?
Q: Do you see any hope that the Miss America Organization under its current leadership will ever make any changes to their program or do you think it will just be business as usual
KS: I don't think the current leadership will make wholesale change on their own. They've already got "my way or the highway" so embedded in the volunteers' minds that everyone is terrified to step out of line. The EDs and contestants and volunteers have far more power than they are using. Until everyone demands change, I'm not optimistic. There's already so little accountability at the top that ONE PERSON is both boss and employee, and basically oversees himself, and his friends on the board gave him $500k as a thank-you for his past volunteer work. I mean, whaaaaa?
Q: What do you think he should get for his time and efforts and for putting the organization back on network TV and all of the other strides moving forward?
KS: A nice thank-you? I mean, since he signed up for a volunteer position. And I would be surprised if he hadn't gotten any agent/packaging fees as part of TV and sponsorship deals. Mostly because any agent with a brain would take a percentage.
Q: Who were your friends at Miss America? Were there any mean ones there? Would you want to share this with us? How was being Miss America different than you imagined
KS: I was so nervous and intimidated that I was definitely not a social butterfly. There were a lot of girls I got along with, and I wasn't in the loop enough to know who the bitchy girls were. My favorites that year were Maine, Vermont, Louisiana, Kansas, Georgia; there were more, but those are the ones that come to mind first. And I did like and respect Michelle Warren very much. And I TRULY did not mean to kick her in the arm in rehearsal just evidence that nobody should ever put me in a kick line, lol. We had dinner the following year. She's great.
Q: Is it true MAO has an option that a contestant may decide she doesn't want to win but would be fine with runner-up? Some say yes and others deny it. AND you were and continue to be a wonderful Miss America!
KS: I never saw any form like that. I assume that if it exists, it's something people are told to ask for. I have a hard time believing that there are many who, in the heat of competition, don't want to win and then just deal with the fallout later. But I could be totally wrong. My spidey sense tells me that it's urban legend.
Q: I am a brave man so I will ask: What did you think of Kira and the red cup?
KS: My biggest concern when Kira and I talked about it was whether it was big enough for the AC stage. I saw her at her first NY local last year and thought it was cool, and that she was a great singer. Then she sang without the cup at a local this year (I was just there as an audience member) and oddly, without the cup grounding her and giving her something to focus on, I didn't think her singing was as strong. Almost everyone sounds a little off by finals night, especially in that giant room¦the sound wasn't great when I was onstage last year. Plus, they're all exhausted. But sound design is its own dissertation, and this chat is moving FAST! In general, I like her playing the cup. 60% of winning Miss America is not getting lost in the crowd, IMHO.
Q: Have you known of, or suspected, contestants that were black listed at the state level?
KS: I think the blacklisting thing is almost always a myth. BUT I have only my own experience to guide me. I'm sure there might be some less ethical directors. I was fortunate to have very ethical ones.
Q: Hello, if you were from a Non Sash State how would you compete to win Miss America?
KS: Hmmmmm. If I were from a non-sash state, I would seek advice from people who didn't want to change me, but who wanted to bring out the best of what made me unique. In fact, that works in sash states and non-sash state alike. And I would trust my instincts, while listening to everyone's advice and considering other perspectives.
Q: I enjoyed your book. It seems that you have an insight into the organization and MAO board, no one else has ever shared. It seems there is a laundry list of issues. Which are the ones that the highest priority to address, and which are the most actionable as far as effecting changes.
KS: The biggest issues, in my opinion, are 1. accountability and transparency at all levels (I would be fine if they showed scores), 2. not selling out the dignity of the contestants in an effort to make a flashy TV show, and 3. messaging, messaging, messaging. How can we expect America to care about Miss America if the public doesn't know what she stands for? 20,000 miles a month doing what, for example? The pageant needs a stronger identity, and then they have to do the hard work of following through and always opting for substance. That is, if they want respect and ratings and sponsors.
Q: Under Sam we are back on ABC, have great ratings, back in AC, shoe parade and now Dick Clark Productions on board. As a former are you happy about these successes?
KS: First of all, we buy the time on ABC. Ratings were significantly down from last year. Twitter traffic was up; but mostly because people were making fun of the telecast. I don't know the terms of the Dick Clark agreement, or what Miss America will do with them aside from wearing a crown on awards shows. That may make her more visible, but it's not guaranteed to translate into higher ratings. And does the Dick Clark deal mean that they will have more creative control over the telecast? Look at the revolving door of sponsors; they almost never stay more than a year or two, except for Ribkoff and AmWay. That's not because the brand has no value; it's because it's being wasted.
Q: Thanks for doing this, Kate! I have many questions, but the first one that comes to mind is: Do you think Sam will ever loosen up the blockade against coaches? What would it take for him to understand that coaches are appreciated and a part of the system?
KS: The coaching thing (which I've only heard about secondhand) seems to me to be far less about coaches and far more about controlling who is allowed in the club. IMHO that's an absolutely, unequivocally damaging approach to building a company. I could write another book on the phone calls Marc makes to the states to tell them who they are not supposed to work with. It's just gross.
Q: Do you think that the organization as a whole values local programs or just sees them as a means to an end?
KS: I don't think they value the locals any less than they value other volunteers. If you do what they tell you and don't ask any questions, you are allowed to stay. If not, you're a hater. Witness the reaction to the constructive criticism in my book. I know that there are staff members out there, and I know who they are,spreading the word that the entire thing is derogatory. The book was born out of my love for Miss America, recognition of what it did for me, and my fervent desire to see it run like a functioning business instead of Mean Girls. So in general, I think that the locals are valued if they follow the rules (especially the unwritten ones), but to me, that's antithetical to having a healthy MAO.
Q: I've seen a lot of complaining here about the lack of transparency and accountability within the state and national MAO. What specific actions can we take, individually and as a group, to effect positive change in the organization?
Q: Hello Kate! What are some steps we everyday MAO volunteers and supporters can do to put pressure on the MAO for the kinds of changes you, and a great number of us, desire?
Q: can we do at the local and state level to change the MAO? Having our titleholders as CMN ambassadors is a good thing but the CMN Fees for locals and states are a joke. Why don't we just say entry fee which goes toward scholarships?
KS: It should ABSOLUTELY be an entry fee. If pay-to-play is a reality of the present-day MAO's financial situation, then let's leave the kids with cancer out of it. I was a goodwill ambassador for CMN, as were many other Miss Americas. As for what you can do, I think that the simplest answer is to talk to each other. This forum is a good place, especially if we could dwell less on, say, contestants' shoes and more on what's happening every day with states and locals. The frivolous stuff is fine. it is a pageant, after all, but if, for example, the greater pageant community had ANY CLUE how many people are blacklisted, marginalized, or flat-out lied about, most would be horrified. These things flourish in secrecy. Certain people at MAO count on secrecy. If your boss told you that you'd get fired if you didn't drop one of your friends, wouldn't you have questions about that? That's the real world. That's why companies spend million and millions on HR departments. It has to stop.
Oh, and stop sending letters and complaints to the national office and expecting change. Most of the time, they send it right back to the person who is causing the problem. If it's a real problem, call the attorney general, or the media. Or call the Department of Labor and ask if Miss America volunteers can be prohibited from unionizing (which is basically what NAMASP was) by the contract they sign. In most quarters, that is simply illegal.
Q: Do you think talent is important to the MAO? It all seems to be won in interview. Do you think the scoring criteria should be changed? This is my last question as I feel I am going overboard.
KS: I do think talent is important, but I think the larger problem is that the telecast doesn't communicate how Miss America is chosen. As I wrote in the Daily Beast piece, I was stoked that the pre-show would feature interview segments. It offered almost nothing except making the contestants look silly. These are smart, articulate, interesting young women, who deserve to be treated as such.
Q: Do you think Caressa was painted in a bad light during her rein?
KS: Caressa stood up for herself. She took her employment contract to an attorney (I think it was actually Marshawn Evans) and asked to negotiate some terms. Those first few days tell the office a lot, and if you have strong opinions, and a platform, and hope for input into how your year will go, then yes, you might be painted as unmanageable. The other factor was that she had received a lot of help from a number of volunteers, and refused to uninvite them to her Homecoming when Art called her and told her that the whole office/board would boycott. I feel like she said something very similar to ok, see ya! I have always respected her for sticking by those volunteers, but it didn't make her year any easier.
Q: Lord knows how you are going to answer all these questions, but here goes. What was your motive in writing your book?
KS: Really, the book was about my life with Miss America. My parents started volunteering when I was four years old. I lived something that a lot of people would like insight into. And then I started connecting a lot of dots, in terms of how MAO has evolved, and I didn't like a lot of what I saw. So I wrote about that, too.
Q: As a former Miss America, are you donating any portion of your book proceeds back to the organization you represented? I've been reading all the comments about the national board, and what should or shouldn't be done, but you were a Miss America. What are you giving back to the program that helped you in your career?
KS: First of all, the money from the book goes to pay back the publisher their costs. I haven't made a dime from it except a small advance. I have, however, given a LOT of my time to MAO. In my humble opinion, Miss Americas who dedicate their whole life, for a year, to the Organization help IT in return. I have a lot of charitable undertakings. I will not, however, be giving any money to MAO for the foreseeable future, since they don't seem to know how to manage their own finances. Maybe the states or locals.
Q: What was your take on the way the MAO handled the Nina/Mallory tape incident? Do you think Mallory was treated fairly?
KS: I think Mallory was a trouper. She tried to do the right thing, even having heard the recordings and knowing what was said. I've heard them too, and it ain't pretty. I do know that Nina was advised immediately after crowning to come clean with the press if the recordings were real. It seems odd to say this, but I think it was incredibly lucky for all of them that the racist backlash became the leading story. She did handle that well. Also, that whole incident served as proof to me that MAO doesn't fix the pageants. I already believed that to be the case, but if they had had the choice, they would never have wanted to deal with that drama.
Q: How old are you now Kate? What are your future aspirations? Thanks immensely!
KS: I'm 37, and I just want to do things that make me happy. Most of my living is as a performer. I'm also obsessed with real estate, so that's my day job in between shows. And apparently, I like to write!
Q: Kate you were a wonderful Miss America who made many strides with aids / hiv awareness and education, there may be some problems with MAO as with any major corp. but don't you agree that they continue with their mission to provide scholarships for young women and an outlet for their personal issue including Kira's Domestic Violence Platform and that is a pretty good thing.
KS: It's not that they don't do anything. But I think it's hard to argue that the platform issue is anything like it was in its heyday, or that those years provided serious opportunities for young women to make change. 90% of my year was activism. As for the rest, it's not perfect is probably realistic, but I don't think it should be what we aim for.
Q: Who is your favorite Miss America from before your reign and from after your reign
KS: WOW, that's tough. The first Miss America I ever met was Marjorie, and I loved her because she was so different and talented and smart. And beautiful. Afterwards, I like Kirsten a lot. And Laura. And Mal. And Katie Harman. The Miss Americas are a fascinating group of women and just so diverse. And of course, I couldn't have done much of what I did if Leanza hadn't done it first, and she was very generous in introducing me around the HIV/AIDS activist community so I could learn what I needed to learn. Oh, and I love Debbye. I could go all day on this one.
Q: HI Kate! Do you think the $10K monthly fee to Miss America is enough or should it be structured the way it was when you held the title?
KS: I actually think $120/year is a pretty damn good salary for a young woman barely out of high school/college. The problem is that she's hired as an independent contractor but expected to act as an employee. If she's required to be on call 24/7, she should get benefits like health insurance. And given her sheer volume of work hours and travel time, she would also be subject to work hours, overtime, etc. etc. etc. They try to have it both ways. During the platform era, they charged less for appearances, but we had so many of them that we made significantly more money than the winners do now. And meanwhile, MAO built up a reserve of almost $10 million. So they were definitely doing something right.
Q: My questions are about your winning year: if not you, who do you think would have made the best Miss America? Your honest opinions on Michelle Warren (have you seen her interview?)
KS: Michelle was spectacular. From what I understand, she had some people in her inner circle who didn't quite understand what a platform issue was, and pulled the rug out from under her before interview (I emphasize that I heard this secondhand, and I have never spoken directly to her about it). So she may have been nervous right before her interview, because of sudden pressure NOT to share her story. As for who else would have won, I truly have no idea. There were so many contestants who were impressive in so many ways, and I've seen very few interviews. I do know that my favorites tended to be the less perfect contestants. I could just sit and talk to over lunch, but that polish was very important in the 90's.
Q: How many locals did you compete in before going to Miss Illinois?
KS: Four. I lost Miss Chicago three years in a row, but the fourth year, I was 1st runner-up. And then the directors of a small local approached me that night and asked me to try theirs a couple days later. That was the year I had gotten serious before that, the pageant was just something I could get to on public transportation, and it seemed fun. There's a longer account of it in the book.
Q: Which Miss Americas are you close to?
KS: It depends; there are many I like, but don't see much, and my schedule is so unpredictable because of what I do for a living. I'm also so surprised to meet Miss Americas who I didn't get at the time of their win (same way many people may have felt about me!) and didn't think I would have a lot in common with. But I rode the parade float with Teresa Scanlan last September and thought she was just delightful.
Q: There's been a lot of speculation over the years that the top-5, 10 or 15 is pre-determined. What is your take on this?
KS: I think it's usually off base. Again, perhaps there are unethical people floating around, but you simply couldn't tell a celebrity judges panel at Miss America, for example, who to pick and then not have that leak out eventually. The judges IMHO just see different things than the audience does, and usually, not for nothing, they're the most objective people in the room.
Q: Did you have permission from your Miss America sisters to air their stories in your book? Did it cause any distress in your relationship with them for telling their stories FOR them?
KS: Not sure which ones you're referring to, but most Miss Americas are not shrinking violets. There's only one person who came to me with a concern about something in the book, and it wasn't a Miss America. Plus, most of what I wrote was documented elsewhere, and I drew from those sources.
Q: Did Tammy Walker have any influence on your talent presentation?
KS: TAMMY WALKER IS EVERYTHING I TRIED SO HARD TO FIT INTO HER BLUE PANTSUIT. ;) Actually, my staging was originally more similar to hers kicks and all" but just by coincidence. I restaged it the night before prelims because it just didn't feel like me. Probably because Tammy Walker had owned all that for years!
Q: Kate, what is your comment about bashing and negativity about contestants. I thought the bashing during Miss America week was harsh and mean.
KS: Constructive criticism bothers me less, although I think it's more useful if it's diplomatically offered to the contestant directly. Bashing is a shame, and disappointing. It's been going on for decades (sniping in the audience is nothing new), but there's just something about seeing it in print and knowing that people will believe rumors as truth. I truly don't know how to solve this, except to try to avoid posting things they wouldn't be proud to say out loud. But everyone has a different barometer for that, too. The only thing I know for sure is that it's usually obvious when someone has a personal axe to grind. It's nastier and a lot more intimate. And redundant.
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