How Miss Universe is overhauling the pageant to make you love it again

Miss usaMiss USADeshauna Barber was the first military member crowned Miss USA.

Miss Universe knows what you think of it. And it’s quietly making a number of changes that might make you rethink the pageant.

Many people criticise Miss Universe for being an antiquated celebration of superficial femininity. While the annual show remains popular with its core audience more than 50 years after it was founded, its image as a brand has seen better days.

That may be changing. Donald Trump unloaded the organisation in 2015 after a falling out with its broadcaster, NBC, following his controversial statements about Mexican immigrants. He sold to WME/IMG, which is primarily known as a talent agency but is widely growing its business ventures, including original productions.

In Miss Universe, first of all, WME/IMG saw a chance to obtain a massive global audience that will take advantage of the company’s other relationships within entertainment. (Actress Julianne Hough cohosted this month’s Miss USA competition, and she also happens to be signed with WME.)

The new Miss Universe/Miss USA owners want to take full advantage of that audience in ways the old shows simply left behind. They launched the Miss U app, the first official app for the Miss Universe organisation, which allows fans a say in the voting and gives them access to content before and after the shows.

“There’s a huge community around this that we can leverage 365 days a year,” Michael Antinoro, who oversees Miss Universe at IMG Original Content, told Business Insider. “Frankly, in the past, most people looked at the organisation, whether it was Miss USA or Miss Universe, once a year when the three-hour special came on TV. It was the only time they thought about it.”

But perhaps more significantly, WME/IMG wants to rethink what it means to be Miss USA or Miss Universe, and how it portrays the women aiming for the prizes.

“Celebrating women 60 years ago was a very different idea of how to do that than now. What we saw in the opportunity here was, first of, to kind of join the conversation that’s happening in 2016. That’s men and women talking about celebrating women and women’s empowerment and getting women to work together to raise all levels and awareness on women’s issues and other issues around the world,” Antinoro said.

That shift in how Miss Universe treats female competitors, means, for example, that Miss USA went to the 51 competitors’ hometowns to spend a day with each of them and shoot footage of their daily lives: their jobs, their families, and everything else that goes beyond the skills of the show.

This year’s newly crowned Miss USA, Deshauna Barber, is an officer in the Army Reserve and impressed viewers by giving an answer in which she defended women being allowed in all combats roles of the military. It was a far cry from the type of blanket, abstract answers competitors have given in the past, and got to the core of Barber’s service and ideas about the country.

“There are many ways to define beauty,” Antinoro said, “and it’s about confidence and about taking yourself out of your comfort zone.”

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