Miss America Winners Recall Alleged Bullying, ‘Dirty Tricks’ in ‘Secrets of Miss America’

Secrets of Miss America Docuseries (Credit: A&E)

Miss America is the nation’s oldest beauty pageant, but some winners say behind the glitz and glamour are ugly secrets, including alleged bullying and body shaming.

More than 20 former Miss Americas shared their stories in the four-hour A&E documentary series Secrets of Miss America, premiering tonight.

In the first episode titled “Dirty Tricks,” one former beauty queen said she was bullied into submission during her reign.

“It’s like a dictatorship, you stand up against us, we will terminate you,” she said.

Other winners alleged misogyny and racism within the organization, including claims that some pageant leaders worked to prevent Black women from winning.

Related Story: Trailer of A&E Docuseries to Detail ‘Cycle of Abuse’ at Miss America Pageant

Secrets of Miss America (Credit: A&E)
In September 1983, Vanessa Williams was the first Black woman crowned Miss America  (Credit: A&E)

Another woman said winners were not allowed to date while they represented the organization.

“They’re very, very anti-boyfriend because they want you to look like you’re America’s sweetheart,” she shared.

Miss America 2016 Betty Maxwell recalled one night a male friend brought her a fast food meal, and someone notified pageant leaders that a man had been seen leaving her home.

“Then I get reamed out,” Maxwell said.

Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan alleged she was treated so poorly by pageant officials that her mental health suffered.

“I definitely was not prepared for the insanity, the psychological warfare. It truly had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with a person who was used to being in control of those around him,” Hagan said about former Miss America CEO Sam Haskell.

[Mallory Hagan is shown in the image above with Sam Haskell]

Hagan dated Brent Adams, who worked for Haskell as vice president of marketing for Miss America.

Adams was also interviewed for the docuseries and said his former boss did not approve of him dating Hagan. In fact, Adams said Haskell wanted him to date his daughter and threatened to fire him if he didn’t break things off with Hagan.

Adams previously told HuffPost that Haskell said to him, “You don’t need a piece of trash like Mallory, you need someone with class and money like my daughter.”

Hagan set her sights on becoming a TV host after her reign as Miss America ended. She moved to Los Angeles and took meetings with producers, but alleged in the docuseries that Haskell — a Mississippi native who became a powerful Hollywood agent in the 1970s — trash-talked her to media executives and the opportunities would evaporate.

Haskell stepped down in 2017 after Adams leaked his emails to the press. One email shown in the docuseries about Mallory Hagan reads, “OMG. She is huge… and gross.”

New leadership was brought in with former Miss Americas Regina Hopper and Gretchen Carlson (a previous Fox News host) tasked with leading the organization. Carlson stepped down in 2019, following accusations of alleged bullying. Hopper resigned a few months later.

The pageant was founded in 1921 and for decades was a massive cultural event. It was viewed by 80 million people a year at one point, but the pageant now struggles to find an audience.

Robin Fleming is the current CEO of the Miss America organization. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter published earlier today, Fleming shared her thoughts on the limited A&E series and said she had seen all four episodes.

“With any 100-year-old brand, there’s definitely going to be organizational missteps, to put it mildly. I would say my inclination is to support all the women who share their stories with the A&E producers. However, in talking with those same women, I’ve talked with about 35 different Miss Americas who’ve indicated they felt the entirety of their voices were not heard,” Fleming said. “If you spend eight to 14 hours interviewing and it ends up as a two-minute biting soundbite, there’s much more… Right? Of course, that’s what entertainment’s all about, editing to fit a narrative that’s going to get some eyeballs and get some views.”

The winner of Miss America receives a six-figure cash prize and $50,000 in scholarships, according to the pageant website. There are also career opportunities and chances to network. But Fleming told THR that many positives about the pageant were left out of the series.

“Heather Whitestone. She was, I think, arguably one of the most inspirational Miss Americas of her time. She is deaf and she had spent over 12 hours interviewing,” Fleming said. “And not one minute of her interview appears on Secrets. I do think they bill it as 20 Miss Americas, but I mean, I lost count. I think maybe they only feature six or seven, so she was very disappointed.”

Secrets of Miss America is produced by MGM Alternative and Lightbox for A&E Network. The docuseries is executive produced by Mark Burnett; Barry Poznick, Richard Bedser and Ailsa Orr for MGM. Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn and Suzanne Lavery are Executive Producers for Lightbox. Elaine Frontain Bryant and Brad Abramson serve as executive producers for A&E.

The docuseries premieres Monday, July 10 at 10pm ET/PT.