'Miss America 2.0' Thinks Outside the Box

Wednesday Night’s Walter Kaitz Foundation fundraising dinner included remarks from recently crowned Miss America 2.0 Nia Franklin, winner of the competition that now no longer judges women on their physical appearance. She spoke about her mission as an advocate for the arts. Before the dinner, Franklin sat down with B&C contributor R. Thomas Umstead to discuss her plans and expectations for her reign as Miss America, as well as her thoughts on diversity and the entertainment industry. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation.

Have you settled into being Miss America 2.0?

Not really — everything still feels new and I’m still settling in.

I can imagine so much went into preparation leading up to the big moment when you won. After you heard your name announced, were you relieved or did your feel a sense of exhilaration?

All of the above. It was a reward for working hard. That was my third try to even get to the title, so being there was such a reward in itself. It was a dream realized, and I knew I would have a long year ahead of me, but I’m excited about the adventure of it. Every Miss America has had something to bring to the table, and for me it’s the arts. That’s what I’m really passionate about.

How do you see the arts portrayed on television?

Ovation [which sponsored the entertainment portion of the Kaitz dinner] is doing a wonderful thing on cable television because it makes sure we are giving the arts attention. It’s so important that we see strong women and strong men that are artists — whether it’s through music, like myself, or dance or visual arts. It’s important that it is showcased on cable in a way that, unfortunately, is not showcased that much.

Beyond advocating for the arts, what would you like to accomplish in the next year as Miss America?

I’m a composer, so I really want to make sure people hear my story and my music. I hope to show that it’s a part of who I am and what I want to bring to the table. I don’t plan to slow down my year composing and writing my music, so by the end of the year, when the new Miss America is crowned, I can say that I have this platform that I’ve established and I’m ready to go out into the workforce and really make my voice heard.

The cable industry is in the midst of its Diversity Week recognition and celebration. How important are the issues of diversity and inclusion to you?

Diversity is so important, and that’s what I love about New York and what I loved about the Miss America competition — you see women from all different backgrounds. I believe it’s also important to have the Miss America event on television so that the country can see how diverse it is.

As an African-American woman, do you feel that there’s added responsibly on your shoulders as Miss America?

Yes. You’re representing not only yourself, your family and the organization, but you’re representing a group of people, whether you like it or not. There are so many African-American girls that look up to me, and I definitely feel that I have a responsibility to showcase myself in the best light possible so that they can look up to me as an example. They may want to be Miss America someday, so I want to make sure that I’m being the best role model I can so that when they want to try to fill my shoes years later they can do it in a light that keeps the cycle going in the way that it should.

I know you’ve only been at this for a short time, but what’s been the toughest part of this so far?

I would say the traveling. You’re traveling to a different city every 48 hours. But that’s also one of the most rewarding parts, because you get to see so many parts of the United States and meet so many other people. So for anyone who has given some thought to doing this job, make sure you have your suitcase ready and you have the mindset that this is something that you’re going to do for an entire year. Build your stamina because you’re going to meet so many people who want to know your story. For me, my story is making sure that I’m a voice for those that don’t have a voice in the arts, especially women of color.

In your words, what does Miss America represent?

It definitely represents women going outside of the box in whatever way that is. When the pageant first started it was a swimsuit competition, and that was radical and rare for that time, but now we don’t even have the swimsuits anymore as part of the competition. So I think Miss America represents women in this country who want to be more than just the status quo — we don’t want to be put in a box. We want to do things outside of the box and showcase our talents, our speaking capabilities, and how we can inspire others. That’s the symbolism that Miss America represents and what it means to me. It’s been a place where I can turn to to showcase my talents and meet like-minded women that have similar interests that I do, and that’s been so special to me.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.