Organisers wanted to make it clear the 99th Miss America competition was not like beauty pageants of old, and their winner did just that.
Virginia biochemist Camille Schrier won the crown minutes after wowing the crowd with science.
Dressed in a lab coat, she gave a colourful chemistry demonstration of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.
Ms Schrier, a native of Pennsylvania, said she hopes to “break stereotypes about what it means to be a Miss America in 2020” by being a “woman of science” who is authentic to herself.
“I’m not the beauty queen,” she said. “I’m the brand ambassador for this organisation and I’m more than just someone with a crown on my head.”
Victoria Hill of Georgia was second.
No longer called contestants, the 51 “candidates” – who hailed from all 50 states and the District of Columbia – competed for a 50,000 dollar (£38,000) scholarship and the “job” of Miss America, a one-year paid position they hope to use as a public platform for their “social impact initiative”.
For the second year in a row, women were not judged in a swimsuit or how they look in an evening gown. Instead, a series of interviews and talent demonstrations determine who is best qualified to wear the crown.
“To make it relevant for these young women, it was important for us as a scholarship and service organisation to make sure that we were reflective of this generation, meaning that you no longer had to be defined by some sort of ideal,” said Regina Hopper, president chief executive of the Miss America Organisation.
Ms Schrier, 24, who spoke on stage about having tackled an eating disorder, said she decided to compete for Miss America after the swimsuit competition was ditched, along with other changes made to modernise the organisation.
“I kind of figured that I would never get on that stage because I was a woman who did not want to get into a swimsuit on stage. And I didn’t have a performing talent, which is really ironic now,” she said, adding how she is the first Miss America to win with a science experiment, a presentation she takes to schools.
She is a graduate of Virginia Tech with dual bachelor of science degrees in biochemistry and systems biology, and is studying to obtain a doctor of pharmacy degree.￼
Ms Hopper acknowledges there has been some resistance from “old pageant” people who liked the traditional way of doing things, she said there has been greater interest in the competition since the changes were made.
Asked on stage whether the Miss America organisation should change even more and allow married women and women with children to participate, Ms Schrier and Ms Hill said no. Ms Schrier told reporters afterwards that she believes the job would be too busy for a mother.
This year’s multi-day event was held at Mohegan Sun, a tribal casino and entertainment complex in Connecticut – only the second time in its history it has left Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Miss America also switched from ABC back to NBC to broadcast the glitzy finale to an estimated 4.5 million viewers. And for the first time, preliminary events and the finale — held in Mohegan’s 10,000-seat arena — were streamed live on the NBC app.
Ms Schrier succeeds 2019 Miss America Nia Franklin, a classically trained opera singer from New York.