WME/IMG’s first real chance at putting its fingerprints all over the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants is rubbing some people the wrong way.
Some local officials in the Miss Teen USA competition are upset that the talent agency is putting less emphasis on sex appeal and a greater focus in fitness.
Among its first moves as the new owner, WME/IMG eliminated the swimsuit portion of the Miss Teen USA contest — which features competitors ages 14 to 19 — in August, replacing it with an activewear segment to highlight the teens’ fitness over sex appeal.
“The girls are very proud of their bodies and work hard to get that way,” said Paula Miles, a state director who oversees the pageants in Louisiana, Alabama and the Carolinas.
“We are in the South and have beaches everywhere,” said Miles, reacting to WME/IMG’s decision to nix the swimsuit competition and replace it with contestants wearing tank tops, bicycle shorts, leggings, sneakers and the like — to show off their athleticism.
While upset about the change, Miles knows that going forward “we have to [embrace] the activewear.”
For the Miss Universe pageant, which airs Jan. 29, the swimsuit competition will remain — but WME/IMG will have contestants walk out on stage in groups of four rather than one by one.
Michael Antinoro, the talent agency’s head of production and programming, thinks the changes are long overdue.
The beauty pageant business is about much more than “women walking on the stage in swimsuits and gowns and not messing up a question,” said Antinoro, who oversees the Miss Universe Organization, which includes Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.
The agency owned Miss Universe for just four month when last year’s pageant was held — not enough time to make major changes.
For this year’s pageant, to be broadcast by Fox, IMG’s changes will be clear.
The agency bought the pageants from President-elect Donald Trump in September 2015 after the New York billionaire got into hot water during the presidential campaign by denigrating some Mexican immigrants.
Broadcast-rights owner Univision dumped the shows, and NBCUniversal — which owned 51 percent of Miss Universe — looked to sell.
The snit resulted in a lawsuit. It was settled 11 months ago with Trump gaining full ownership.
He then flipped it to IMG for a reported $22 million.
Also, WME/IMG is looking to bring in more fashion designers.
“Anecdotally speaking, beauty pageants are not politically forward-thinking,” Antinoro said, adding that “we want to empower women to get away from [stereotypes like] ‘you look like a beauty queen.’”
The three-hour broadcast will also include more stories and video clips about the individual contestants.
Over the past year, producers traveled to 40 countries, filming about half of the 87 contestants in their daily lives.
Contestants will be asked more topical, weightier questions on subjects like gun control and politics.
One thing from 2016 will remain the same: Steve Harvey will be the host. Last year, Harvey created some instant viral video by announcing the wrong winner — before quickly correcting himself.