‘A pop icon’: North Mississippi to be represented well at Miss. America

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

LAS VEGAS – Miss Mississippi Sarah Beth James will have extra support from the Magnolia State when she competes for the Miss America title today.
Technically, Amory native Sam Haskell isn’t supposed to have favorites because he’s chairman of the Miss America Organization.
“I try to support them all,” he said during a phone interview from Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. “I learn all their names, and try to become as close to them as I can, so I’m a father figure to them while they’re here.”
Haskell’s allegiance is to the entire show, which will return to broadcast television when it airs at 8 p.m. on ABC today. Miss America has spent the past couple of years as a reality show on TLC.
“The plan was to build that perception, build good ratings, build a lower demographic median age, get the right people watching,” Haskell said. “We did that and we’re able to make the transition back. We’re on ABC for the 90th anniversary.”
In addition to the competitors, you’ll see a trio of Northeast Mississippi residents taking part in the show. Haskell brought Josh Randle of Amory, Joseph Martin of New Albany and Ryan Milstead of Okolona to Las Vegas.
“You’ll see them in the opening production number, helping the girls up and down the stairs,” Haskell said. “You’ll see them as waiters in a very special surprise segment that we’ll be doing with the eliminated contestants.
“You’ll also see them presenting the flowers to the winner and runners-up at the end of the show. They’ll be in very nice tuxedos.”

Watching at home
Haskell is starting his sixth year as chairman of the Miss America Organization, and he’s been a lifelong fan of the pageant.
“As a little boy growing up in Amory, I watched Miss America every year with my family,” he said. “We always cheered for Miss Mississippi. We were always so interested because my mother was always interested.”
His wife, Mary Donnelly Haskell, was Miss Mississippi in 1977, so she’s part of the event’s rich history.
Haskell said he’s been looking through the Miss America video archive to pull out moments that represent the pageant’s tradition.
“It’s just amazing when you realize how much a part of the tapestry of our lives Miss America has been. This is a pop icon,” he said. “I’m just honored they trusted me to save it five years ago.”
If people turn their TV sets to ABC tonight, Haskell will be a happy man.
Still, there might be an extra spring in his step on Sunday morning if Miss Mississippi Sarah Beth James wins the coveted crown.

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.

Catch the show
- The 90th anniversary of the Miss America Pageant will air at 8 p.m. today on ABC stations.