2019 Miss America Competition: Miss New York Nia Imani Franklin crowned the winner

September 9, 2018

by Yvette Thomas

Miss America 2019 Nia Amani Franklin
Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Miss New York title holder Nia Imani Franklin, 25, was crowned Miss America 2019 at the Miss America Competition that took place at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 9, 2018. “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba and media personality Ross Matthews hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on ABC. The grand prize is $50,000 in scholarship money, with the requirement of numerous personal appearances and other commitments as Miss America during her the year of her reign.

The judges were boxer Laila Ali, country radio personality, Bobby Bones, singer Jessie James Decker, “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, TV journalist Soledad O’Brien, Drybar founder Alli Webb and singer Carnie Wilson.

For the talent segment of the show, Franklin did an operatic vocal of “Quando m’en vo”” from “La Bohème.” In the final round of the competition, Franklin was asked how being Miss New York prepared her for her being Miss America judge Ali. Franklin answered, “I have New York grit. I have moved over five times because of subletting in New York. It can be a little difficult because of the pricey rent, but I’ve overcome that. And also, as a New Yorker, I understand what it takes to work hard. I came up on a Lincoln Center fellowship because I’m an artist, and I’m really excited to just share my platform my social impact advocating for the arts and make sure all students have access to a quality education.”

Miss Florida Taylor Tyson, Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei, Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin, Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway and Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Rounding out the Top 5 contestants were Miss Connecticut Bridget Oei (first runner-up); Miss Louisiana Holli’ Conway (second runner-up); Miss Florida Taylor Tyson (third runner-up); and Miss Massachusetts Gabriela Taveras (fourth runner-up).

It was the first Miss America show to take place since the massive changes that the Miss America Organization implemented in 2018 under its new leadership headed by chairperson Gretchen Carlson. The changes included eliminating the swimsuit competition, which was replaced with more interview time for the contestants; changing the show’s name from the Miss America Pageant to the Miss America Competition; and no longer judging the contestants for their physical looks. The evening gown portion of the show remained, but the contestants were no longer judged on how they looked in the gowns. The contestants also wore more casual business attire during another part of the competition.

Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Instead of being judged by their looks, the contestants were judged on various other factors, such as their poise, how they answered questions, their personalities, intelligence, talent and personal accomplishments.

The big changes to the Miss America show didn’t come without a lot of controversy. People opposed to the changes include several pageant officials and contestants on the state and local levels, former Miss America contestants and thousand of petitioners who have demanded that Carlson and other Miss America Organization leaders resign.

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund is also among the critics. In August, she went public with an open letter voicing her disapproval of the new policies and leadership. In the letter and in many subsequent interviews, Mund accused Carlson and other Miss American Organization leaders of bullying her and excluding her. The Miss America Organization issued this statement in response to Mund’s claims: “The Miss America Organization supports Cara. It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately. Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns.” Carlson also went on Twitter to deny the claims. There also many supporters of the new changes for the Miss America show, but they weren’t as vocal as the critics were.

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund crowns Miss America 2019 Nia Imani Franklin (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Despite the controversy, Mund was all smiles on stage as she fulfilled her duties of crowning Miss America 2019.

Franklin, who is a native North Carolina, graduated from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, with a bachelor’s degree in music composition. In 2017, she earned her master of fine arts degree in music competition from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Franklin moved to New York City after being selected as a 2017 William R. Kenan Jr. fellow with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ education division.

Final results Contestant(s)
Miss America 2019
  • New York (state) New York – Nia Franklin
1st runner-up
  • Connecticut Connecticut -Bridget Oei
2nd runner-up
  • Louisiana Louisiana – Holli’ Conway
3rd runner-up
  • Florida Florida – Taylor Tyson
4th runner-up
  • Massachusetts Massachusetts – Gabriela Taveras
Top 10
  • Alabama Alabama – Callie Walker
  • Colorado Colorado – Ellery Jones
  • Washington, D.C. District of Columbia – Allison Farris
  • Idaho Idaho – Nina Forest
  • Nebraska Nebraska – Jessica Shultis
Top 15
  • Indiana Indiana – Lydia Tremaine
  • Minnesota Minnesota – Michaelene Karlen
  • Oklahoma Oklahoma – Ashley Thompson
  • Washington (state) Washington – Danamarie McNicholl
  • Wisconsin Wisconsin – Tianna Vanderhei

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City announces opening date, first lineup of concerts

April 18, 2018

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City (Rendering courtesy of Hard Rock International)

The following is a press release from Hard Rock International:

Hard Rock International Chairman & CEO, Jim Allen, announced that June 28, 2018 is the Grand Opening date for the highly-anticipated Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. This announcement included a star-studded entertainment lineup with more than 50 shows and events that will go on sale Friday, April 20.  This unprecedented event will create sound waves for the coastal town with over 200 nights of music, ranging from A-list artists, epic bands and headlining comedians. The unveiling of the Grand Opening date along with the all-star lineup and the hotel reservations announcements were revealed simultaneously at a three-city press conference in New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City.

 “The Grand Opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will set the tone for a new era of entertainment in Atlantic City. Our 500 million dollar, newly reimagined property will offer something for everyone and we’re thrilled to welcome our first guests in June,” stated Hard Rock International Chairman & CEO, Jim Allen.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be the new go-to destination for world-class entertainment, rock-star service and their signature legendary vibe. The music-inspired hotel will feature dynamic culinary experiences, superstar performances, sporting events, a beach bar and a spectacular casino complete with more than 2,100 slot machines and 120 table games. The entertainment lineup set to kick off the summer will include A-list talent and performances, such as Amy Schumer and Friends, Florida Georgia Line, Kid Rock plus over 50 shows and events booked for the new casino resort.

On any given day of the year, musical talent will include artists that are leading the music scene across the nation. From Country artists like Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith and Trace Adkins to Broadway sensations, such as Rock of Ages and Million Dollar Quartet, guests will have access to a variety of genres. Legendary artists like Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and rock favorites such as Pat BenatarNeil Giraldo and Rick Springfield, Steely Dan and Stone Temple Pilots with Bush & The Cult will all set the stage at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.


7/1 – 9/16- Motor City Live: A Motown Tribute

7/5- Third Eye Blind                                                                            

7/6 – Country Fridays featuring Kellie Pickler 

7/12 – Ted Nugent        

7/13 & 7/14 – Florida Georgia Line    

7/20 – Country Fridays featuring A Thousand Horses

7/21 – Chris Young                                          

7/26 – Pat BenatarNeil Giraldo and Rick Springfield                                   

7/26 – Rascal Flatts                                          

7/27 & 7/28 – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons                                           

8/1 – Stone Temple Pilots & Bush & The Cult 

8/4 – Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes            

8/9 – George Thorogood                                              

8/11 – Million Dollar Quartet                                       

8/18 – Blake Shelton

8/23 – Counting Crows with LIVE                                          

8/26 – Toby Keith and Trace Adkins 

9/1 – Amy Schumer and Friends

9/8 – Fab Faux                                                  

9/22 – Cole Swindell                                         

10/13 – Steely Dan                                            

10/19 &10/20 – Kid Rock                                                                                            

10/30 – 11/4 – Rock of Ages


4/30/19-5/6/19 – Kinky Boots  

*Tickets on sale Friday, April 20 at 10:00 a.m. at http://www.hardrockhotelatlanticcity.com/

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City launches online room reservations; visit www.hardrockhotelatlanticcity.com or call (609) 449-1000.  Hotel Guests can book now to experience music inspired offerings such as The Sound of Your Stay program.

Hard Rock International
With venues in 75 countries, including 181 cafes, 25 hotels and 11 casinos, Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies. Beginning with an Eric Clapton guitar, Hard Rock owns the world’s greatest collection of music memorabilia, which is displayed at its locations around the globe. Hard Rock is also known for its collectible fashion and music-related merchandise, Hard Rock Live performance venues and an award-winning website. HRI owns the global trademark for all Hard Rock brands. The company owns, operates and franchises Cafes in iconic cities including New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Dubai. HRI also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties worldwide. Destinations include the company’s two most successful Hotel and Casino properties in Tampa and Hollywood, FL, both owned and operated by HRI parent company The Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as other exciting locations including Bali, Ibiza, Las Vegas, and San Diego. Upcoming new Hard Rock Cafe locations include St. Petersburg, Casablanca and Chengdu. New Hard Rock hotel, casino or hotel-casino projects include Atlanta, Berlin, Budapest, London, Los Cabos, Maldives, New York City, Ottawa, Dalian and Haikou in China. For more information on Hard Rock International, visit www.hardrock.com.



Miss America shakeup: Gretchen Carlson becomes board chair after several execs are ousted for sexually demeaning emails

January 2, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Sam Haskell (far left) and Miss America 2018 Cara Mund (far right) at a Miss America press conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey,  in September 2017. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Gretchen Carlson, who was crowned Miss America 1989, has taken the reigns of the Miss America Organization by being named chair of the board. The announcement comes two weeks after a HuffPost article broke the news that several high-ranking Miss America executives made derogatory comments about former Miss America winners and contestants in email exchanges dating back to 2014 and beyond. As a result, 47 former Miss Americas called for the offending parties to be fired, and the following people have been ousted from the Miss America Organization (MAO):  Sam Haskell (who was CEO), Josh Randle (president), Lewis Friedman (who was lead writer for the Miss America telecast), Lynn Weidner (board chair) and Tammy Haddad (board member).  Dick Clark Productions, which produced the Miss America telecast on ABC, cut ties with MAO after the board initially failed to reprimand the offending parties.

Gretchen Carlson
Gretchen Carlson (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

Among the more derogatory comments in the mails: Friedman described former Miss Americas collectively as “cunts,” in an email exchange with Haskell, who laughed in response to the obscene insult. In an another email to Haskell, Friedman commented on the death of Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, and said that Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle (who was a vocal critic of Haskell) should have been the one to die. Haskell also expressed amusement at this comment.

Some of the people who were ousted from MAO also made derogatory comments about Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan after she gained weight. Haskell also spread gossip about Hagan’s sex life and seemingly went out of his way to damage her career. According to emails published by HuffPost, Haskell was apparently very angry that Brent Adams, a high-ranking MAO employee at the time, chose to date Hagan instead of Haskell’s daughter.

Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, famously sued the network and its then-chairman/CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, resulted in dozens of women coming forward with stories about Ailes sexually harassing them, and Ailes resigned/was ousted from Fox News in 2016. (Ailes died of complications from a head injury in 2017.)

Carlson was also a target of Haskell’s and Haddad’s wrath in several emails. After Shindle wrote a book that criticized Haskell and some aspects of MAO, Carlson refused Haskell’s demand to have Shindle banned from Carlson’s Fox News show. Carlson is the first former Miss America to become chair of the MAO board. Also joining the board as part of the shakeup are former Miss America winners Shindle, Laura Kaeppeler (2012) and Heather French Henry (2000).

Miss America 2018 contestants in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September 2017.
(Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC)

The Miss America Pageant, which awards scholarship money, has had its share of ups and downs since it began in 1921. The show’s telecast is not the powerhouse that it was before the 1980s. In the 2000s, the show’s ratings fell to its lowest points, and ABC dropped the pageant in 2004. From 2005 to 2010, the Miss America telecast bounced around on cable networks such as CMT and TLC before returning to ABC in 2011.  Over the decades, the show’s locations also changed from longtime site Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Las Vegas (from 2005 to 2013), and then back to Atlantic City in 2014. In 2014, a deal with Dick Clark Productions helped bring the Miss America pageant telecast back to a certain level of prestige, although the Miss America pageant (with competition from the Miss USA pageant) is not considered as important as it was in decades past. It has not yet been announced if Dick Clark Productions will go back to working with MAO now that these sweeping changes to MAO’s board have been made.

Hard Rock in Atlantic City unveils renovation designs and plans

April 5, 2017

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City (Rendering courtesy of Hard Rock International)

The following is an excerpt from a Hard Rock International press release:

Hard Rock International has announced the completed acquisition as well as unveiled plans for the launch and significant redevelopment of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

The former Taj Mahal building will undergo an all-encompassing $375 million renovation and reopen in summer 2018. The upcoming Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is situated on 17 acres of prime Boardwalk real estate, offering vast views of the city and Atlantic Ocean.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will offer a range of gaming opportunities with 2,400 slots and 130 table games. Additionally, the casino will boast an entirely redesigned interior with first-class food and beverage concepts. Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City will move to a new 400-seat venue, including an improved stage and central location within the property featuring beach access. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will become the premier entertainment destination with live music, sporting events, conferences and shows with two separate arenas offering more than 7,000 seats total.

The entrance of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be completely reimagined, beginning with updating the existing facades along Pacific Avenue, at the resort entry, porte cochére and along the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. Upon arrival, guests will enjoy a new check in experience and lobby lounge. Guestrooms and suites will undergo a complete renovation and redesign to offer lavishly appointed rooms in a setting that is anything but uptight. Meeting space will be updated to accommodate both large conventions and smaller events.

A full-service spa will feature relaxing and recharging treatments, and The Sound of Your Stay music amenity program will offer complimentary in-room Fender guitar checkouts. With Hard Rock International’s standing as curators of the world’s largest and most priceless music memorabilia collection, the property’s design will feature museum-like displays adorning the walls. Memorabilia for the hotel will be carefully hand-selected with a focus on contemporary musicians and artists who call New Jersey home.

Jose Garces opens three new restaurants at Tropicana Atlantic City

February 17, 2017


Celebrity chef/restaurateur Jose Garces has opened three new restaurants at Tropicana Atlantic City in New Jersey. Here are the details from a Tropicana press release:

Inspired by the tranquil beach town of Olón, Ecuador and the vibrancy of coastal culture, Olón (pronounced Ō-lon) provides Tropicana guests with a classically alluring, laid-back experience centered around Chef Jose Garces’ vision of fresh seafood. Guests enter through custom-crafted Ecuadorian gates and first encounter a 43-seat ceviche bar and lounge, where they can watch chefs prepare ceviche and other raw seafood specialties.

In the 128-seat dining area, every seat has sweeping ocean and boardwalk views. Beach-like cabanas with soft draperies create intimate nooks within the space while touches of natural light and fresh salt air create an inviting yet alluring atmosphere. In addition, wood shutters unfold to create two private dining areas for groupings of up to 60 people.  Weather permitting, seating for 40 will be available on a deck overlooking the beach.

The menu at Olón features Chef Garces’ family recipes, with a modern twist, as well as unique takes on time-honored favorites.  Traditional features include steamed clams, crab cakes, jumbo fried shrimp, and surf & turf.  More contemporary options include wood-fired Wagyu skirt steak, roasted chicken, jumbo gulf prawns, black bass, two-pound lobster, and king crab.

Olón will be open seven days a week with a lunch menu starting at 11:30 a.m. and dinner 5 – 11 p.m., midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations can be made on OpenTable or by calling 800-345-8767 . For Olón’s Atlantic City Restaurant Week specials, visit www.acrestaurantweek.com.


Okatshe (pronounced Ō- kaht-she) is Chef Jose Garces’ playful, modernized take on a traditional Japanese izakaya. Okatshe visually transports guests to the streets of Tokyo and provides a sense of discovery by taking guests through a small Japanese candy (okashi) storefront before entering the restaurant.

The full-service, 80-seat sit-down restaurant will serve a selection of small plates, yakitori, ramen, sushi and sashimi. Yakitori skewers include chicken, beef, pork, vegetable or seafood. Ramen noodles are served in three unique styles: Tokyo, light chicken and Dashi broth; Tonkastu, rich pork broth; and Okatshe, lobster dashi. Sushi, sashimi, and maki offerings include everything from scallop and wasabi tobiko to spicy rolls, black jack eel rolls, and the signature Tropicana roll.

The bar at Okatshe will include a curated selection of Japanese whiskeys, 50 sakes, beers, and specialty cocktails.

Okatshe will be open from 4 p.m.2 a.m. seven days a week. Reservations are not required.


Bar Olón
Bar Olón is the interactive, 60-seat double-sided bar and lounge located between the two restaurants. Featuring a large, walk-around bar, the setting includes a modernized beach vibe with a combination of varying seating types to accommodate individuals and small groups. Vintage looking fans provide a cool, “ocean” breeze with whimsical bongos and neon signage completing the nostalgic vibe.  An elevated platform with tropical mural wall-hanging backdrop will serve as a stage for live entertainment.

Bar Olón serves as the foundation of Olón’s extensive beverage programming, including: a custom, double-sided tap with 16 draft beer selections; 35 beers by-the-bottle; 20 wines by-the-glass; 75+ wines by the bottle and 8 hand-crafted specialty cocktails.  A light food menu will also be available featuring ceviche, sandwiches, and shareable small plates.

The bar will be open from 11:30 a.m.11 p.m. daily. Seasonal live, entertainment will be offered from 9 p.m. – midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and holiday weekends.


Chef Jose Garces has tapped two Garces veterans to helm the Tropicana restaurants.

Chef de Cuisine Maria Schmidt is a Garces alumna. Her career in Garces’ kitchens has taken her from Philadelphia to Palm Springs and back again. In her 9 years with Chef Garces, Maria has served as Chef de Cuisine at Amada, Distrito, Tinto and 24.

Executive Director of Fine Dining Patrick Sterr is a South Jersey native who began his management experience in Atlantic City. He went on to manage and oversee several Chef Garces’ restaurants in Atlantic City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Chicago, and New York.

Dash Design of New York City was responsible for the interior and architectural design, in collaboration with SOSH Architects, for all three restaurants. This is Dash Design’s fourth collaboration with Chef Jose Garces.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City to debut conference room in May 2017

January 25, 2017

 Borgata Hotel Casino &; Spa
(Photo courtesy of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa)

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, will unveil an 18,000-square-foot Central Conference Center in May 2017.  The $11 million project, designed by Avenue Interior Design, Center features two stories of customizable event space, including five meeting rooms, a boardroom, and an office on the lower level, as well as a 6,500-square-foot clear-span ballroom on the upper level. The architecture has oil-rubbed metallic and bronze finishes, incorporating custom tabu zebrano millwork and trims with marble, granite, and quartz stone fixtures.

Occupying what was formally mur.mur nightclub, the bi-level venue boasts the latest in technology, offering high definition digital projection, TV, and Internet system capabilities paired with all digital distributed sound systems. Touch-panel controls and décor lighting experiences allow for made-to-order services that can be uniquely individualized to fit any need. Borgata executive chef Tom Biglan will manage the culinary program for Central Conference Center with Borgata executive pastry chef Thaddeus DuBois overseeing the pastry program.

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