Carolyn Brady, representing Brunswick, was crowned Miss Maine in June. Susan Costa Photography

BRUNSWICK —When Carolyn Brady rules the world, you won’t see her doing it in a baby blue, sequined dress. Nor is that what she will wear when she walks across the Miss America stage this December.

While the 22-year-old-Miss Maine does, in fact want to both rule the world and take home the Miss America crown, she says she wants to do it her way: Probably in a jewel tone, and something that will lend weight to her words and embody Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey — polished, poised, powerful and relatable.

Because for Brady, the first African American Miss Maine in the competition’s history, it is about more than her dress and her looks. And now more than ever, Miss America is about more than that, too.

Carolyn Brady, Miss Maine, with two girl scouts at an event earlier this year. Brady, a lifelong girl scout, said she was excited to run into them. Contributed

Following a 2017 scandal after the Huffington Post revealed a slew of emails in which executives shamed contestant’s bodies and personal lives, Miss America rebranded as Miss America 2.0. In its new iteration, with all-female leadership, Miss America is a competition, not a pageant, and the contestants are considered “candidates.” They did away with the swimsuit competition and will no longer judge contestants on physical appearance. The talent portion is weighed more heavily.

“Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment” said Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees in a press release. ”We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”

In addition to earning scholarships to further her education, Miss America will advocate for social issues important to her.

“We want more young women to see this program as a platform upon which they can advance their desire to make a real difference and to provide them with the necessary skills and resources for them to succeed in any career path they choose,” said Regina Hopper, president and CEO.

When Brady first started in the pageant circle a few years ago, the perception of Miss America was very much that “Miss America wears a pretty dress and walks in a swimsuit,” she said, but now they are trying to change that. “That’s not the primary thing people should say. The goal is to have people say that she advocated for her social impact initiative, has ambitions parallel to our world leaders and makes a difference in her community,” she said, adding that she hopes Miss America 2.0 can influence the standard women are held to in society.

“You may not have girls (on stage) that have the perfect swimsuit bodies” going forward, she said, “but you’ll have girls who have some of the highest GPAs and highest career aspirations.”

Brady is no exception to this new rule. A Philadelphia native and graduate of Bowdoin College, she now serves as an AmeriCorps member through the LearningWorks Aim High Program in Portland and supports students who need additional help to reach grade-level expectations in math and literacy. In addition to her title as Miss Maine, she works at Nordstrom Rack and the J. Crew Factory while also teaching spin classes.

“I’m constantly on the go,” she said. “I don’t like days off.”

Brady has always wanted to have influence. By middle school, she wanted to “rule the world,” she said, whether it was as president or by marrying into the royal family. Now, she hopes to one day work in the state department to “figure out how we can make decisions between countries based on what’s best for the people of those countries” and “minimize focus on bureaucracy, maximize focus on humanity.” And then, of course, “take over the world,” she joked. She hopes Miss America’s focus on scholarship and service can help her do that.

Brady’s focus on humanitarian work extends to her social impact platform, “Immigration builds our nation,” which she began even before the recent influx of hundreds of asylum seekers into Portland this summer.

Her platform seeks to highlight the contributions of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants to the country and make sure “our new friends” are accepted into the community, she said.

She was crowned Miss Maine June 22, just in time for her to start helping the migrants sheltering at the Portland Expo. She has not yet worked with the recent asylum seekers in Brunswick but plans to reach out once they have had more time to settle in.

She intentionally chose a platform that probably has not been targeted by Miss Maine before, she said, and one that she could serve with more diligence as the first African American woman to hold the role, she said.

Though diversity in the state is growing as the immigrant population increases, Maine is “not the most diverse state in the union,” Brady said.

The US Census Bureau estimates that in 2018 (and in 2010) only 1.6% of Maine’s 1.3 million residents were African American, and only 1.8% identified as two or more races. Cumberland County, which includes both Brunswick and Portland, is slightly more diverse, with African Americans making up 3.1% of the population, according to the Census Bureau. The national average is 13.4%.

In the pageant world, Vanessa Williams was the first woman of African American descent to be crowned Miss America, taking home the title in 1984.

Last year, Miss America, Miss Teen USA and Miss USA were all African American for the first time in history.

Brady said she thinks there will be more African American Miss Maines in the future, but that it may take some time, as “Maine’s African American population is not yet American.” She believe that as time goes on, many immigrants will “likely eventually fall into that camp.”

When Brady first started competing in pageants as a way to make new friends, she advocated for more arts education, since she started playing violin at 5 years old.

She has been playing for 17 years and will take her talent to the Miss America stage in December. Instead of playing classical tunes, like Miss California, Brady will play Broadway music, and said the performance aspect matters “just as much, if not more” to her than her playing.

“It used to be that if you didn’t sing and dance you were an anomaly,” she said, but this year Brady’s Broadway violin performance will fit right in among the other talents like clogging, speed painting and even a science experiment.
Miss Maine has never walked away with the Miss America crown, so “the bar is set exponentially low,” Brady said, but it is also the first year the contestants will be competing under the new rules.

She hopes to conquer the Miss America stage in December — then, the world.

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.