The 2000s

In 2000, for the first time ever a scholarship of $50,000 was the top prize and Utah Junior Miss Jesika Henderson earned it along with the title of America's Junior Miss that year. Both Deborah Norville and Karen Morris Gowdy took part in the 2001 finals, with Norville hosting the finals and Gowdy handling the preliminary round. Singer Toby Keith provided entertainment for the finals. Dan Marino joined Norville for the finals in 2002, which aired nationally on the PAX TV network. Billy Gilman and 3rd Faze were also part of the 2002 finals. The 2004 finals were a little different from previous years, as the 50 Junior Misses were actually taped for documentary segments spanning their two weeks of preparation. In 2005, the AJM Board of Directors' executive committee was unsuccessful at retaining sponsors and a major television network willing enough to broadcast the national finals. The Board of Directors had no choice but to make the 2005 national finals on June 25 possibly the very last for America's Junior Miss. The group of Junior Misses staying in Mobile two weeks before the finals were set to have breakfast at Bellingrath Gardens on June 13 and meet local residents at Colonial Mall Bel Air on June 18. Unfortunately this time, area traditions such as the top winner's return trip to Mobile for her crowning as queen of the GMAC Bowl in December are not in store. After Mississippi Junior Miss Kelli Lynn Schutz was chosen and given a $50,000 scholarship, she never met her predecessor Diane Sawyer for her traditional "Good Morning America" segment, never made appearances elsewhere as the AJM ambassador, and never held a press conference. The 2005 finals, hosted by 2000 America's Junior Miss Jesika Henderson and actor Nicky Brown, airing live on Mobile station WKRG-TV and pre-recorded for PAX TV on June 27 was a celebration of all 48 years of accomplishing a feat that no other organization similar to AJM would attempt, prepare and encourage the lives of young women beginning to enter a new world of possibility. The organization had originally set a date of September 30, 2005 to end operations, but on August 9 the Board of Directors decided that the national finals shall continue to be held in Mobile, only without any national television coverage as part of the new budget. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee showed interest in saving the America's Junior Miss program by moving the headquarters and national finals there. A group of concerned Junior Miss supporters, under the band of Friends of AJM and with the website, fought for the continuation of the program.