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It’s been a long time since I watched the Miss America pageant. The way I saw it, if you’re tuning in for the pretty girls you can see more skin at the local mall, these days – and without the fake walk or the heavy makeup. There’s the talent competition, but the same operatic voices and/or flaming pom-pom routines can be found on half of all reality TV shows. As for the interview? Well, there are just so many interesting ways to say “world peace”.

I’d like the judges to interview me:

“I think the world would be a much better place if we implanted all politicians with auto-destruct circuits, Bert. When their approval rating drops below fifty percent – boom.”

Then my daughter called to inform me that Miss Indiana had become Miss America 2009. Well, that was a piece of history – no Miss Indiana has gotten that far before -- so when they reran the show that night on The Learning Channel I tuned in.

The Learning Channel?

What are you supposed to learn by watching the Miss American pageant? How to use hair spray to avoid a wedgie? How high heels can be a fashion accessory for beach wear? Next thing you’ll be telling me it was run last year on Country Music Television.

It was? What, did they have bathing suits and cowboy boots?

(Ooh, that would be a great title for a book: Bathing Suits and Cowboy Boots. A romance, set on Rodeo Drive. But I digress.)

So, for the first time in way more than a decade, I sat down and watched the crowning of Miss America. Some things remained the same, such as the talent competition: They sang, they danced, they did tumbling routines while chewing gum.

Seriously, call it a “beauty pageant” if you want, but most people can’t get up there in front of a crowd and display that kind of expertise at their chosen routine. It’s easy to sound like a rock star in the shower, but try belting out a tune in front of Mario Lopez, several thousand audience members, and three TV cameras. And yet, that tumbler didn’t drop her gum once.

I thought Miss Alaska’s pole routine was a bit inappropriate, but Governor Palin has already named her Goodwill Ambassador to Poland.

The random question deal, a variation on the contestant interview, was pretty much as expected, and the same went for the evening gown competition. Elvis Presley never wore that many sequins in his entire career as the average pageant uses in a day. Part of the pageant has been turned into something of a behind the scenes reality show, but I’ve come to expect such a possibility and had a barf bag on standby. That kind of thing has become so pervasive that they’ve started making reality shows about the making of reality shows.

Then there was the bathing suit competition.

Last time I watched the Miss America pageant, bathing suits were required to be one piece. Frankly, people these days wear fewer clothes to church than what the contestants wore when I was a kid. Now they come out in bikinis. Not two pieces, but honest to goodness black bikinis. Actually, I’m not completely sure what the difference is between two pieces and bikinis, but I believe it has to do with the amount of material and whether the belly button is showing.

Millions of dollars in energy costs were saved that night by all the men taking cold showers.

Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Have you ever been on stage, in front of a crowd? I have. Some studies have indicated most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death, and I believe it. Hell is a place where it’s always cold, there’s no chocolate, and you have to give a high school level civics speech for all eternity. It’s terrifying.

Yet here are these girls walking in front of a huge crowd, with a million people watching on TV, in high heels while wearing a bikini. Staying upright is a talent in itself; the spinning batons are just gravy.

Anyway, Miss Indiana won, and that’s a big deal for us in the Hoosier state. Certain states groom their candidates, and put a lot of extra effort into preparing them for the pageant. I won’t name any names, but California, Ohio, and Oklahoma have each had six winners. Five each have come from Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which means Indiana is surrounded by heavy hitters in the pageant industry – yet we’ve never had one ourselves, until now.

In fact, 21 states have never scooped up that Miss America title, so we’ve got every reason to be proud of our Miss Katie Stam of Seymour, Indiana. In true Hoosier meet the challenge fashion, she overcame a throat infection and laryngitis – and her talent was singing.

Stam’s platform is promoting community service and involvement, which I’m all for. We could stand to have more of that, and of bikinis, although instead of platform shoes the bikini wearers might consider thongs. Um, thong shoes, I mean – I think they call them flip flops when I was young. Best to avoid confusion.

So let’s take a moment to congratulate her, and everyone who puts in long hours and hard work in the highly competitive world of pageant contests. Deride it as an institution all you want (the concept of “bra burning” originated at a Miss America protest), but you have to admit the women put a lot of time and effort into it.

Stam, now a goodwill ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network and numerous other causes and charities, dreamed of that moment all her life. Her response, once all the crying and screaming and hugging were over?

“My state deserves it.”

You bet we do. We by-gosh raised her right, and the bikini didn’t hurt, either.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2009 08:50 am (UTC)
Whenever I see these pageants advertised I flash back to Designing Women and Suzanne Sugarbaker , who was the "Queen" of pageants for me.
Jan. 30th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Suzanne Sugarbaker
They don't make TV shows -- or characters -- like that anymore!
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Have you ever been on stage, in front of a crowd? I have. Some studies have indicated most people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death, and I believe it. Hell is a place where it’s always cold, there’s no chocolate, and you have to give a high school level civics speech for all eternity. It’s terrifying.

Amen to that, brother.

And hee! I found out that Miss America was going to be shown on TLC (which I no longer have) and I was highly amused.
Jan. 30th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of so-called specialty channels that have lost track of what their original purpose was. For instance, Modern Marvels on the History Channel -- I love the show, but isn't that automatically a conflict in terms? Don't even get me started about wrestling on the Science Fiction channel.
Jan. 31st, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
I regularly go onstage in front of a crowd and strip down to my underwear and prance around in high heels.
We call it Rocky Horror.
You get used to it or you quit early.
Most of us are (no surprise!) crazy extroverts.
Jan. 31st, 2009 07:25 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, I thought of you. Your group is a gathering of the exceptions to the rule, extroverts who are perfectly comfortable up there in front of a crowd. Believe me, you're in the minority -- and the rest of us envy you!

Of course, I strip down to my underwear and go up on stage in my dreams, sometimes. Usually I'm late for a test, too. :-)
Jan. 30th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
You get a medal just for being able to watch it. I would have to stab myself in the head.
Jan. 30th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
What made it easy is that I was at work. Truth is, for much of it I had the sound turned down and just glanced at it now and then. I paid attention during the swimsuit section, though.
Jan. 30th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC)
(Ooh, that would be a great title for a book: Bathing Suits and Cowboy Boots.

I think it sounds like the title of a Tom Robbins book. (Not that I've ever read anything by him, mind you.)
Jan. 31st, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
I haven't read anything of his either, but it does sound to me like a category romance novel -- and I have read plenty of those. I'd make it into a romantic comedy, because I just can't write romance without poking a little fun -- especially with that title.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 31st, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
Nope, not at all ... just turn down the volume and watch the eye candy. Not nearly as bad as most reality television.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 1st, 2009 07:09 am (UTC)
Oh, to have reality TV die over here! It's frakking pervasive -- they even have it on the Science Fiction Channel, now. And I agree with your opinion about the "stars" of those shows, by the way.

I want my entertainment to be escapism, not reality; if I wanted reality I'd go outside, and why would I want to do that? I do that enough.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 2nd, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I feel exactly the same way.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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