Tall Poppy Diaries

Observations and musings on life as a happy high-achiever (or what the Aussie's call a "Tall Poppy" ). "Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have." --Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, September 19, 2004


  Miss America 2005 Competition: The End of A Good Thing

Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs
Photo courtesy of Miss America Organization

Along with millions of others, I watched last night as homestate "girl" (Miss Alabama, Deidre Downs) was crowned Miss America. I remember not so long ago when another Miss Alabama (Heather Whitestone) was crowned Miss America.

Miss America 1995, Heather Whitestone
Photo Courtesy of Miss America Organization

I was so proud to have been associated with an organization that recognized the talent, intelligence, and beauty of a young woman who was both hearing and speech impaired but whose spirit and confidence made such profound disabilities seem invisible.

Yet, last night, my feelings were quite different. The Miss America Organization has always taken great pride in the fact that it's competition wasn't just another beauty pageant, or just another "Skin show". Last night, I believe they went out of their way to prove themselves wrong.

Don't misunderstand--I'm no radical feminist, no conservative zealot and no opponent of the Miss America Organization. I was practically raised in the "system", where my father was a Miss America Scholarship judge and my mother was a certified Miss America Pageant judge. When I was old enough to compete, the scholarships I won paid for most of my college education and some of my living expenses, as well. Some of my favorite college memories involve experiences and travel related to my association with the Miss America Organization.

Regardless of the cynical comments and beliefs of the casual observers, I (like most others who have been associated with the MAO) have known that it was a program unlike any other.

I have always known that the Miss America competition really WAS a scholarship program. I knew first hand that a young woman could pay for her college education through the MAO, even if she never won Miss America or a state title, because I had done it.

I knew that it wasn't just a Swimsuit competition--Swimsuit scores only count 15% of the total. I usually won swimsuit, but I didn't always win the title I was competing for.

I knew that the prettiest girl doesn't usually win--it's rare that the prettiest girl would ALSO be the most talented...And talent counted 40% of the total score.

I knew that you really DID have to be smart and quick on your feet to do well. Academics are crucial in the MAO. You have to sell your intelligence and academic potential to the scholarship judges (who decide which scholarships you will be given and, in some cases, what the amounts will be) or be largely left out when the scholarships are doled out.

But even more intimidating are the 7-minute interviews with the competition judges. Most competitors at the state level have a current events coach who is even more important to her overall preparation than her fitness trainer or modeling coach. The Miss America Organization interviews (even on the local and state levels) are so grueling that I doubt VERY seriously that most highly-paid professionals in this country could "pass" them...much less high school and college-aged kids.

However, what I saw last night was an embarrassment and in no way resembled the competition I have been proud to associate with in the past. I saw girls prancing about on stage in blue jeans and haltar tops like they were headed out to a bar. Then they came out in 4-inch heels and string bikinis that looked for all the world like the women were preparing for a rectangular bikini wax.

Miss Louisiana
Photo Courtesy of Miss America Organization

I'm no ultra-conservative fogie--I frequently wore string bikini's before two pregnancies made that a risky proposition. And as a dancer wore skimpy leotards six days a week, competing in swimsuit competition wasn't any big deal for me. HOWEVER, waltzing across the stage in a string bikini and 4-inch-heels in the name of proving one's "physical fitness" offends even MY sensibilities. And this from the same network that refuses to continue airing the Victoria's Secret "fashion show"? Give me a break.

There are MANY things that have set the MA Competition apart from cheap imposters like the Miss Universe Pageant. The most obvious difference has always been that you didn't have to have the best body or the prettiest face or the most expensive wardrobe in order to be chosen Miss America. Talent counted 40%. So if you made it to the Top 10 and you didn't totally tank in Swimsuit and Evening Gown, you could win the competition if you were the most talented.

Not so anymore. Now, you have to be in the Top 2 in all of the "Physical" competitions to even get the chance to compete in Talent since only the top Two compete in Talent.

I say to the MAO, just go ahead and strip away what's left of the "Old Gig". Dump the Talent and "Brains" stuff and go straight for The Skin. Regardless of your ridiculous protests to the contrary, the MA competition has now become little else. Those of us who once believed that the MAO stood for something greater will just have to appreciate that it was good while it lasted. For the rest of the world, it won't even be news...you have become what they always wanted and believed you to be.

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