I’m a Believer

Saturday I served as a judge for the Draper’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, part of the Miss America pageant system.

It’s my second time as a pageant judge, and I have to say, I am a true believer in the pageant system, at least the one done by Miss America.  Like a lot of men, I had a really screwed up idea about how the system functions and what it’s for.  I see the bikini shots of the contestants, and figure this is about cheesecake.


Now, look, obviously there’s a component of the competition – a major component – that is about how the contestant looks.  In the Miss competition (as we in the biz call it), there is a swimsuit portion of the competition.  One of my co-judges was a former Miss Utah and the winner of the Miss America swimsuit competition at the big pageant.  Nice gal.  I liked her.  It is absolutely true that beauty is a key component of the competition.

It’s also true, though, that not only is it not the most important part of it, it is not important by itself in any context.  It is much more of a by-product than the point of the pageant itself.  I mean this sincerely.  The contestant that is now the reigning Miss Draper’s Outstanding Teen is a delightful girl that was not the most beautiful girl on the stage.  There were a bevy of very lovely young ladies there.  Any one of them would have well represented the city.  But the winner has to be so, so much more.  This winner was.

The first attendant was absolutely brilliant in her interview and hit the only home run in the on-stage question.  She’s pretty.  It’s unlikely that you’d choose her as a beauty queen, however, on first acquaintance.  Only after you look at her long record of service in the community and hear her discourse on Multiple Sclerosis, its effects and diagnoses, and see her exceptionally athletic dance routine, will you say, “this is a winner.”  But she is.

The second attendant is probably the most unlikely pageant winner I’ve ever judged.  She is, first off, short.  This is not an asset.  By short, I mean 5′ at the most.  She is a brunette.  Her hair is pixie short as well.  She has a bubbly, almost giggly personality.  But she scored very high in the talent competition, where she covered for a not-spectacular voice by lighting up the stage with her infectious personality.  She was Miss Congeniality, as voted by the contestants, but all five judges would have given it to her as well.  She won on force of character and personality.  She’s one of the most likable people in the world, in my estimation.  Oh, she’s cute, too, but she’s not beautiful in the pageant-style you’re thinking of.

The young lady that belonged on a poster, who came out in an evening gown that is still making my heart race, who was voted Most Photogenic, did not place.  She competed, and she did very well.  But she got no crown.

The fact is that the level of skill required to perform in the pageant with any chance of victory is incredibly high.  The average person on the street – I mean ANY age, and ANY street – simply can’t do it.  I was a very accomplished teen.  I won awards and did lots of community stuff, and I’m telling you, had I been female, I would have been crushed in even the least of the competitions I’ve seen.  I just don’t have the level of expertise talent-wise, or the service resume that would make me competitive, even if I were Adonis, which of course I am not.

I had my wife and daughters there in the audience for the pageant, and I was proud that they were there.  One, at least, of them intends to compete one day.  I think she should.  Unless she runs for Senate, she will never have a tougher speaking performance than the private interview, where five accomplished and intelligent judges grill her about everything from disease to social media to politics.  For ten minutes.  Just you, no notes, nothing, for ten minutes.  No idea what is going to be asked of you.  With people writing things and comparing you to a dozen others.  It’s the job interview from Hell.  If you can ace that – and a couple of the ladies absolutely did – nothing like that will ever scare you again.  If you can connect with five strangers in a terrifically stressful situation, you can do practically anything.

That’s what I get from these pageants.  Yes, the contestants tend to be beautiful.  But they’re expressing on the outside what they are on the inside.  They’re beautiful outside because they’re beautiful people.  Five minutes in the interview room will show you this.  You fall in love with who they are, not what they are.  My hat is off to every one of them that had the guts to try it.  So few do.

I love being a pageant judge, and I recommend to you, if you have a traditional, this-is-exploitation idea about how they work, you try it one day.  You’ll find you’re just dead wrong.  I did.

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