Today I arrived in Atlantic City for the 95th Annual Miss America Pageant.
On the way down I caught up on some New Yorker reading. Last week’s issue had an article on Atlantic City, which somewhat tellingly does not mention Miss America (nor Monopoly for that matter). Nick Paumgarten’s “The Death and Life of Atlantic City” had some great lines, and was interesting, if lacking a resolution. A few that seem especially during this High Holy Week of Pageantry: 1) “Most cities exist as a consequence of commercial or strategic utility. Atlantic City is more of a proposition and a ploy.” 2) “In some respects, Atlantic City was where America learned how to turn idle entertainment into big business.”
Like AC, Vanessa Williams is gritty, turning looks and controversy into money. Williams rose to fame by becoming the first ever African-American to win the title of Miss America in 1984. She rose to infamy by becoming the first ever Miss America to be forced to resign. She returns to Boardwalk Hall for the first time since her win as Head Judge (well, we hope!). For more on my thoughts on how this development reflects broader changes in American society, click through to my Psychology Today piece, “Will the Obama Girls Stay Up Late for Miss America 2016?”
One thing that hasn’t changed is that at times the diversity of Miss America seems a bit forced. For example, yet again (a fact I bemoaned two years ago!) Miss America overlaps with the Jewish High Holidays. This is partly just the timing of things; the Pageant is traditionally held the weekend after Labor Day to extend summer tourist season. Now with TV schedules to contend with things get even more complicated. But is is Erev Rosh Hashanah and I will miss the first children’s service with my kids at our new Rhode Island synagogue. So, next year in East Greenwich!
As for this year though, here are my Top 16 predictions, in alphabetical order, with a few annotations:
- Alabama- good overall look/package
- Florida- gorgeous girl, appears to be talented dancer, prelim swimsuit winner (interesting back story here is that her older sister was the girl who was “erroneously” crowned Miss Florida LAST year, but instead was supposedly first runner-up)
- Georgia-prelim talent winner, has “the look”
- Idaho- won Sweetheart last year, great look, would be fun to have a winner from this state (though my sense is she underperfomed in prelims perhaps?)
- Iowa- DOUBLE prelim winner, seemingly out of nowhere, good speaker; I know it’s not a BEAUTY pageant per se, though I have to say if she had fixed her teeth up it would have helped a lot
- Kansas- if this doesn’t work out, she should try Miss USA
- Louisiana- prelim talent winner, attends the “Miss America school” of Oklahoma City University (and graduated from their musical theatre program!)
- New Jersey- Quality of Life winner; I previously judged her and she has a strong overall presentation for sure (plus no Jersey win since 1937!)
- New York- probably cursed given the threepeat, but cute as a button and talented
- North Carolina- strong overall presentation
- Oklahoma- adorable,but high pressure given singing Vanessa Williams’ Miss A talent song!
- South Carolina- prelim winner, extremely strong overall presentation
- Vermont- if she gets to do her talent on live TV, I guarantee it will break the Internet (Miss Rhode Island who could also easily make Top 16 with a solid overall presentation also has some meme/hashtag-worthy moments in her dramatic monologue that is committed/entertaining)
- Virginia- solid overall
- West Virginia- supposed to have a great talent
- Wisconsin- I just love her look, different!
A sweet and successful new year to all the contestants, and you, Sunday and all year long!