My Annual Miss America Predictions [edited with results]

It's both a somber and celebratory day on which to hold the Miss America finals: September 11th. As much as people can criticize (with some validity, granted) various aspects of the Miss America program, remember that we are a country where women can decide to parade on live TV in skimpy bikinis while wearing the equivalent of 8-inch heels (with those platforms I refer to them as "stripper shoes"), or remain full covered. The fact we have a choice is what I embrace about America. In any case, it's been a relatively quiet build-up. The only "big" story this year is Miss Missouri, the first open lesbian to compete on the Miss America stage. I want to add, because it hasn't really been covered, that statistically speaking it is *highly* unlikely that Erin O'Flaherty is the first lesbian to compete on the Miss America stage. It's also possible that a former Miss America is a lesbian. O'Flaherty isn't the first out Miss America contestant, but she is the first to win a state title. In 2013 Analouisa Valencia competed at Miss South Carolina, for example.

There have been other minor stories (Miss Michigan competed in evening gown in a jumpsuit; only one contestant, Miss New Hampshire, a Type I diabetic, competed in a one-piece swimsuit), but nothing that stands out to the more general public, or even pageant insiders from what I can tell.

donald-kravitz-getty-imagesMiss Michigan has certainly got a lot of press beyond the pantsuit for attacks made on her for her appearance and Asian background after winning the state title.

With all that said, here are my picks for the Top 15, in no particular order. You can see all 52 contestants here.

  1. Missouri- For reasons mentioned above I can't imagine she will be left out, perhaps as the voted in "People's Choice." Though I don't think she'll go deep.
  2. Michigan- Ditto, but she also won preliminary talent, and I DO expect her to go deep. But not win, likely too outspoken for what Organization wants to recover from some bad press from the outgoing queen this year.
  3. DC- Won prelim swimsuit, cute, apparently good speaker, but can't see her winning given similarities with Miss USA this year
  4. Maryland- Very beautiful, won prelim swimsuit as well, singing patriotic song for talent (good choice for tonight)
  5. Arkansas- People were surprised she won a prelim talent, but it wasn't awful and was certainly entertaining. And her name! "Savvy Shields" was born to be a beauty queen...
  6. South Carolina- Was Miss America's Outstanding Teen, strong dancer, gorgeous, needs to step up on stage presence to win, but definitely a contender for me
  7. Georgia- Seems strong all around, would be back-to-back win for state which I don't see happening right now
  8. New York- Intriguing, always send strong contestants
  9. Oklahoma- Ditto Miss New York
  10. Alabama- Won a ton of lesser prelim awards
  11. Alaska- I simply find something about her interesting
  12. Idaho- Won Miss Sweetheart last year (though in some ways that hurts her-- a story for another time!), but good dancer, and I like the red hair
  13. New Jersey- I judged her a few years ago and then thought, "She looks like a classic Miss America." She switched talent from dancing to singing, so not sure what to think there... Sentimental choice then!
  14. Mississippi- I just hear her name a lot, no other reason.
  15. OHIO- As of right now, if I had to choose a single name to win, this is it. From the NIGHT SHE WON HER STATE, I picked her. Strong talent (singer, which is easier when Miss A travels), beautiful, won prelim swimsuit. Young, but I think they want that this year...

Note I am leaving one other prelim winner off my list, TN. Prelims are super important indicators, but not always. And I didn't like her in evening gown. [edited: TN WON TALENT! Whoops! Ok, I still just didn't feel performance enough)

To see why swimsuit prelims don't matter as much look at the scoring breakdown, and you'll see why I put all three talent winners in.

14344243_10154430415472095_119086745808441907_n"Composite" is the part of the score that carries over from prelims, especially when a new set of "celebrity" judges come in today who didn't do the 10-minute interview with each contestant (but they do watch videos of finalists). Unclear to me who gives the composite score this year-- prelim or final night panel. Anyone know?

Also, for the record, if only Miss Puerto Rico would make the talent cut, she would BREAK THE INTERNET. (Note the video comment, total bummer, trust me.)


EDITED WITH RESULTS: I did well, and yet I didn't. I predicted only 8 of the Top 15, not bad, but not great. What was more shocking is that THREE of the prelim winners didn't make the cut, and they were three that were on almost everyone's watch lists (Ohio [my pick!], Michigan, and DC). That said I picked FOUR of the five finalists, so that seems very good. I totally missed Washington all the way around. Very interested fact as reported by Pageant Junkies is that those same four finalists were all Outstanding Teen participants. Not sure if this is causal, a selection effect, or a mix of both, but it is certainly noteworthy.

Not at all surprised by the winner, thought deserving. Just the name still gets me!

And I must say (in addition to all my Twitter comments), I was strangely uncomfortable that they played the new Daya hit, "Sit Still, Look Pretty" during the (abysmally rated, only 6 million, a sure sign should be moved back to Saturday nights!) live broadcast.

Are Beauty Pageants about an Ideal or Diversity?: Thoughts on three recent pageant programs

I'm pretty sure I've seen almost every documentary, movie, or TV series about beauty pageants (well, at least those that appear in the English language). Want evidence? Click here. In the past week I've seen three new documentaries/TV specials that raise some interesting questions about whether beauty pageants are about an ideal ("There she is, your ideal...") or if they might actually be about diversity.

1) Miss You Can Do It-  Without a doubt one of the best documentaries I have seen in recent memory, particularly about children's activities (it's up there with Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom for me right now!). I would love this even if it wasn't about pageants, and full disclosure I cried during almost all of its 74 minutes. The subject is an annual pageant held in Illinois started by Abbey Curran, who was Miss Iowa USA 2008. Curran also happens to have cerebral palsy and she was the first woman with a disability to compete in the Miss USA system (note that Heather Whitestone, Miss America 1995, was the first winner with a disability [hearing loss] and this year Miss Iowa America 2013 Nichole Kelly is missing part of her left arm-- so the Miss America Program is no stranger to championing contestants with disabilities). Curran believed she needed to share her gifts and dreams with others, which led her to start the Miss You Can Do It Pageant ten years ago. When the pageant is held later this month, fifty young girls will compete for the title-- but everyone will leave with a prize. As the documentary shows, every girl gets her hair and make-up done and gets the chance to feel special for the whole weekend, and while on stage. To see the transformation among these young people, and the positive impact it has on their families, is truly something. I can imagine this program turning into something like the Special Olympics, which focuses on sports for those with special needs. Thumbs up to both Miss You Can Do Its-- the pageant and the documentary about it!

2) There She Is- This short documentary (less than 20 minutes and viewable in its entirety via the link provided) is another interesting contribution to pageant documentaries and makes you think about how we define beauty-- particularly relevant this week in light of the Dustin Hoffman Tootsie clip that's been making its way around the Internet. It focuses on two women competing in a plus-sized beauty pageant. In this case I actually wanted to know more about both women and the pageants themselves (Is there a minimum size or weight requirement? Does anyone try to get around this? Does it help to be bigger or smaller? What are the age limits for these events? How many of these women did more traditional pageants before?). I loved that the filmmakers followed up a year later, but I still had questions (Were the two women still friends? Do they recommend that other women like them do pageants? Do they think there should be plus-sized pageants for kids?). The short film raises more questions that it answers-- particularly when one of the women talks about never going to the grocery store in sweats because she doesn't want strangers to think she's a slob-- but it's a good start.

3) Crown Chasers- Sadly, this show is getting the most press, even though it's the least worthwhile contribution here. It's on TLC and the show is basically a grown up version of Toddlers & Tiaras. Five women are featured (ranging in age from 30 to 52) as they compete in a Mrs. beauty pageant in Colorado. The women, predictably, behave poorly, fighting and swearing. One woman can barely go three sentences without breaking down into tears about menopause. They're catty and not very fun, but this special was clearly a test run for a possible future series. I hope it doesn't happen (note that I participated in a HuffPost Live segment with two of the crown chasers, around 14:45, and the women seem far more likeable in this format). While they emphasize that pageants give them a chance to retain some non-mom identities, as a new mom I know there are better ways than this to do so...

So between pageants for those with disabilities, those who are overweight, and those who are older, it seems as if pageantry isn't just about a blonde, thin ideal. Actually this shouldn't be tremendously surprising given that prisons often hold pageants for inmates and there has even been a Miss Holocaust pageant recently. And, let's face it, the child beauty pageant contestant who is currently most well-known is Alana Thompson of Honey Boo Boo fame, and she doesn't exactly conform to the norm of what a child beauty pageant contestant looks like either...

Increasingly we will see more diverse types of contestants, and contests. Case in point: This week in South Carolina Analouisa Valencia is one of 103(!) women vying for the title of Miss South Carolina, and ultimately Miss America 2014. Valencia stands out for two reasons: 1) She is openly gay, and 2) She is bilingual. Miss America has never had a national or state winner who was either.

Analouisa Valencia

So as the "ideal" changes, so do those who aspire for recognition in small and larger ways. I for one think this is a good thing!