Miss America 2012, Part 1 (Pre-Pageant Predictions)

I normally have friends over to watch Miss America (this year will just be me and my men though); they often wonder how I so accurately predict members of the Top 15 at the start of the pageant.  I have two "insider" tips: 1) Follow who wins the preliminaries during pageant week; 2) Read some pageant message boards. 1) This year saw six preliminary winners.  I believe, and many agree, that the Pageant is won in the interview room on Monday.  If the judges like you, they are more likely to give you a boost during other phases of the preliminary competition (like swimsuit). So it's a fair bet that at least half of these women (UT, WI, TX, OK, NY and HI) will make Top 15.  (I REALLY hope HI makes it far enough into tonight's live broadcast so that we get to see her jump rope talent routine that actually won the prelim-- last year people made fun of AR ventriloquism act and it was actually impressive!).  NY, TX, and OK have been especially hyped, so I'd say they are good bets, and I also expect WI to be there.  30% of tonight's results are based on the contestants "composite" score from prelims, so these winners tend to not only make Top 15, but go deep (rest of score is 20% swimsuit, 20% evening gown, and 30% talent).

Miss KY won the Quality of Life award, based on her platform, and she has some pageant links (former Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry is apparently a close family friend-- a fact that seems especially relevant if you read this hilarious Jezebel take on this year's crop of contestants, since Henry's husband is a former lieutenant governor of KY).

2) Certain states get talked up a lot on pageant message boards (I find this Voy board, Pageant Central, funny at times, and they will run a live Pageant chat, if you are interested.)  Many of the prelim winners have been Internet standouts from the start. Other "hyped" contestants include CO (daughter of former Miss America), SC (media darling for weight loss story), AZ, GA, IA, and NH. I would love to see NH go far and perhaps bring home the crown to New England, though this is probably less likely (while I enjoyed seeing Miss MA crowned in July, I don't think this is the year MA will *finally* get the crown). I personally think GA and IA have the Miss America "look," but don't know how far she will make it.

Carston and I have been studying this year's Program and here are a few random observations he wanted me to share with you:

* As I've mentioned, Miss Colorado, Diana Dreman, is the first daughter of a former Miss America to compete. I found it interesting that in her mom's "former" update the same picture is used that appears on Diana's contestant page. I guess they don't want people to forget...

* I also wonder if there will soon be another daughter competing. Miss America 1988, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, has a daughter who is Miss Monroe County (MI) Outstanding Teen 2011. (Note that Miss NJ, who could also be a contender, was Miss NJ Outstanding Teen in 2008.)

* Standouts OK, TX, and SC have the most ads in the program book.

* At first I thought saying that Miss OK was first Oklahoman to medal at All-Ireland Irish Dance Championships was a bit much (especially in light of Jig). But then she won talent, so perhaps she is quite amazing!

* NY would appear to be the most academically advanced/accomplished (like the reigning Miss A, who is only 17 and was homeschooled until her senior year of high school).  NY was accepted to college at 16 and finished at 19; she is now 22.

*I found it fascinating that Miss VI, who goes to Barnard, listed Keeping Up with the Kardashians as her favorite show in the program book. Why? Well, because Kris Jenner is a judge!

Hope you feel more prepared to watch tonight and pick out some of these early standouts during the parade of states (my FAVORITE part of the pageant). Carston is all ready, with belles on! I hope to write more early next week with my thoughts on the final result. Until then, enjoy singing "There she is, Miss America, there she is, your ideal..."

In a Sea of New England Brunettes, a Blonde Miss Massachusetts

This past Saturday evening I had the pleasure of attending the Miss Massachusetts Pageant, held in Worcester, MA. Molly Whalen, Miss Taunton, took the title-- the only blonde title holder from New England competing for Miss America 2012.  Misses Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island were in attendance, actually sitting in the row in front of me.  The odds favored brunettes this year (most of the Top 8 were brunettes), but blonde ambition prevailed and Whalen won a preliminary swimsuit award, and ultimately the crown.

After writing about the past 25 years of the Miss Massachusetts Pageant in The Boston Globe Magazine a few weeks ago, I was especially interested in this year's results. Not surprisingly, based on my analysis, Miss Massachusetts 2011 was a vocalist who majored in the sciences (at 20 she already has a Bachelor's from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and is starting a Master of Science degree in Applied Nutrition at Northeastern University this fall). She also was a repeat contestant, competing in 2008 at age 17. Slightly more surprising is that this is only Miss Taunton's third win (the first was Miss Massachusetts 1972, the second 2002) and no previous winner has ever listed Taunton as her hometown.  Whalen actually resides in Middleboro, which has also never before had a Miss Massachusetts winner!  We'll have to wait until January 2012 to see if Whalen-- or her New England sister queens-- can finally bring the Miss America crown back to the region (the last was Miss Connecticut 1933, Marian Bergeron).

While I enjoyed the show as an audience member, I couldn't completely take off my researcher/sociologist cap.  Given that the other major stream of my research is about competition, I was thinking a lot about the fact that some of Miss Massachusetts' competitors were there watching the competition. Were they sizing up their competition? Getting ideas for their own dresses and routines? Or were they genuinely excited to meet someone else going on this strange journey with them. I'm guessing it's a combination of emotions-- and I suppose it's no different than sports teams studying game tapes really. The other perhaps more troubling competitive conflict of interest, at least to me, is using pageant directors from other states as judges.  Twenty-five years ago, in 1986, the executive directors of the Miss New York and the Miss Idaho Pageants helped select winner Kathleen Marie Callahan (who also attended the Pageant!); this year the executive directors from Miss Delaware and Miss Indiana judged.  Now I can see why it is useful to have "pageant insiders" as judges-- they know the type of young woman who is most likely to succeed in the position. Yet, they also have a horse in the Miss America race, so to speak. Even though I am sure a part of them wants the best Miss America possible, they also want "their girl" to be successful. I wonder how different state winners would look if only former state executive directors worked as judges? Granted they are only two of five member judging panels, but I still think the results would likely vary in significant ways. Given that the Miss America Pageant now only uses "celebrity" judges for preliminaries and the finals, perhaps state pageants should move in this direction as well.

A few other thoughts from this Pageant watching experience:

  • Five talented young dancers were the "Miss Massachusetts dancers" (Erin Lynch, Nick Silverio, Jessica Lynch, Danielle Turcotte, and Jacqueline Wall). They danced routines like they were trying out for So You Think You Can Dance. Three of the Top 8 contestants were also dancers. While the three finalists did an admirable job, they were not at the level of the five featured dancers. The Miss America Pageant used to have female vocalists and dancers as part of the television production, but dropped this to put the spotlight squarely on the contestants (they still have male dancers sometimes). I wonder if this is part of the reason vocalists seem to have a huge statistical advantage at Miss Massachusetts?
  • It was fun to watch the contestants compete in swimsuit, talent, and evening wear. I just wish the audience would have gotten a taste of their personalities with an on-stage question. The judges get an extended interview with the contestants, behind closed doors, two days before the final competition-- and it's often said that all these pageants are actually won in the interview room (if the judges really like someone, they may overlook a shaky talent routine, or give them higher scores throughout all phases of the competition since they already have a favorite).
  • We not only got to see the contestants and dancers perform, but also the outgoing Miss MA, her sisters, and the reigning Miss Massachusetts Outstanding Teen, Sydney Rachael Levin-Epstein. Levin-Epstein's talent was Irish Dancing. As a Levey who went to Catholic school for twelve years and has Irish blood, I must admit I still did a double take!
  • Lest one forget that this was a competition and that the contestants invest a great deal of emotional, psychological, financial, and physical energy into the event, I saw two contestants (who had placed highly) in tears at the celebration following the pageant. While I can appreciate their disappointment, I have never seen adult pageant contestants cry at "visitation" after the competition.  Granted, I've seen many a tear shed at crowning at child beauty pageants (and you have too if you've seen Toddlers &Tiaras!), but, again, never at an adult pageant. I'm sure many tears have been shed, but behind closed doors. The tears were sad to see, but a reality when not everyone walks away with a crown and a title.

In any event, it will be fun for me to follow Miss Massachusetts through the Miss America process, after seeing her crowned. Wish I could fly to Vegas this year, but the Pageant is only a few weeks after my due date, so not in the cards!  I think this year's crop of contestants is shaping up to be interesting.  The state winner with the most press thus far is definitely Bree Boyce, Miss South Carolina. Tomorrow morning she'll be on both Good Morning America and The Today Show talking about her 110 pound weight loss. Last week's story on her win really took off, especially on The Huffington Post. Last year's Miss Delaware got a lot of early national press exposure talking about her alopecia-- but Kayla Martell didn't bring home the crown. We'll see what happens with Boyce.  There's also Miss Colorado, Diana Dreman, daughter of a former Miss America, who I recently wrote about.  Finally, another story I find intriguing is Miss Nevada, whose father is a state senator. Love the first paragraph of this article about Alana Lee.  Do you have an early favorite for Miss America 2012?

PS. What do you think of my new blog/website?

Follow-Ups: Botox Mom, Bernard Lagat's Son, and Miss America's Daughter

Many of my blog posts fall into one of the following categories: beauty pageants, child beauty pageants, and competitive children.  Today's post features updates on some of my most popular stories in each of these areas. 1) Botox Mom (aka Kerry Campbell/Sheena Upton)- It's been reported that Botox Mom (who never actually used Botox it turns out) is working with the Department of Children and Family Services in California to keep custody of her two daughters.  Upton is taking parenting classes, undergoing mental health counseling, and living with a family member to help her girls recover from the events of this past spring. I don't think we'll be seeing the Uptons on this season of Toddlers & Tiaras, do you?

2) Miika Lagat was back in the news this weekend as his dad ran in the US Track and Field Championships.  In an interview Lagat reported: "Lagat, who's son Miika is his #1 fan and was cheering for him every lap of the 5,000m on Friday night, said it was OK with Miika that his dad did not win. Bernard said Miika told him BEFORE the race, 'You know what daddy, you've run a lot (this week). If you lose, it's part of running.'" Let's not forget that Miika is five-and-a-half. He's pretty wise for someone so young, but having grown up around racing I guess he's earned his wisdom. I wonder if he will be racing soon?

3) Speaking of children of celebrities, Diana Dreman was just crowned Miss Colorado 2011. What's special about that? Well, her mother is Rebecca King, Miss America 1974. I am 99% sure that this is the first daughter of a Miss America to compete on the Miss America Pageant's stage. As the daughter of Miss America 1970, I have a lot of respect for Diana for putting herself out there-- but I also worry for her. I never did pageants, though there was a moment when I was a kid when I thought, "Hey, I could do that." My mother, wisely, didn't let me participate saying, "If you win, people could say it is because of me. If you lose, it could be because of me. You need to do your own thing." Not surprisingly, my own thing did not involve walking on-stage in a bathing suit (because, really, I think for most people, that is the stuff of nightmares).

In any event, I do think that Diana has the "Miss America look." I read on the pageant message boards that her talent routine is weak (dance), but I would expect her to go pretty far in Vegas come January. First of all, it's a great story for the Pageant. I will definitely be interested to see what a) the mainstream media makes of this story, and b) what pageant insiders make of it. And, of course, I'll share my thoughts!

Two other quick things to note: Rebecca King, Diana's mother (who was also Miss Colorado-- the last to win Miss America!), signaled a new stage in Miss America's development, back in the early 1970s. King was basically the first to use her scholarship money for professional graduate school. She became a lawyer and has had a successful law practice. She has also stayed involved with the Pageant, serving on its Board-- so it will be especially interesting to see how this plays out, since Diana has presumably met much of the Miss A leadership over the years... Second, I can't resist noting that this is not the most (in)famous pageant mother-daughter duo to come out of Colorado. That, of course, would be JonBenet and her mother, Patsy...