Kelsey Beck: An Ivy League Beauty with Pageant Roots (from Huffington Post/Stylelist)

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post/Stylelist Children often join the family business, and these days kids end up following in their parents' footsteps in variety of fields. Mitt Romney followed his father into politics. Ivanka and Don Jr. joined the Trump family business, appearing in the latest incarnation of Celebrity Apprentice. Superbowl MVP Eli Manning followed in his father's football footsteps so faithfully he even plays the same position.

And then there's Kelsey Beck. While you might not have heard of her yet, expect to hear more from this young woman. Kelsey, just crowned Miss Boston 2012, is a college sophomore vying for the title of Miss America 2013 -- 42 years after her mother, Barbara Beck, competed for the same title as Miss Florida.

Given that parents are more likely to have a son, like Eli, play in the Super Bowl than have a daughter compete in the Miss America Pageant it's not surprising that those with pageant roots in their family trees go far. This year for the first time the daughter of a former Miss America participated in the national pageant as a state queen; Diana Dreman competed at Miss Colorado, the same state her mother, Rebecca King, represented en route to becoming Miss America 1974. Mom Barbara Beck never forced Kelsey to participate in pageants, but she did watch the Pageant with her every year, planting the seed for a lifelong love of pageantry.

But Kelsey's accomplishments extend far beyond tiaras and swimsuits. Kelsey is an undergraduate at Harvard, where she has played on the varsity volleyball team. Beauty, brains, and athletic prowess make for a formidable combination.

In the past decade this impressive combination has appeared more and more often in the pageant world. Harvard graduates like Laura Lawless Robertson, Nancy Redd, Allison Rogers, Loren Galler-Rabinowitz, and more, have competed for the title of Miss America representing states including Arizona, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Kelsey draws inspiration from this group of women: "The fact that a lot of Harvard women have competed and have been successful really says good things about pageants in general in that they're not all about beauty, and they're about the well-rounded woman that is driven, motivated, smart, and intellectual. That Harvard women are becoming more of a force in the pageant world can dispel a lot of stereotypes about pageants."


Kelsey dispels another pageant stereotype -- that you need to be on the pageant circuit while still in diapers in order to be successful (which has gained more currency than ever thanks to TLC's child beauty pageant series Toddlers & Tiaras). Miss Boston was the first pageant in which she had ever participated. Kelsey explains, "I grew up as an athlete so I never really considered beauty pageants, and didn't have time for them."

So what motivated her to grab her bikini and high heels now? Money -- more precisely, scholarship money. The Miss America Pageant reports that it is the largest source of scholarship money for women in the world. According to Kelsey, "My mom would talk about how great of an experience she had and how the Miss America organization funded her entire undergraduate education. I thought that was amazing and I always had it in the back of my mind as a way that I could help my parents by getting some scholarship money."

As more and more families are affected by the economic downturn, pageantry has increasing appeal for some. While it does cost money to compete in a pageant, the financial rewards can be great (if you win). Kelsey used a bathing suit she already owned and drew from her experience packaging herself as a stellar collegiate student-athlete (Harvard, like all Ivy League schools, recruits for their sports teams, but they do not offer athletic scholarships) to prepare for the interview portion of the pageant. She did invest in an evening gown, but based on that investment she has now earned over $7000 in scholarship money to be used for her Harvard degree, and hopefully for a law degree as well.

Her mother, Barbara, is excited about Kelsey's chances, and is enjoying strengthening their mother-daughter pageant bond. But Barbara is also careful to add, "We don't want to call it a beauty pageant because it's [about] so much more than attractiveness. I never considered myself a beauty. I think the Miss USA Pageant is a beauty pageant -- those girls are drop dead gorgeous. But with the Miss America organization, if you can look attractive -- put on some make-up, walk in heels, and feel okay about your body in a swimsuit -- and have a talent, you can do it!"

Given that Harvard students who represent Miss Boston have been very successful at the Miss Massachusetts Pageant over the past 25 years, it's quite likely Kelsey Beck can do it. She could very well be hearing the strains of "There She Is," as her mother did four decades ago, in no time.

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?

The Odds Look Gorgeous: A Quantitative Analysis of the Miss Massachusetts Contest

Please check out my piece in the June 19, 2011 issue of The Boston Globe Magazine! It is an analysis I did of the past 25 years of the Miss Massachusetts America Pageant. No Miss Massachusetts has ever won Miss America-- and only one queen from a New England state has ever won, for that matter. Will this be the year? I'll have a full report on this year's Pageant in a few weeks.

You can see the printed version by clicking HERE (and you can see the headline on the cover and the description of the article by clicking HERE).

An online slideshow version is also available HERE.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope you enjoy!