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?