The High Holy Week of Pageantry: Miss America 2013, Press and Predictions

The time comes round every year: Miss America week! Tomorrow is the live broadcast and as usual I'm excited (but this year should be especially interesting with a 20/20 feature on the pageant starting at 8 pm). The 2013 Pageant will be a little different for me than last year's-- a time when I thought I might never sleep again-- but now my one-year-old (!) let's me sleep so I'm good to go (I was also reminded of this when I spoke on NECN yesterday about how hard it is for individuals to project themselves into the future). Little Man on his first birthday!

Now I know Miss Universe was only a few weeks ago (both pageants have made date shifts in the past few years, which means we get more concentrated pageantry and less spread-out glitz) so it might be useful to explain the difference between Miss USA/Universe and Miss America. As you might be able to tell from the previous sentence Miss America is an end in itself; you don't win and go on to compete for Miss Milky Way. Also, the three "Ts" separate the two pageant systems (this is my trademark here, so please quote me!): tuition, talent, and Trump. Miss America requires a talent, awards scholarship money, and isn't owned by Donald Trump.

Miss Alabama USA 2012 has been in the press lately thanks to her boyfriend and a zealous sportscaster.  Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, has been getting a lot of attention since she was shown during the national championship game earlier this week (proving pageants and football still mix a lot, especially in the South). It's been a bit of a distraction to Miss Alabama America 2012, Anna Laura Bryan, who just won a big prize at Miss America (the Quality of Life Award goes to the contestant who has the "best" platform issue-- hers is related to autism). If you need an even easier way to remember the difference between the America and USA systems, Miss Alabama 2010, Ashley Davis, put it succinctly on Twitter: "Kate Middleton would be Miss Alabama, while Kim Kardashian would make a great Miss Alabama USA."

Other Miss America contestants have garnered their own fair share of press attention in the weeks leading up to the pageant. For instance, if you Google Miss DC Allyn Rose you get over 3 million hits.  Rose has appeared on all the morning talk shows, People, and many more in light of her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after the Pageant. Her mother passed away from breast cancer and while Rose herself has never had cancer she has a genetic predisposition (note that Miss New Hampshire, Megan Lyman, has survived cancer; Miss Alaska has shaved her head for cancer). It's unclear if the hype will help Rose, but I think we can all agree that we'd love to see her talent-- artistic roller skating-- live tomorrow night. Here she is competing in prelims earlier this week:

Allyn Rose doing her artistic roller skating routine in preliminaries at Miss America

Other health-related issues have some contestants in the press. Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman, is the first state winner to compete with autism (STILL love the name of her platform). But Miss Puerto Rico, Kiaraliz Medina, takes the cake. During the opening number of the first night of preliminaries (though some reports say it was from her flamenco talent routine) she fell down the stairs. Later in the week she actually competed in swimsuit using crutches, which I'm pretty sure is a Miss America Atlantic City/Vegas stage first.

Miss Puerto Rico in Swimsuit on crutches!

She later competed in evening gown without her crutches. I wonder if that impressed Miss America judge McKayla Maroney (yes, gymnastics and pageantry: worlds collide)?!

McKayla not impressed as Miss America judge

(That's beloved former Miss America Katie Stam Irk who is also judging this year; another fun fact is that Mary Hart, host of ET, competed the year my mother crowned Phyllis George-- Hart made Top 10 [and sang poorly] but obviously did alright for herself in the end!)

Now that we know the preliminary winners it's a bit easier to make some predictions for tomorrow night. I think SS winner Miss South Carolina will go far, along with talent winner Miss Oklahoma. Not sure about the others, but I like talent winner Miss Maryland. I also personally like Texas and New Hampshire (who I met when I judged the Miss University/Strafford County Pageant) and am interested to see how my home state gal Taylor Kinzler does (she has a bit of the Miss America look; I saw her compete live at the 2011 state pageant where she was a runner-up).  I'll also throw Arizona in the mix since I know a very smart friend and Harvard beauty queen helped her prepare!

On a final note I always love pageant names, which I learned this year by studying the pageant book. Who else wants to see (no joke) Mariah Cary from Iowa do well (just so the announcers have to keep saying her name-- too bad she doesn't sing though, talent is tap dance)?! And she's not the only Mariah (so is Miss Nebraska). And, there are two "Sloanes" competing as well, Miss Arkansas and Miss Kansas, which I find particularly fun.

Check back next week for my final pageant thoughts, and follow my running commentary on Twitter Saturday night (where I'll be careful not too tweet too much and get put in Twitter jail)!

A Readingista Reviews Sportista

Today a book review I wrote of the new book Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States, appeared on The Rumpus. This may or may not mean I am the next Cheryl Strayed... This summer my husband and I had Olympics fever. We watched NBC’s tape-delayed broadcast every night and live online coverage of our favorite sports (gymnastics for me, track and field for him) during the day. But our viewing habits diverged in one significant way: he likes to fast-forward through all the fluff.  What’s “fluff?” It’s the pre-recorded and packaged segments about an athlete’s training or family history designed to tug at the heartstrings. I like knowing about who to root for and the athletes’ stories matter to me.

According to Andrei Markovits, professor of comparative politics and German studies at the University of Michigan, and Emily Albertson, my love of fluff and my husband’s disdain for it is not at all surprising. In their new book, Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States, Markovits and Albertson examine the development of female sports fans since the passage of Title IX 40 years ago. Just as we have more successful female athletes than ever before—60% of the American Olympic medal haul, and two-thirds of the golds, were won by women—we also have more Sportistas than ever.

Sportistas differ from their male counterparts in terms of numbers and substance. (And, no, it’s not that they watch sports just to spend time with their husbands, as a recent study by two Communications professors reportedly found.) Markovits and Albertson present evidence that one of the ways male and female sports fans differ is that starting in childhood girls are more likely to focus on narratives than boys, which continues into adulthood. Hence, I like fluff and my husband doesn’t, affecting the type of sports coverage I prefer.

Despite the fact that I regularly write about women and sports, Markovits and Albertson would not regard me as a Sportista because I don’t religiously follow and have expert knowledge about what they label “hegemonic sports”—the Big Four of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. So Sportistas like Albertson almost always focus on male sports and on sports that offer very few professional opportunities for female athletes. Albertson knows her sports history and has even been accepted into the fraternity of University of Michigan undergraduate football fans, despite never playing football herself. According to Markovits the purpose of Sportista is to explain how a young female like Albertson becomes credentialed as a Sportista in the 21st century.


Fun fact alert! Toward the end of the review I write:

Despite sports generally being less important in female peer groups, some women do become serious sports consumers—they become sports journalists. In their discussion and analysis of female sports journalists Markovits and Albertson are at their best. They discuss the differences among women who report sports, women who analyze sports, and women who cover sports for print and radio and those who do so on television. They explain that while numerous studies have found that attractiveness helps build credibility in spheres like politics and business, for female sports reporters attractiveness is actually a liability. The earliest female sports reporters were known for their beauty and not for their knowledge (one was actually Miss America), a criticism that haunts female sports journalists to this day. Today some women create a niche for themselves by covering sports that aren’t part of the Big Four as a way to overcome the numerous barriers to entry, promotion, and credibility that a professional Sportista must face.

My mother actually crowned that Miss America I mention, Phyllis George Miss America 1971. Small worlds collide, huh?