If you follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook you know that I was scratching my head when Mallory Hagan was announced the winner of the 2013 Miss America Pageant. I felt that I knew so little about her that after she was crowned I actually had to look up her platform in the program book (turns out it is about preventing childhood abuse).
[By the way, doesn't Alli Rogers look like Kristen Haguland here?!]
Hagan was not on my list of frontrunners, nor on that of most pageant aficionados (and Vegas odds makers didn't predict that she would do well either). Overall though I did pretty well in predicting who would go deep-- including SC (who I didn't think would win, but who I thought would go far-- suspicions confirmed by her performance on stage Saturday night), OK, MD, and TX.
I'm guessing this was a case of the Pageant being won in the interview room, as NY placed high after swimsuit and evening gown, as revealed by one of the co-hosts; while she wasn't a standout to me, she obviously was to the judges. Based on the 20/20 Pageant Confidential special that aired before the live show, it appears that the MAO and producers had favorites as well... And Miss NY was one of them. All of the Top 3 (NY, SC, and WY) were featured in the news special. It's worth mentioning that the most media-hyped contestants-- Miss DC Allyn Rose (breast cancer story) and Miss MT Alexis Wineman (autism) didn't do well. Wineman was voted in as America's Choice, but the judges quickly dismissed her, and Rose didn't even make the Top 16. Previously backstory-hyped contestants like Kayla Martell (alopecia), Bree Boyce (weight loss), and Heather Whitestone (deaf) went much further or even won in previous years.
While I really enjoyed the Pageant overall and thought it was a strong group of interesting contestants (and others, even non-pageant fans, obviously agree), I was confused by the winner. The talent competition basically summed up my feelings on this year's event- some were outstanding (like OK) and others were cringeworthy (I'm looking at you IN). The extremes were there, along with some enjoyment (the bad was so bad it was good).
I'm not surprised that among the 13,000 girls the Miss America Program attracted in the past year that many of them were smart, talented, and interesting. I think the pendulum is swinging back in support of Miss America due to the synergy between glitz and entertainment and scholarship money. I don't think this is a Honey Boo Boo effect, but I do feel that there is a greater acceptance of women being smart, educated, fit, talented, and beautiful and Miss America is framing itself for that market.
I wrote about some of those women earlier this year for Slate and The Hill in three pieces on former Miss America contestants running for political office. The first of these pieces appeared in June and the other two in October and November. I was happy for the program and the women featured that Marie Claire printed a story on the same topic in this month's issue-- but very disappointed for myself that this recent piece is essentially a mash-up of my three previous articles on the subject. It's not available online, but you can see that this national magazine article is getting mentioned more than my earlier articles. Now I know how Miss World feels, ha!
In any case, given all the publicity it makes sense that this year's television show earned its highest ratings in nearly a decade. Of course we've gotten some controversy already as well: 1) Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap is accusing Pageant organizers of racism after she was asked to move seats at the live show in Las Vegas, 2) A smart NYT op-ed reminds us that Miss America does indeed have a complicated racial past, 3) Some have mixed feelings about Alabama native Hagan winning as Miss NY, 4) Miss Iowa Mariah Cary (yes, really) invited a bit of media ribbing after awkwardly/awesomely responding to her OSQ ("on-stage question" in pageant lingo) that she only supports recreational and medical use of marijuana; Cary was another contestant with an interesting backstory (Tourette's), so I do wonder if that played into this at all, and 5) Many, including former queens, found it in poor taste that the hosts said several times that the contestants had not been eating and they then gave the ousted contestants doughnuts on stage so they could binge. Not exactly the message they want to be sending out. But at least the in SUPER POOR TASTE contestants' choice of the 16th member of the Top 16 disappeared, and the judges' choice was nice in a way (still hate the hurry-up-and-get-ready-in-front-of-everyone way they handle talent, but I guess it's here to stay now).
But any year you get multiple mentions in The New York Times, appear on TMZ, and get high TV ratings means it was a pretty good year for Miss America. And, who knows, perhaps we'll see a reigning Miss America competing on Dancing with the Stars soon?
So, here she is. Again. (Even if they didn't play a good version of "There She Is" during Hagan's coronation walk!)