Above: Here we are, about to head inside for the Greatest Show on Earth.
We settle into our balcony seats one row behind the parents of the entrant from South Dakota, whom we already feel we know thanks to the significant air time she garnered during the CMT special. Callee is nominated for Miss Congeniality, which this year was voted on by the general public. I have learned that the Miss Congeniality honor—while undoubtedly a significant one—is pretty much the kiss of death when it comes to winning the contest. In any event, you can’t help but root for the girl with her family sitting in front of you… Seeing them there has one other effect on me—I feel as if I should whisper (or keep to myself) any criticism of the contestants, lest some member of their immediate family hear me and take offense.
The emcee of this year’s show is Mario Lopez, who remains A.C. Slater, his Saved by the Bell
character, to me and a host of other Gen Xers. He was also a finalist for Dancing With the Stars
last year, through which he introduced himself to an entirely new audience; my grandmother thinks he’s quite the catch.
At the beginning of the show, Lopez makes a point of mentioning that he will not be dancing tonight. Although I’m initially skeptical, it’s a promise he keeps. On the whole, he proves a capable-enough host, though he engages in precisely 0 minutes of casual banter. This was the first live television event I have ever attended that was not a sporting event, and I guess I always expected there was some kind of entertaining filler during commercials. Instead, those periodic breaks were little more than an opportunity to run to the bathroom or grab a drink, same as they’d be at home.
I don’t think I have ever seen a more diverse crowd than at Miss America. I kept looking around and trying to figure out the motivations of different groups…
Some fans’ interest was worn around their torsos in the form of pageant sashes. I think some of the women might have earned their sashes before my birth, some of them manufactured their sashes on their at-home Singers, and still others earned their stripes at what Normal Girl described to me as “mall pageants.” I don’t really know what that means, but I can conjure an image. To be fair, quite a few younger girls wore sashes from their regional pageants, which I think is totally fine.
To understand the pageant horde outside of a.) current, past, and future pageant contestants and their relatives and b.) hubbies and boyfriends of those girls and women, I would need more time near the entrance. The idea of performing such an ethnographic study intrigues me, so if you see a top-heavy guy hastily jotting notes the next time you attend a major pageant, that guy just might be me. For now, let me just say that it’s a diverse crowd…
The flow of the competition is roughly as follows:
- Introduce all fifty-one women.
- Immediately pare the group down to ten semi-finalists.
- Swimsuit (need I say more?)
- Evening gown.
- …and then there were five…
- Down to three…
- One more interview question
- Crowning and Bert Parks (on tape)
The range of talents can be pretty broad. Keryn has told me about past competitions where women brought their horses on stage, swallowed swords, etc., but they have fine-tuned the rules to limit much of the digression from singing, dancing, and playing an instrument, which are the predominant talents. This year’s Top 5 comprises 1 pianist, 3 singers, and 1 tap dancer. Too bad, because we were really hoping to see some of the edgier talents, such as the one contestant who had aerial something-or-other listed as hers… But we would have had to attend a preliminary to see the others.
Most of the crowd believes, by the conclusion of talent, that Miss Texas has sown up the title. Her powerful vocals stand out against rather mundane vocal performances from the others, and she seems to have everything going for her.
The final question doesn’t go well for any of them—at least to this viewer. It must be difficult to stand in front of such a crowd and come up with the perfect answer to an odd question, and the go-to strategy seems to be to dodge the question if you’re the least bit unsure. Texas loses some points for returning to her oft-repeated line about the importance of education. If anything, at least she seems genuinely excited about the scholarships…
Minutes later, a former Miss Oklahoma crowns the current Miss Oklahoma, who steps onto the hastily assembled temporary runway for her inaugural walk under the weight of the title.
(Don’t tell anyone, but I have to admit that I had a great time… Shh… Especially don’t tell Keryn, or we’ll be making hotel reservations for next January, too. )
The spectacle over precisely two hours from its start, Keryn and I join the mass pouring into the Planet Hollywood Casino, which remains halfway converted from the Aladdin, and seek 25-cent slot machines.