Miss America Forgot to Cash the Reality Check

I have not watched the Miss America Pageant since I was about 11. I remember actually sitting on the floor a few feet away from the TV, oohing and awing over the gowns, and the talents. ("Maybe I should learn to play the xylophone!" I'd think. "It looks so glamorous!" Even at that age I had the self-awareness to know that baton twirling was absolutely out of the question.) Later on, I decided that beauty pageants weren't cool. As I developed my own style (because I was such a stylish teen, let me tell you), the overdone style of the pageant girls seemed passé, and the pageant telecast seemed cheesy and insipid. However, when Film.com asked if I'd be interested in watching and recapping it this year, I felt I might as well give it another try. (Well, that's not entirely true; I told them I would do it if I were allowed to be extra sarcastic.)

This year, the Miss America organization tried to shake things up a little bit, by introducing a newer, hipper version of the pageant. It hasn't been said explicitly, but I have to wonder if this has anything to do with the recent controversies surrounding Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe, rival pageants all involved with the Trump organization. Miss America has always been the classier pageant; it was the original and has been around since 1921, while Miss USA started in the 50's. (An interesting bit of trivia; Catalina Swimwear was originally a Miss America sponsor, but when a winner refused to pose for publicity photos in a swimsuit, they withdrew and created the Miss USA pageant.)

In addition to changes to the actual pageant, Miss America teamed up with TLC for a four-episode reality show, Miss America Reality Check during which all the contestants (52 including Washington DC and the US Virgin Islands) participated in challenges and other events aimed at updating the beauty queen image. I decided to watch in preparation for the actual pageant. Although there were plenty of typical pageant personalities, I was surprised how likeable and real many of the girls were. I was especially happy that I found my state's delegate, Miss Washington, particularly charming, and was glad to see her become one of the three winners of the Reality Check prize package. Now, here's the thing about Miss Washington, and many of the other girls. She's cute enough, but she's not perfect-looking. However, I think that the new idea of the pageant is to be about the whole package. Looks, sure, but also personality, style, and charisma.

Contestants were introduced in their groups from Reality Check, with the color-coding from that show, which is actually kind of handy. Each had to come up with a snappy way of introducing herself, with something about her state. Some had better material than others. (The Heimlich maneuver was invented in Delaware? Good to know.) It looks like many of the girls took the advice of "less is more" from the reality check, but a lot of them still look like they're wearing a pound of makeup and half a bottle of hairspray. Miss Rhode Island's roots are growing out and Miss New Jersey's false eyelashes make her look weird and squinty. And apparently "updating" the pageant didn't mean doing away with awkward choreography.

The semi-finalists chosen by the judges were Miss Michigan, Miss Iowa, Miss North Carolina, Miss Tennessee, Miss California, Miss Indiana (who I think got the most camera time of everyone on the reality show), Miss South Carolina, Miss Georgia, Miss Washington (yay!), Miss Arkansas, Miss Virginia, Miss Texas, Miss Wisconsin, Miss Florida (the girl with scars on her face), and Miss Mississippi.

The semi-finalists were really divided pretty evenly between women who got a lot of air time on Reality Check and those who didn't. Reality Check opened voting up to the public to pick a 16th semi-finalist. American voters chose Miss Utah. Not a big surprise. I wonder what they would have done if the judges had chosen her, too? Just gone to the woman who got the second-most votes. Miss Utah made a big impression because of her military service, but she's developed an irritating habit of shooting her arm up in the air to wave triumphantly to the crowd that seems a little bit arrogant. Honey, you didn't win yet.

The outgoing Miss America got to do her final spiel about the scholarships and so forth. Blah blah blah, education...whatever. I wonder if the current Miss America feels a little shafted by this whole pageant overhaul thing. Aren't they basically saying now that she won an outdated competition and by extension, that she is outdated?

Before the swimwear competition, we got to see a little blurb from Reality Check about how the girls got a walking coach and are allowed to be a little more free and less "robotic" with their walks. Apparently Misses Michigan and Tennessee took this as encouragement to prance around like strippers. I guess it doesn't help that they're all wearing clear stripper heels. (Well don't strippers wear those? I actually really don't know. The strippers on CSI seem awfully fond of them.) Oh, and it totally looks like Miss Tennessee has implants. Just sayin'. All the parents are sitting on one side of the stage. Isn't it a little uncomfortable for them to watch their daughters prance around in bikinis (Miss Utah was the only one in a one-piece) and four-inch heels, in front of a hooting auditorium? I suppose there are a lot of stage mothers in that grandstand, though. It occurs to me that if the Miss America organization really wanted to update the pageant, they might have done away with the swimsuit competition all together, rather than making it sexier.

After swimwear, six women were eliminated to narrow the pool down to 10 finalists. They were Miss Arkansas, Miss Tennessee (guess the judges didn't like her boobs, either), Miss Florida (that drew a gasp from the crowd), Miss Mississippi and Miss Utah (and again with the wave, and then she dropped for push-up, too--that chick bugs me), and Miss South Carolina.

At first, I thought the evening gown competition did show the updated look pretty well. Miss Virginia's dress was beautiful, and her hair and makeup weren't too over-the top. The last time I watched, the big puffy, sparkly sleeves and teased out to shoulder-width hair were in. But she wins the prize for unintentional comedy; she said she picked the plunging bodice of her dress because it shows off "two of [her] best assets" (she meant her chest and back). The next few dresses were glittery monstrosities, though (Miss Washington, you let me down). Miss Wisconsin's red dress with a long floaty train was stunning, but Miss Michigan's sheer panels made her look like a slutty ice-dancer gone wrong. (Can you tell I've been watching a lot of Project Runway?) Miss Indiana designed her own gown. It's a little better than the self-designed aqua thing that she brought to Reality Check, but not much. It's a nice color on her, but that's about it.

Only eight women performed in the talent competition. Miss Michigan sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Not particularly well, either. And with dorky twirling around. Isn't that song to adult beauty pageants what "Tomorrow" is to little girl pageants? Eesh. Miss California sang "The Jewel Song" (which seems to be from an opera), and she did it pretty well and in an absolutely gorgeous dress. Why didn't she wear that for the evening gown competition? Miss Indiana sang a Latin number in Spanish. At least she had some fun with it, and she has a pretty good voice. Miss Virginia did one of the dances from The Nutcracker. It's not really her fault, but this is the point at which this whole thing just started to look awfully silly to me.

Then they called Miss Iowa as the first contestant to be eliminated before she could do her talent, and she had to do the walk of shame across the stage to sit with the rest of the losers. That sucks! She's the one who hasn't been able to stop talking about her talent. They let her get a couple of baton-twirls in, though. Miss Washington sang "Angels." If she's a Jessica Simpson fan, that definitely takes away some cool points. Miss Texas did Fosse-esque dance (I didn't even know there was such a thing as "jazz en pointe"). Miss Wisconsin played the violin, and then they made Miss Georgia and Miss North Carolina stand up to see which one of them would get to perform. Miss Georgia got the boot, and North Carolina performed a ballet to a stupid modern rendition of Vivaldi.

For the interview portion, they took man-on-the-street questions from people in Las Vegas. Can you even imagine some of the questions they got from people on the strip? The first question was from a lady who sounded British, who wanted to know how to improve America's image internationally. Miss Wisconsin got it, and didn't do so hot, I thought. She cited our educational system, apparently unaware that we rank shockingly low among other countries. Miss Michigan got a question about whether it's obligatory to tell a partner or spouse about an STD. She answered yes. Duh! That's a low ball. Miss Virginia defended the freedom of celebrities like Tom Cruise to evangelize for their chosen religions. Miss Washington said that lots of young people don't vote because they feel disconnected from the political process. Miss California got in an awkward plug for the Miss America Organization revamp from a question about why Paris Hilton is famous. Miss Texas said that binge drinkers like Lindsay Lohan set a bad example for kids (doy!), then Miss North Carolina said people think America is headed in the wrong direction because of media coverage of people like Lindsay. Way to piggyback on the other contestant, Miss NC. Miss Indiana went last, and was asked whether Jamie Lynn spears should be fired because she's pregnant. She said no; she made a bad decision but she deserves a second chance.

Time to announce the winner (finally!). Miss North Carolina was fourth runner-up, third runner-up was Miss Virginia, second runner-up was Miss Washington, and first runner-up and (say it with me now) the one who will take the crown if Miss America is unable to perform her duties was Miss Indiana (I really thought she would win). And the winner is...Miss Michigan. What? Honestly, what the hell are they judging? She didn't excel in talent or interview, and she wore the tackiest dress. I give up. I just give up. Michael Urie must be so disappointed. And now for the crying and the roses, and the old Miss America bobby pinning the crown on. Whatever: they even still played the same old arrangement of the "Here she comes..." song.

Miss America Winner 

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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.