Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Here he is, Miss America...scholar
As there is a lot of buzz around our newly crowned Miss America, I feel that I need to throw my crown in the ring, so to speak. I am a supporter, fan and volunteer for the Miss America system and I know a few things and I wanted to make sure my loyal readers are privy to all the information rolling around this ample noggin of mine.
First things first, the Miss America system has a talent component, which is one of the main differences betwixt us and the Miss USA system. That came about in 1950 when Yolanda Betbeze, an opera singer from Alabama refused to go on a swimsuit tour for major sponsor Catalina Swimwear, declaring that she was a serious musician, not a swimsuit model. When Lenora Slaughter, Miss America Director, supported Ms. Betbeze, Catalina Swimwear threatened to pull their sponsorship. Miss Slaughter stood her ground and Miss America 1949, Jacque Mercer from Arizona, supposedly quipped at the press conference, “Why don’t you go start your own pageant.” Whatever the case, they did start their own pageant and that is Miss USA, which has no talent category.
As to our newest Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, and her questionable talent, I have a few things to say. Mind you when I use questionable, it is only in reference to the questioning that it has received, not any opinion of her performance. One thing about Miss America scoring that you need to know is the Interview category, which accounts for 25% of the final score, is the first interaction each contestant has with the judging panel. This is where pageants are won because a favorable performance in interview inevitably colors the remaining scores from the judges. As someone who has served as a judge at the state level and interview coach at the local and state level, I can assure you this is a reality. And the interviews can be brutal. Judges are allowed to ask any question of the contestants, from controversial topics in the news to their opinions about any number of provocative issues. Because despite what you may think, the Miss America system is hiring a spokesperson; not simply crowning a beauty queen. Your talent, while important, isn’t the deciding factor. If you are a singer, you may sing at 30% of your appearances. If your talent is any of the long list of unusual talents that have won the crown, not so much. There have been trampoline acrobatics, dramatic monologues, poetry recitations, directing the Miss America Orchestra, and playing marimba, flute or violin and the infamous hula dance that many have mentioned.
What you may not know about that “hula dancing” Miss America, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko of Michigan, was that she spent her year traveling the country bringing focus to hospice care, specifically patients with AIDS, as she was an Oncology Nurse. Did you get that? She talked about AIDS. In 1988. Well before most of the country was comfortable acknowledging it much less doing something about it. And this was before the requirement for public service. It was due to Miss Rafko’s work that the pageant implemented the Platform portion of the system where each contestant at the local, state and national level is required to log hundreds of volunteer hours simply to meet competition criteria.
Since we didn’t see Ms. Kazantsev’s interview I can only believe that it was a crucial factor in her winning the pageant. Her talent wasn’t overly impressive but it was different and it was current and it showed many young women that you don’t have to sing opera to compete.
Additionally, once the Top 5 is chosen, all the previous scores are erased and the young ladies are ranked by the judges according to who they think should be Miss America, First Alternate and so on. The young lady with the most points after that ranking, regardless if she squeaked or streaked into the Top 5, will win the crown. Public speaking and the ability to think on your feet are incredibly important. And before you start saying, “Remember that girl that sounded so dumb…” I ask you to go to YouTube and look for those videos and realize those were Miss USA and Miss Teen USA contestants. Miss America contestants are poised, well-spoken and intelligent. And whatever you feel about her victory, I am withholding judgment until I see how well I feel she will do, based on my impression of her answer to a very tough on-stage question. Couple that with the fact her platform focuses on domestic violence, I can’t think of a more appropriate and timely spokesperson for our nation.
And that is all I am saying.