“That one has a balcony you could do Shakespeare from!”
Miss America is a competition among young women. It is, importantly, not a "beauty contest." The pageant wants you to know that. Lining up a half gross of women and judging them on something as superficial as beauty would be so, well, superficial. Rather, Miss America is now thought of as a "scholarship pageant," where the young ladies are lined up and judged on skill and eloquence...while wearing skimpy, revealing lace teddies. Pert, supple hooters count for no more than 5% of the total point score.
Contestants are drawn from the 50 U.S. states, and are generally the winner of a
beauty scholarship contest in their own state. British readers can only imagine if the next Queen could be the result of an actual competition between Miss Wales, Miss Anglia, Miss Penzance, and perhaps a Geordie Princess, rather than just the winner of a Lucky Sperm contest.
In the late 1990s, for the sake of diversity, contestants were also allowed in from the American dependencies, territories, and commonwealth:
This satisfied viewers who preferred a greater mix of short, swarthy contestants with bad teeth and tattoos.
In keeping with the "scholarship pageant" line, the winner of the "pageant" receives a scholarship (Dear, that means they pay your tuition) at the educational institution of her choice. The most frequent selections have been the "Close Cover Before Striking" School of Eveningwear Fashion, the Khalid Sheikh Muhammed College of Aviation, and a mysterious but very expensive institution listed on the reimbursement form as "G.E.D. Equivalency." In the typical case where the winner is already a college graduate, she may put the stipend up her nose.
The pageant originated in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when the pageant was indeed a beauty contest, and when Atlantic City was a city and not a dump. Back then, contestants had to be "of good health and the white race," but of course, this requirement has been dropped, and contestants with zits, gangrene, and leprosy are welcome. The winner received a three-foot-high Golden Axe and several strapping young men with bulges in their pants to "help her carry it to the car."
Other rules changes over the years include a change that prevents a contestant from returning in future years. This change was a concession to the fact that young women tend to let their bodies go to seed, often shortly after the ink dries on the marriage certificate. The change was enacted during an era in which the reigning Miss St. Clairsville, Ohio was the only attractive woman in the United States. This was also the start of President Franklin Roosevelt's fourth term, and the nation also took action to ensure that such a thing could not recur either. In 1945, Bess Myerson became history's only Jewish Miss America. America avoided a recurrence of this without a messy rules fight.
It is part of the national shame that contestants were originally paraded around in skimpy bathing suits. Yolande Betbeze, Miss America in 1951, first declared that she would not wear the outfit, as she wanted to be known as an accomplished opera singer. Of course, readers would recognize her by the stage name she adopted when the era of pornography began. Contestants now wear business suits, a mortarboard, and Nikes, doffing them for something more revealing only late in the contest, at the start of the ogling phase.
America gets bored
In the feminism era, Americans began burning bras, in many cases while the contestants wearing them were on-stage. The pageant aligned with America's changing tastes by trotting out:
And, more recently, a face-piercing Miss America, a shaved-head Miss America, an emo Miss America with head-to-toe, self-inflicted knife wounds, and a Miss America in a burkah, who was elected unanimously despite judges' inability to see what she looked like or hear anything she said. The rules now prevent a white woman from winning, as that would merely prove that we are haters.
From a peak television audience of 33 million, viewership had dropped to under 10 million when the broadcast networks decided to stop carrying the pageant. The pageant had deals with MTV, the Outdoor Life Network, bounced between second-tier hockey channels, and can now be seen, time-delayed, on The Box Lacrosse Network, in certain select markets.
- Personal interview
Contestants try to converse with the judges on a number of issues, from the frivolous to important public policy questions. It is a key criterion whether, during this second part, the contestant realizes that the "frivolous" part has ended, or comes out with a declaration on how "U.S. of A. Americans" should act.
Contestants try to establish that they are good at something. Some elect to play an instrument; bass guitar is always popular because you can do so much with it without accompaniment. The slide whistle is another favorite because, well, you just blow and pull. Card tricks are another frequent choice. Some contestants show how loud they can belch.
Finally it is time to strip down to the bikini, though contestants can still opt for the traditional, one-piece swimsuit, or even the striped, head-to-toe model.
- Gotcha phase
In the final phase, the contestant goes on stage and is asked a question drawn at random, which she must answer without preparation. The answer must prove she cares about orphans, cripples, and kittens, and thinks good intentions are sufficient. She must express confidence in the President but, politely, is never asked to name him. As this phase only counts for 5% of the total score, a contestant already ahead in points or other endowments can bypass this phase, by simply whining, "That's not fair!!!
Jesus Christ was not the first Miss America, regardless of what your handsome Drama teacher told you that evening in the pup tent during that unforgettable weekend after high school graduation. You didn't actually believe that story, did you? Yeah, I did too, but I was drunk, and it was dark. In reality, George Washington was the first Miss America.