Saturday night was a big night for me. It was my own personal Super Bowl night - otherwise known as the Miss America pageant.
(I know what you're thinking. But the Miss America program is the largest single source of scholarship money available to women in this country and I will defend it to my dying day!)
Growing up, I can remember that watching the Miss America pageant was a BIG DEAL. The women were so glamorous and just seemed so elusive and exclusive to me.. the absolute smartest and prettiest women I could imagine all gathered in one place. I'm sure it helped that I was also in love with the local Miss Marigold pageant (we went every year because my dad sponsored contestants) and the Miss America pageant was the natural progression of that. It was at pageants like Miss Marigold that future Miss America's got their start.
So I guess I've just always been fascinated by pageants in general. I get why critics don't like them, but I've just always seen them differently. I see them as a way to celebrate all aspects of womanhood - intelligence, talent, and yes - beauty.
Not that all pageant contestants possess those qualities. And Lord knows there are plenty of pageants that put an emphasis on beauty while completely ignoring talent and scholarship. The distinction is important and exists not just for teen-aged and young adult women, but for little girls as well.
So let me be clear when I say I love the Miss America pageant system. The mall pageants, not so much.
Over the past few years the ratings for the Miss America pageant have struggled and it seems show producers have sunk to new levels in an effort to bring them up. Maybe it's because we have so many television viewing choices now, but every new gimmick just seemed to sink the ratings further. The networks dropped it in 2004, and it has moved from its long-time Atlantic City, NJ location to Las Vegas. The date - traditionally two weeks after Labor Day - has also changed now to late January.
It's actually aired on CMT the last two years.
As a casual observer, I think the pageant has really been struggling and unfortunately making the wrong decisions in these areas. Luckily, I think, TLC stepped in the picture this year and a re-working of the pageant was set into place. They developed a 4-week reality show called "Miss America Reality Check" where they helped the contestants - many of whom were obviously well-versed in "pageant" - get more real. Oh sure, the show wasn't like watching the History Channel or reading a good novel, but I thought it was well done and definitely helped stir up interest in the grand finale. That was the point after all, right?
It's well and good to talk about Miss America as a role model, but it's harder to put into practice when she seems like this overly-choreographed, overly made-up woman. I think they did a good job of infusing some modernism into the pageant without being hokey (anyone else remember the "Survivor" style question and answer session on Miss USA a few years back?).
I'm still not sure how I feel about announcing the "eliminated" contestants but it did add a bit of suspense and made things more interesting.
They also apparently eliminated all previous scores once the top 16 were announced and I'm not really sure how I feel about that either. That means they completely disregarded the interview and talent portions from earlier in the week and instead started eliminating contestants based solely on their performance in the live broadcast.
I personally still think the longer interviews conducted earlier in the week should have some bearing - they're typically the most important part of any pageant. (Really, they are - it's all about first impressions!)
In any case, kudos to the Miss America organization for getting on the ball... here's hoping they can continue on this path. (And kudos to my husband for taking the kids out of the house so I could watch the pageant in peace!)