From Pageant Contestant to Judge: What I Wish I Knew 30 Years Ago

Here I am as a contestant in the 1982 Miss Brea Pageant

Thirty years ago, I was a contestant in the Miss Brea Pageant, the local preliminary that leads to the Miss America Pageant. I fancied myself as a songwriter, and I had this grand idea that if I could climb my way to a televised performance at the state or national level, millions of people would hear my song and some popular singer like Sheena Easton or Olivia Newton-John would turn it into a huge hit.

Forget the fact that I just had a so-so singing voice or that my song was a terribly depressing ballad about time running away from me (funny how I still keep singing that same tune as a very busy mom). But it definitely was not in the vein of those Miss America standards New York, New York or Don’t Rain on My Parade. There was also the big stumbling block that I had zero self esteem, poor communication skills, and to top it off, another contestant bought my same evening gown in a better color.

No, I didn’t win. I wasn’t even one of the runner ups. However, I did win Miss Congeniality, a title for which I am extremely proud, although that sounds like a contradiction since one would expect Miss Congeniality to be a little more humble.

My problem was, I was in it for me – my fame and a chance for people to look at me and tell me I was pretty. I wanted my moment. And although that seems to be the goal of every reality show star these days, that hedonistic attitude runs completely counter to the ideal of Miss America.

Here it is 30 years later, and today (yes… today: Saturday, January 7, 2012) I have the honor of  being one of the judges at the Miss Placentia/Miss Yorba Linda Outstanding Teen Pageant, the younger version of the pageant I was in. Located in Northeast Orange County, both these cities were my home from age 11 to 18, so it is heartwarming to return to a place that holds so many memories.

Now that I’m older, I wish I could tell my younger self that the pageant wasn’t supposed to be about chasing fame and compliments. Although some people mistakenly refer to it as a beauty contest, it is actually a scholarship pageant, and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women. The winners are ambassadors of their communities, and as such they are poised, intelligent, good conversationalists, altruistic, and of course beautiful and talented.

A few weeks ago, I received a packet of information about each of the 13 candidates, and without having met them yet, they already blow my socks off.

The girls are all great students who have won a variety of awards for academics and talent. But the most impressive aspect of today’s Miss Teen Pageant is that contestants must choose a philanthropic platform in which they would focus their efforts if they win the title. Some of theirs include animal cruelty, teen addiction, dyslexia, homelessness, and the Red Cross. They all seem passionate in their convictions and have dedicated themselves to causes that are close to their hearts.

I don’t remember having a charitable platform in 1982. I think it would be another decade before I would regularly donate to a charity.

The bios also include a marketing plan to promote their platform, and a description of what they would want their legacy to be if chosen. I am amazed that girls aged 13 to 17 are capable of putting such lofty aspirations into words. I don’t recall having to write such a testimonial, but if I had when I was a 19-year old contestant, it verbally would have sounded like: “Uh… uhuh… uhuhuh…”

Like many young girls who grew up watching the Miss America Pageant, I only dreamed of being the winner, yet there are more than 12,000 young women who are contestants, and nearly all of them walk away without the bouquet of roses in their arms. Those who do win at their local level will compete for their state, and 99 percent of them will come home with new experiences, but not the title. However, they will be very busy finishing their reign by serving as ambassadors: promoting their charitable platforms, appearing at the openings of new businesses, visiting children’s hospitals, and generally helping to serve the needs of their communities.

It was a wonderful experience to participate in the pageant as a contestant 30 years ago, but I was naïve, selfish and insecure. It has taken me three decades to develop just some of the traits required of the teens I will be meeting today. I am looking forward to spending time with these beautiful young ladies who I know will be able to teach me a thing or two.


Filed under Anxiety, Humor, Volunteering

20 responses to “From Pageant Contestant to Judge: What I Wish I Knew 30 Years Ago

  1. Thanks for putting a real person face (yours!) to the pageant experience. I look forward to hearing more about your experience on the other side of the spotlight.

  2. Cathy how did you wind up being invited to be a judge? Placentia and Yorba Linda seemed to be so far back in your past that I was wondering how they even knew of you. Also, is there any way I could have a copy of that above photo? I don’t remember seeing it before but it’s a good one. Thanks, Mom

  3. Such an honor. You must post a followup and let us know of all the changes if any. Do you children compete in pageants?

    • I will do a followup this week. No – my girls don’t compete. My 15-year old is way too opinionated for the interviews and probably too curvy for the swimsuit. And although my 11-year old won’t be eligible for two more years, she would rather have a playdate.

  4. I think all of the contestants should have to read this before entering. Call me cynical, but I wonder how many of them know what they are doing and how many are just being groomed. That said however, it doesn’t surprise me at all that if encouraged to do so, teens can do amazing things, and I am sure at least some of them are in this for the right reasons.

    • I think it runs the whole gamut of reasons why they enter. It’s a good thing I didn’t win back then. It probably would have made me so cocky, I’d still be putting it at the top of my resume.

  5. Very interesting perspective and it made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Is wittiness a talent?

  6. Anonymous

    well done you for growing up into such a wonderful talent.I do not remember you as you seem to but i remember a very shy,caring and talented young lady. We all have a journey to make and I think you moved at the right pace and in the right direction.xxxx
    The photo of you is beautiful, just as I remember you.Take Care and so glad you are feeling better.

    • I’m not sure who you are, Anonymous, but thank you. I’m sure most of us remember ourselves differently. Even today, we often compare our insides with other people’s outsides, and it’s usually so inaccurate.

  7. I agree with the comment above. Please do a follow up to let us know if the actual competitors matched up to their wonderful entries. Hope it was fun.

  8. Very very very busy husband

    I just saw this post. I like that you were considered a “celebirty judge.” It is nice to hear that there are teenagers that think about society and furthering a cause. When I was a teenager, the only talent I had was for getting in trouble. I wore torn jeans, some metal band shirt, long hair, and an army jacket. Pretty far from a vision of beauty.

  9. Cathy, I stopped by your blog today just to say how much I enjoyed meeting you at the competition. It was my first time judging (and no, I’ve never competed), and I really enjoyed it. Hope to see you again sometime!

  10. Very very very busy husband

    I am so shocked that there are still beauty pagents. I hardly ever hear about them and thought they are things of the past. I wouldn’t worry about passing on wordly advise to teenagers. As adults, we think about life in a rational manner. Teenagers do not. They physicall can’t, their frontal lobe are not developed yet. Your advice may be on point and would prevent many years of frustration and hardships. Teenager won’t listen, they know everything. Rememer, this the group that thinks Justin Bieber is the bomb.

    • I was so impressed by these young ladies. I’m not sure how popular beauty pageants are these days, but in this one I didn’t see any of the stereotypical beauty without brains. These are all college-bound girls whose interests seem to go far beyond Justin Beiber.

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