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.