Every year, it seems like some alarmist article pops up, noting the ratings decay of one of America’s most beloved institutions, The Miss America Pageant. Back in the day, this parade of evening gowns, swimwear, and vacuousness used to be a big deal, but now, well, no one seems to care. I personally hadn’t seen the competition in over ten years, and in that time, it has managed to dissolve into nothingness first on NBC and then on ABC. Well, now the grandmommy of latter-day reality talent shows has moved to CMT, and for some odd reason, I felt compelled to watch this year. I don’t know if it was a sense of blogger obligation or maybe a morbid curiosity to see how the “hip” new Vegas makeover would look, but I Tivoed this bad boy with hopes that I’d find a treasure trove of horrifying moments. Needless to say, if you thought the pun in this post’s title was labored, it was nothing compared to the pageant.The show began with a grandiose opening montage. You know the type: glorious footage of the pageant in its prime. Why look, there’s… some woman! And there’s another! And there’s a lady from 1932! And there’s Eleanor Roosevelt! And Hitler! And the Luftwaffe! Oh wait, this was the History Channel. Must have been sitting on the remote. Nevertheless, we had to suffer through an endless montage — funny how Vanessa Williams never makes it into these things. But just when you thought you were watching the same old stodgy pageant, CMT turned the table on us. Grab a hold of your seat, Ethel. It’s 2006! Time to get hip! And nothing says hip like a four year old Elvis remix song! Yes, as we then cut to footage of Las Vegas, that oh-so-wonderful “A Little Less Conversation” remix came on the soundtrack, which would have been cool had it not been used in every opening montage since 2002.
Anyway, we then moved inside the Aladdin Resort and Casino where an ever-so-hip audio problem threatened to undermine the very foundation of Miss America 2006. The female announcer tried to welcome us to the event, but instead, all we heard was a blaring feedback topped with a layer of scratchy audio. Fantastic. Maybe next year, the “hip makeover” can include one of those newfangled sound technicians the kids have been talking about so much.
Luckily for the organizers, the audio came back under control, which meant we could finally meet the lovely ladies who would be baring their Vaseline-covered teeth for us. All fifty of them. I’m not going to give a rundown of every single woman — especially since half of them seemed to be of the same blonde-hair, communications-major mold. But there were some standouts.
Good lord. Alaska should have just sent a moose.
Did Santino design Miss Arizona’s dress?
Hey, it’s Peg from Human Resources!
I wonder if she’ll be performing piano or violin?
Aren’t contestants not supposed to be 37?
Miss Maine, who, according to her, studies “Elem-ment-airy” education. She LOVES syllables!
I don’t even know where to begin.
Seriously, Nebraska? This is the best you’ve got?
I didn’t realize Laura Linney was competing!
Does it really surprise anyone that this girl is Miss New Jersey?
Miss Rhode Island: reminding us why we should never, ever fall asleep in a tanning bed.
Not many people can pull off the horse-teeth/helmet hair combo. Kudos, Ms. Utah.
If Mary Lou Retton and Rachel Dratch had a lovechild…
Oh look, Miss Tranny USA wandered in.
Great. Miss Wyoming pulls out the sign language card. Either that, or she really likes ‘em large.
Well, after meeting all the lovely ladies (which took about three hours in and of itself), the beauty queens then did a bit of choreographed walking, climaxing with the ever impressive sight of the girls slowly raising their hands up above their shoulders. Some of the finest choreography I’ve ever seen. Move over Tommy Tune. Miss America’s where it’s at!
Out next was the big emcee for the night. Mr. Handsome Plumber (at least for women 45 and up), James Denton! After a spate of jazzy music, the Desperate Housewives hunk sauntered out on stage and began talking, nay, honing Elvis. For reasons unclear to me, his voice was deeper and huskier than usual. I imagined it had something to do with the sound system, but maybe it was some of that Vegas magic! You know, the Vegas magic that was supposed to make this show cooler simply by osmosis. Seriously, how was this any different than had it been in Atlantic City?
Anyway, James babbled a bit about the competition, ultimately stating, “The three basic competitions — swimsuit, evening wear, and talent — are back and more exciting than ever!” He then paused for applause, but of course, there was none. Just awkward, awkward silence.
We then went backstage with an old shrew named Katie Cooke who revealed all the exciting secrets of the Miss America tent. For instance, did you know that the contestants were responsible for their own makeup and hair? Actually, we kind of surmised that, thanks to Miss Colorado:
It’s called a brush. USE IT.
After Katie was done boring us with her ceaseless nattering, we then headed up to Maine for a real life Miss America party! Some guy named Lance was in a living room, surrounded by mostly fat women wearing sashes. Yes, it was one of the lamest parties ever to be captured on television — the kind that makes you embarrassed for mankind. Lance didn’t seem to know what to do with himself, especially since he could hardly get a word in edgewise above the clatter of the partygoers — so instead we returned to the pageant. Kind of. Next up was a delightful video montage which was supposed to display the fun times of the past week in Los Angeles. Instead, the segment was more a rambling pastiche of the girls screaming at Universal Studios and Miss Wyoming doing her sign language. There was a mild narrative flow to the whole thing. After all, we did see the girls get on a bus, and then said bus traveled to Vegas where the girls, you guessed it, got off. Fascinating stuff. Really sums up the Miss America experience.
Next, it was time to meet the judges. First was professional yawn, Leeza Gibbons, followed by Sharlene Hawkes (Miss America 1985, DUH!), and then Jane Kaczmarek. James Denton was kind enough to introduce Jane by saying, “She stars in one of the longest running comedy hits on TV.” Not anymore! HA! A little midseason cancellation comedy there.
Also joining the panel were Brian McKnight and Jerry Rice, the latter of which really should have been practicing his Paso Doble. By the way, what’s up with Jerry Rice popping up on every cheesy televised event these days? Whatever happened to the concept of a legacy? Anyway, filling out the rest were stylist Robert Verdi and Brenda “Boobs” Strong a.k.a. that annoying narrator from Desperate Housewives. I’m surprised we didn’t suddenly hear her voice say, “Yeeeessss. Every pageant has its judge. Some are good. Some are bad. And some just want to find the truth. But not every judge wears a robe.” Cut to a closeup of Alfre Woodard staring menacingly in the corner.
Well, with the judges in place, it was time to whittle this ragtag group of fifty-two down to ten, and here with the list of semi-finalists was a man from Ernst and Young who literally did a drive-by enveloping. Seriously, the guy walked on stage and didn’t even stop. He simply passed the envelope off to James and kept on trotting to the wings. You could just barely hear the crack of the whip backstage as some Ernst and Young exec yelled, “Too long!! Too long!!! You took too long!!!”
Anyway, at long last it was time to select the semi-finalists. And to consecrate the event, all the girls held hands in a display of phony sisterhood. If only their inner monologues could be broadcast: “Bitch.” “Skank.” “Slut.” “What’s the deal with Miss Montana’s hair anyway? And could her hands BE any more clammy?”
Red Rover, Red Rover, send Miss Arkansas over!
The first semi-finalist was the ever plucky Miss District of Columbia, followed by Miss South Carolina, Miss Oklahoma, and Miss Virginia, whose platform was “life skills training.” Thank goodness she didn’t choose something vague! Actually, Miss Virginia was sort of interesting, if only because she admitted, “I’m a beauty queen who hangs out in maximum security prisons.” Start casting the Lifetime movie now…
Anyway, also making the cut was official Asian representative Monica Pang (pronounced Pong), a.k.a. Miss Georgia. She was joined by Miss Texas, who, judging by her name — Morgan Matlock — will most likely be a correspondent for some Action News Team in rural Texas someday. Miss Arkansas got the nod next, causing her to scream, “It’s me!!!!” Shut up, bitch. Just take your spot in line. Miss Pennsylvania and Miss Alabama were the eighth and ninth semi-finalists, but who would take up that last, coveted spot? Well, we’d have to find out after the commercial break. Or would we?
“I’m just kidding,” said James Denton. “I wouldn’t Seacrest you.” Wow, he just cracked a funny AND made up a new verb. Albeit, a verb with Ryan Seacrest’s name in it — hence, a terrible, terrible verb. Anyway, the last spot went to Miss Florida who did little to dispell southern redneck stereotypes by introducing us to her pet pig. Wonderful. I’m sure James Denton wasn’t very happy. Between announcing semi-finalists, he seemed to begrudgingly mention that no one West of the Rockies had been selected. Look, man. There are a lot of things to be angry about in this world. The geographical distribution of Miss America semi-finalists is not one of them.
We then went to commercial break (thanks for not Seacresting us), and when we returned, we found Katie Cooke canoodling amidst a pack of sassy old ladies. Turns out they were all former Miss America winners who’ve spent the past three hundred years hibernating in a suspended state of animation, emerging once a year from their life-sustaining goo to appear at the pageant. After we’d sufficiently lingered on the skeletal remains of these beauty queens, we then moved on to one of the most eagerly anticipated sections of the show: the swimsuit competition!
Ah yes, the swimsuit competition: the show’s blatant attempt to boost ratings with fifty-two sets of tits and ass. Of course, the pageant couldn’t actually fess up to that. So to fend off the feminists, James Denton announced, “Today, the swimsuit competition is a reflection of modern society’s attention to the importance of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle.” Of course! Here I thought it was an age-old device to lure in horny guys.
Anyway, all the women pranced around the stage in bikinis, and then our semi-finalists marched out to show off their goods. You’d think this would be somewhat exciting or fascinating, at least for a male, but truthfully, it was pretty slow and boring. I mean, yeah, there were some highlights — Miss South Carolina’s abs, Miss Oklahoma’s near anorexic midriff, and of course Morgan Matlock — or as I like to call her now: “Ribs.”
Well, after I had grown a lengthy beard, the swimsuit competition ended, and then it was time to check back in with our favorite Miss America party up in Maine! Lance tried to communicate something to us — maybe an S.O.S. signal — but again, we could hardly hear his voice over the cacophony of the overactive pageant fans. Ah yes, another pointless segment. Even James Denton thought so as he commented, “That was helpful” — to uprorious applause, no less.
Oh — did I say that last segment was pointless? I was wrong. It was like Masterpiece Theater compared to what came next: a commercial for the Aladdin Resort and Casino. Look, isn’t it enough that you’re hosting this thing? Must we sit through a three minute promotional video about you and your new Planet Hollywood tower? And didn’t Planet Hollywood go out of business? (By the way, if the Aladdin Resort and Casino decides they want to comp me for a weekend, I totally take it all back. You’re the bestest, Aladdin!)
Next up came the old grandma part of the show: evening wear. Sigh. To spice things up, the women were allowed to choose their escorts, which meant having to listen to many, many beauty queens talk about why they loved their daddies. And yes, Monica’s dad’s name is Peter. Peter Pang. Just when we thought none of these girls would have the chutzpah to shun their fathers, Miss Pennsylvannia shocked all by bringing her brother. Well, I guess we know who comes from a broken home, yes? Either that, or her dad is dead, which now makes me sad and feel like a jerk.
Of course, the evening wear competition wasn’t a total loss. We were able to enjoy some old fashioned slapstick comedy as Miss Florida’s father nearly fell down a staircase and broke his neck. The poor guy lost his footing while escorting his daughter, but alas, disaster was averted as the heroic beauty queen kept him steady. Yes, in a show as boring as this, a mild misstep constitutes extreme excitement.
After evening wear, we returned to a tradition that had lain dormant for decades until one Sandra Bullock resurrected it in mighty form. Yes, it was time for Miss Congeniality! For those of you not in the know, Miss Congeniality is an award given to one lady who all the other women believe is the most nicest gal of all! It’s important to cherish such high character, after all, as James Denton noted, these women will be forming friendships that will last forever. Or at least for the next forty-five minutes.
Anyway, Miss Hawaii won the not-so-coveted title, surely crushing the dreams of the ten semi-finalists who had clasped their hands together, assuming that it had to be one of them. “I told them all week I was going to cry. And here I am, crying!” Miss Hawaii said. Just go away already.
Miss Hawaii. Great.
After the momentous Miss Congeniality segment, we then returned for the last time (thank god) to Maine where intrepid reporter-at-large Lance was again attempting to maintain some level of decorum at the partay. This time, he actually managed to have two successful interviews — first with a woman named Danica who wanted Miss Florida to win based on hair color, and second with the party hostess who had been throwing these gatherings for 31 years. Next year, I want an invite. Actually, not really.
Well, it’s been fun having ten semi-finalists, but it was time to select our five finalists. I’ll spare you the suspense. The final five were Miss Virginia, Miss Oklahoma, Miss District of Columbia, Miss Georgia (go Pang-ster!), and Miss Alabama. How wonderful. To reward these ladies for coming so far, James announced that he’d be asking them questions, but fear not, this section would not be judged. It would be just a casual, get-to-know-you sort of thang. And in the spirit of the Modern Woman, I’m sure it wouldn’t be patronizing at all.
“Miss Alabama, what is your favorite smell?” James asked. Move over, Mike Wallace.
Well, Miss Alabama didn’t even miss a beat. Her favorite smell? “Anything that’s edible.” Polite laughter and applause ensued. Next up, you guessed it: Monica Pang.
“Miss Georgia,” James started. “What sound do you love?” Ah, the hardballs just keep comin’.
“I love laughter! Can you all give me a laugh?” Miss Georgia replied, as the audience quietly rumbled with forced laughter. Ah yes. Beautifully awkward. Moving on…
“Miss District of Columbia, what is your favorite TV show?” James asked. Again, not a super interesting question, but at least it wasn’t “What is your favorite texture?” (And for all of you wondering, Miss DC loves “CSI: Las Vegas!” — a.k.a. CSI.)
“Miss Oklahoma, when this show is over, win or lose, which food that you’ve been avoiding are you gonna reach for first?” James then asked, oddly acknowledging the eating disorders associated with pageants. Well, Miss Oklahoma knew exactly what food she wanted: “Ooh, french fries dipped in ranch dressing… I’ve been waiting for months to dip some french fries into some great ranch dressing, and I’m gonna do it right away!” Okay, she was a bit too excited about that. Someone get her some Wishbone, STAT!
And lastly, it was time for Miss Virginia to face the cruel interrogative fire of James Denton. “What are some of your pet peeves?” he asked.
“I don’t like people who like to hear themselves talk,” she replied, suddenly launching into a rambling monologue about how much she hates people… who talk too much. It wasn’t so bad though, and I sort of enjoyed the simmering bitterness. You could tell she was subtly venting about someone she knew. Miss Passive-Aggressive America: now THAT would be an awesome pageant.
Speaking of Miss Virginia, she had the privilege of being first in the much-anticipated talent showcase, and boy, were we in for a treat. The beauty queen bravely opted to belt out a ballad, which would have been awesome if she could only, you know, hit a note. Any note. Instead, she was tragically off-key, warbling through the peaks and valleys of some lame ballad from Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. It was awesome.
Maybe she should consider juggling.
I was hoping for similarly awful displays from the other girls, but alas, Virginia was the only one to sing. Instead, Oklahomoa and Alabama did some boring ballet, and DC rat-a-tat-tatted her way through some tapdancing, which, sadly, we couldn’t even hear over the blaring house band. Don’t worry, though. She still looked like a fool.
As for Monica Pang, she lived up to expectations by playing, you guessed it, the piano. Okay, it’s sealed. She’s winning this whole damn thing.
With the talent competition over, James Denton announced that there would be a biiig surprise. Oh, Miss America Pageant, how you beguile me with your hip, new twists and turns! Must you be so coy?
Nevertheless, it was surprise time. And what, pray tell, would this stunning twist of fate be? “We’re now going to go from five contestants to three,” James said. I’ll give you a few seconds to recover from the shock. You know, this high level of drama would never have happened in Atlantic City. So glad they brought the girls to Vegas.
Anyway, our top three girls were Alabama, Oklahoma, and.. Georgia! Monica Pang’s piano pulls her through! Sorry, DC (4th runner up) and Virginia (5th). I guess silly tap dancing and atonal warbling just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Well, just when we thought this pageant couldn’t sucker-punch us with any more surprises, Denton revealed that there’d be yet ANOTHER one! A question! Each woman would be asked the same question and would have thirty seconds to respond. (Crossing my fingers for an insightful query about favorite colors.) “To ensure this is fair and equal, I’m going to ask…” Denton started, but suddenly he seemed to be at a loss for words. Yes, his teleprompter had fizzled out, causing him to rely on his untested improv skills. “Who am I going to ask to leave? These two,” he said awkwardly, gesturing at Georgia and Oklahoma. These two? What are they, chopped liver? C’mon, even WE know who they are!
Anyway, “those two” headed off to the side and put headphones on while James asked Alabama the big question (and don’t worry, the teleprompter had since been revived). “Describe a significant experience from your childhood and the impact it had on shaping your character, making you the woman you are today.”
Well, Alabama talked about ballet and the discipline it taught her. Oklahoma, meanwhile, told some incoherent story about wearing glasses in fifth grade and the ensuing trauma from having another girl point it out. And as for Georgia, her perfect night of pageant-ing collapsed around her as she nervously did the “As an Asian-American” thing and then accidentally said that her father had blond hair and blue eyes. Oops. But to make up for her flub, she mentioned that she was Asian-American again and then smiled her way off stage. As an Asian-American, she’s very good at rebounding from tough situations. But that’s only because she’s an Asian-Amercan. Did I mention that she’s Asian-American?
After this intense round of questions, er, question, we finally arrived at the moment of truth. Sort of. Last year’s title-holder took one last final walk of glory (’cause it’s all down hill from here, baby), and then it was time to crown this year’s Miss America. Would it be Alabama (not likely), Oklahoma (possibly — that childhood story earned her extra points), or Georgia (piano helped, but her nervousness might do her in). And this year’s winner was…
Well, um, you see, I Tivoed this, and the ceremony went long, which meant it cut off RIGHT BEFORE JAMES REVEALED THE RESULTS. BLAST! I sat through two hours of this junk for nothing?? Oh well. Luckily, there’s always the internet to help out. The big winner of the 2006 Miss “Hip” America is….
Miss Oklahoma! Sorry, Monica Pang and Alabama. You just don’t fit in. (I don’t know why, felt the need for a Martha Stewart callback). So that’s it. What a wonderful night. What did you think? Did the right woman win? Did you actually see it?