Miss America for 2008 has been crowned. While there are many that are happy that Kirsten Haglund, Miss Michigan won, the focus was more on the changes to the pageant format than in the winner. With all of the hoopla surrounding Miss America Reality Check, an attempt to modernize the pageant that has steadily lost viewers over the last decade or so, one must ask the obvious; “did it work?” The answer isn’t simple. The truth is it is a bit “yes” and “no.”
According to the premise of the reality series, the powers-that-be at the Miss America pageant wanted to update the stale image of America’s reigning beauty queen. They succeeded modestly in some areas, but failed miserably in others.
Most people believe that the reason for the pageant’s loss of viewers has been the disconnect between the pageant winner and the average American woman. Women of today no longer identify with the plastic Barbie doll figure that the program churned out year after year. She simply doesn’t represent what women aspire to be, nor does she represent everything that mothers want their daughters to look up to.
With all of that in mind, Miss America Reality Check attempted to make some major changes in how the state candidates represented themselves in the pageant. They worked to tone down the heavy makeup, deflate the big hair, and update that robotic pageant walk. On those issues that definitely made some headway.
It was nice to see girls, for the most part, look closer to their actual age. It was also wonderful to see women with short hair and edgy haircuts as well as long flowing locks. One notable contestant who made the semi-finals even dared not to tease her hair; looking refreshingly like a “real” woman.
A lot of the girls showed a bit of “sass” on the runway as they modeled; twirling and posing more like models than wooden statues. Gone was the totally fake smile; replaced with something a little more natural, at least in most instances. On all of those points, the pageant gets kudos.
It also gets points for changing the interview questions. Instead of the same old questions that have basically been recycled over the years, the program took to the streets to ask average Americans what question they would like to pose to the candidates. In response, the girls got to raise their hands to answer the question they felt best suited them.
For the most part, their answers were much more realistic and honest than the same old standbys we’ve been subjected to over the years. A few even offered inspired answers. While a couple slipped back in their old habit of getting their point across rather than answering the question, or patting the Miss America program on the back, most put themselves out there. It was nice to get a real look at what our potential ambassador of goodwill might actually sound like.
Unfortunately, there is bad news as well. Still in place was the “meat market” swimsuit portion of the pageant. The reason behind it remains the same. It is supposed to represent the importance of health and fitness. Come on now! It is bad enough that the media tries to spoon feed us poison pabulum every single day, does the Miss America program have to treat us with the same disrespect?
If you want to represent fitness, how about allowing the girls to show their skills in that area with gymnastics, weight lifting, dancing, kick boxing or something that honestly says “fitness.” You would still get to see skimpy little costumes for those who just have to ogle the body beautiful, but it would actually mean something.
Also failing miserably was the talent portion of the program. Sure, some of the girls could definitely sing and others were passable dancers, violinists, and such. But why do they insist on singing songs from half-a-century ago; belting out operas that make people turn the channel; or dancing to routines that we’ve seen a million times? Is there no creativity allowed in the talent area?
Give us a bit more American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance or even Dancing with the Stars; something that will actually connect with the audience. Otherwise, we will continue to turn off the TV. Obviously their “timeless classics” and ours are just not the same.
Finally, Reality Check kept emphasizing that the girls needed to show more of who they really are. They were told to be individuals and not to be afraid to infuse a bit of their own personality. Yet, those girls who actually made those changes made it no where near the final 16, with the exception of two notable semi-finalists.
The first was Miss Washington. She took her new coaching to heart and put all of her soul out there on the line. For her honesty and natural beauty and charm, she was awarded fifth runner-up. The other exception was the girl that America got to vote into the finals – – Miss Utah.
This beautiful young military woman struggled throughout Reality Check because she had never been in pageants before. She didn’t know how to pose or how to walk, runway style. However, her lack of a plastic smile, wooden walk, and perfectly packaged image made those of us watching actually take notice. At last, here was a real woman. Not only that, it was a woman who could also compete in a man’s world ust like women do every single day. So America embraced her and made her a semi-finalist.
Of course the judges took the earliest opportunity to dump her. After all, she certainly didn’t fit the Miss America image the way they defined it. Darned if that wasn’t when they lost me and I’m willing to bet thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of viewers once again. We have this strange response to being asked our opinion and then been slapped in the face when we give it. We simply go away.
The truth is that Miss Michigan – – our New Miss America – – is beautiful, charming, smart, talented, and very humble and sweet. Those are all wonderful qualities that every woman should aspire to. In that respect, there is no faulting the judge’s decision.
However, only time will tell us for certain if she is indeed a different kind of role model. I can find no fault at all with this stunning young woman on any level. My fault lies with the pageant itself. For all of its bluster about wanting to be “different,” I’m not at all sure the words were anywhere near sincere.
The truth is the Miss America program may want to change but they aren’t really willing to step into the 21st Century quite yet. While there is no denying that Miss America 2008 will make a beautiful and gracious goodwill ambassador, she still may not be able to connect with single, working mothers, career women, struggling grandmothers raising their second families, or teenagers trying to avoid peer pressure to do things they know they should not. Until we get a Miss America who can actually do that, I’m not sure that the crown will ever again earn the much longed for respect.