“It’s not a beauty pageant, it’s a scholarship program.”
Let’s call a spade a spade, while I was doing a lot of Sandra Bullock quoting at the time, it was a beauty pageant… But while I can admit that 15 years later, at the time I was hell bent on convincing everyone otherwise.
Working Hard for the Money
I was a 17 year old with dreams, and those dreams included taking out as few loans as possible for college. So, I applied for every scholarship known to man. For some reason a direct descendant of John Adams won the Daughters of the American Revolution scholarship… And I didn’t “meet the minimum requirements” for the Rodeo Riders of America scholarship… I call bull.
But when another scholarship opportunity came up I jumped on it, and entered America’s Junior Miss
Pageant Scholarship Program. They have since changed the name to Distinguished Young Women, which was VERY smart. America’s Junior Miss kind of screams “Toddlers in Tiaras” whereas Distinguished Young Women definitely screams “there is an academic portion of this pageant dammit!”
Let’s go on a little behind the scenes tour of pageant life shall we?
Scoring was based on 1) Fitness, 2) Interview, 3) Poise, 4) Academic Achievement, and my personal favorite 5) Talent. We’ll break it down by the local competition level and the state competition level, which in a completely baffling twist I went to after a win at locals.
Local: The year, 2002. The theme, AMERICA! If you haven’t high kicked to “America” by Neil Diamond you haven’t lived. There was also a stretching portion to “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood…
State: Oh dang, the big leagues… I fumbled my way through the kicks and jumping jacks of locals but things got REAL at states. There was so much choreography, and so much neon spandex, and so many trained dancers. I wasn’t just a fish out of water, I was a fish on desert safari. But part of our routine was set to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and I think I can still do part of it. So there’s that.
Local: This is the part where you talk about your hopes and dreams to four strangers sitting in a high school classroom. You should also ideally quote Mother Theresa four times at a minimum. Nailed it.
State: Same Mother Teresa quota. But up your game a little. I had a killer maroon suit with matching shoes. Picture a teenage version of Working Girl.
Local: Oh poise. This involved more choreography but I was better at this one because it was slow motion walking in lines and smiling. You also got to wear your prom dress again, so score! Poise also included a live question and answer portion. So basically this:
States: DAMNNNNN was I outclassed at states. We all had to wear red dresses and heels, giving off a very The Handmaid’s Tale Prom vibe. I looked fine, but these other girls were out of control gorgeous. The hair! The teeth! Even the question and answer portion, geesh. I managed but probably also said “Dude, like seriously…” at some point and was docked points.
Local: All they needed were our grades for this part. Nerd Alert! I did well in this section.
State: Nerd Alert X 2! You’re looking at the Massachusetts Junior Miss Academic Achievement award winner. (Curtsy)
Local: To participate in this
pageant scholarship program, you were supposed to have a talent. For whatever reason I thought I could wing this… I had outgrown my ballet slippers, 13 years ago. My voice is like the heavenly sound of 1,000 angels with pitch issues. My piano playing abilities, well, we’ve discussed that. So my talent – Performance Sign Language! I’m not kidding, I WISH I was kidding.
Signing along to the music from the last scene of Casper accompanied by a PowerPoint slideshow of pictures representing friendship, I used all of the American Sign Language skills I learned in the summer of 1999 to dazzle the crowd. It was in a word, magical.
State: Here’s my favorite part, when I won the local competition and was going on to states, my local chapter decided I needed some coaching in the talent department. So on a weekly basis I went to a dance studio to practice my performance sign language, adding more theatrics for the stage.
My coaches were absolutely the loveliest people on the planet and I’d like to thank them sincerely for their patience. This situation was essentially like giving Picasso a paper plate and 4 broken crayons.
The other girls’ talents were amazing. Irish step dancing, singing, violining, hilarious poem about lack of talent reciting (you crushed it, Kyla.) And if I actually knew ASL well, it could have been good. But as it was I was like the kid sister wanting to participate and the big kids were like “oh, sure… why don’t you stand over there and tell us when you’re done so we can get on with the rest of the show. Oh, and you brought a slideshow… that’s cute.”
And Massachusetts’ Junior Miss Is…
Not me. Definitely not me. But I proudly held the Greater Capeway Junior Miss title for a year and got to ride in a parade.
Plus I did win some scholarship money which was awesome.
Most importantly, I can joke all I want, but the whole process was really fun and I met some wonderful people. I also really pushed myself out of my comfort zone, so big points for that. Not to mention that I now know how to turn very gracefully while smiley coyly at a crowd. #LifeSkills.
With gratitude that the videos of these pageants are only available on VHS,