Pageant showcases surface, not substance

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (U-WIRE) — They say it’s not about hair spray. It’s not about giggles, not about lip gloss and not about getting squeezed into a size two sequined gown.
They lie.
Even in 2001, Miss America is still a flurry of bangles, baubles and beauty.
Pageant organizers offer thousands of dollars in scholarship money to contestants to create a facade that intelligence somehow factors into the competition. Even the ladies who don’t make the semi-final competition receive $5,000, and the winner takes home a crown jewel of $50,000. But getting the bucks still requires a pretty face and a set of Vaseline-covered chompers.
“On-stage personality” in evening wear and “physical fitness” in a swimsuit still count for a whopping 30 percent of the contestants’ total scores.
Even the talent competition caters only to those high-achieving ladies who excel in performing arts. If you’re a gifted athlete or a brilliant poet, forget it — the Atlantic City stage won’t have you. I can’t carry a tune or take more than two dance steps without tripping over my own feet. And I suspect that sitting in front of a computer to dash out a news story wouldn’t exactly enthrall a panel of judges, no matter how tight or glittery my costume of choice was.
Co-hosts Donny and Marie Osmond proudly proclaimed that this year’s event marks a first — the word “pageant” has been dropped from the program’s formal title, leaving the annual beauty contest labeled only as “Miss America.”
But the effort is transparent — little more than a slick public relations move to placate pageant critics. I didn’t see a single change in format, presentation or — dare I say it — the contestants’ IQ. Nary a size 12 or hair out of place on stage, and the ladies still giggled through their personal interviews, peppering their responses with thought-provoking commentary such as “You know, I never really thought about that.”
But forget the big bangs and personal sob stories of dairy-farm-girls-turned-beauty-queens. The show’s hosts were the biggest jokes of the evening.
Aging sex god Donny Osmond morphed into a Backstreet Boy wannabe to bust a move with a troupe of pleather-clad dancers and to serenade the top 10 finalists during the evening gown competition. Sister Marie, donning a slick black dress and tea coat ensemble that looked more Mother Ginger than Miss America, reminded us all how tough it must be to find a flattering outfit once you’ve had 10 kids.
I suspect the pageant organizers believe they’re getting more bang for their buck by snagging the Osmond duo to host two years in a row. Unfortunately, every time the cheesy 1970s popsters burst into song (especially during a medley of “Simply the Best” and other tunes of appreciation to thank pageant volunteers), viewers were reminded why their music career — and their brother-sister talk show — flopped.
The one sign of progress in the program came in the final minutes: The three top finalists left grinning and sweating under the lights were all minorities. The times might in fact be a-changing. The second runner-up, an exotic Asian medical student representing California, even admitted during the cozy chit-chat interview process with Marie, that she had never worn makeup until a few months ago.
Unfortunately, I’d have respected her more if the admission hadn’t slipped out of a red-slicked pout underneath a pair of false eyelashes.
Before crowning Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawaii — who danced the hula in a slippery white dress during the talent competition and works as a teacher and coach at a Catholic school on her native island — viewers first said goodbye to Miss America 2000 Heather French, who spent her reign championing the rights of homeless veterans.
Apparently, French’s crusade led her all the way to the Kentucky statehouse. Her next jump, post-crown? Tying the knot with Lt. Gov. Stephen Henry, whose behemoth rock glittered on her finger as she waved goodbye during her final walk as the nation’s princess.
I respect beautiful women. It takes guts to parade around in a bikini and high heels for strangers in exchange for a wad of cash.
It’s kind of like being a prostitute.

Holly Auer’s column originally appeared in Syracuse University’s Daily Orange on Oct. 17. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]