Loving that Miss America magic

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The voice and that song — magic. A crying young woman gliding down a runway to thundering applause. It was my childhood fantasy come to life again in 2015.

As we flipped through the channels, we stumbled upon the Miss America Pageant. By the time we tuned in, they were down to the top 15 contestants and were about to start the swimsuit competition.

“Wow, they are not wearing one-piece swimsuits anymore,” I said to my husband. “You gotta be brave to strut your stuff in front of an audience of thousands, not to mention television cameras, wearing a two piece.”

He didn’t comment — probably thought it wise to remain silent when a woman talks about other women in skimpy bathing suits, especially when that woman is your wife.

I never understood high-heeled shoes with swimsuits, but maybe it’s a test to see if they can balance while they strut. Anyway, they finished prancing for the judges and waited to hear who proceeded to the evening gown competition.

When I was a child, I loved the evening gown part of it. All those beautiful dresses on those perfectly shaped women with not-a-hair-out-of-place and glowing makeup.

Now I know it was selling an image that is more or less imaginary, but it was the stuff of make-believe and imagination. I soaked it up. I saw myself clothed in gorgeousness walking a lighted runway waving a queenly wave.

In fact, the day after Miss America got her crown, you’d find me in the backyard wearing mine. A plastic hair band turned sideways made an excellent one. The ruffled half-slip I wore on Sundays, paired with some of Mother’s old high heels, made an acceptable evening gown presentation. Some wild flowers (or weeds) were my bouquet and the long picnic table my grandfather built was my runway.

My dog and sometimes my younger brothers were the audience. Back then, I think the queen had a robe, too. A towel around my shoulders held in place with a clothespin made an elegant robe.

Now, back to this year’s pageant. The top 12 in their evening gowns were lovely. Their hairdos and makeup as perfect as I remembered. Oh, but who would advance to show off their talent — the audience held its collective breath.

They called names. There were tears and talent performances. Two contestants danced, and one played the piano. Most sang and one performed a monologue she wrote about being a nurse.

I never pretended about talent much. Maybe I used a stick for a microphone and belted out a few lines of “We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money” (a song my brothers and I performed during our backyard talent shows), but that was it.

This weekend as they awarded the 2016 title to Miss Georgia and the voice of Burt Parks sang, “There she is … Miss America. There she is … your ideal…” I was, for a moment, a 10-year-old transfixed in front of the television. I smiled as the winner cried.

Now I realize Miss America is not so much the ideal of all Americans as the ideal of the group of judges who pick her out of the herd. I also realize a different set of judges might produce a different winner. I’m older and wiser.

My personal pageant experience was in high school. It wasn’t as much fun as I imagined. Being on stage in a packed auditorium and not hearing my name called beyond the top 20 kind of sucked. Yet the other night, in only a minute the pageantry of this show hooked me. (Better reality television than real housewives or Honey Boo Boo.)

I know women’s groups aren’t fans of pageants, and I don’t completely disagree with them. Still, as a kid standing on that picnic table wearing a hair band crown, my half-slip gown, draped in a bath towel robe and waving to my brothers/dog audience while Burt Parks sang in my head, I was Miss America. It was magic.


Nancy Blackmon is a writer and yoga teacher.