Poetry at the Miss America Pageant

Sunday night, 9/9/2018, I tuned into the Miss America Pageant a little more than half-way through the program. There was POETRY! Ellery Jones, Miss Colorado, performed an original spoken word poem in the talent portion of the show! My geeky poet heart SQUEE’d!

As usual, the talent portion of the show was a mixed bag. There were singers and pianists among the 10 performances with various degrees of talent. There was the obligatory ballerina, and one contestant gave a Ted Talk-esque original monologue. The other top performance for me was Miss Connecticut. She wowed the audience with her Irish step dance/moonwalk combo.

Was Miss Colorado’s performance the best spoken-word piece I’ve ever heard? No, not by a long shot. But it was good and America got to see poetry as entertainment that requires talent. (Now if we can just get the Washington Post entertainment journalists to understand that spoken work poetry is NOT a “monolog!”)

Just for fun, I looked up “weirdest talents at the Miss America pageant.” In 2016, Alayna Westcom, Miss Vermont, mixed chemicals on stage during a science demonstration. Check out the bit on YouTube. The one that really took takes the cake, though not the crown, was Carol Jennette, Miss Maryland, who in 1955 packed a suitcase as her talent. I have already checked. It’s not on YouTube darn it.

Beyond my snarky critique of the talent competition I feel compelled to touch on the snarly political aspect of this beauty pageant and it’s almost 100-year turbulent history. The civil rights movement, the rise of feminism, and even the MeToo movement have taken their toll and the pageant has lost popularity. They are struggling to remain relevant in today’s aggressively competitive media market, hence the launch of the Pageant 2.0 with no swimsuit competition.  I have not been a regular viewer in a long time, but I had to check it out.

At first the changes I saw all seemed to be in the wardrobe area. Contestants wore more casual clothes for some of the interviews. Then I realized, there was a lot more talking. That’s a good thing, as is the continued, though gradual, increase in ethnic diversity.

I’m no longer the starry-eyed little girl that watched faithfully all through my formative years. Neither am I the budding, self-righteous feminist railing against the tyranny of this barbaric practice. I’ve long since settled into a neutral pragmatism. I never had the high ground and despite my cheeky assessment of talent and gown choice, I will not judge these women for choosing to be part of this event, and this life. I support women. If a girl or woman feels empowered by this environment, whether she does it for fun or for a shot at the prize money, then she should go for it! There’s nothing wrong with putting on a pretty dress and stepping out with your best foot and face forward. Congratulations to all of the ladies and especially to Nia Imani Franklin, our newest Miss America.


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