That once-in-a-lifetime performance that makes your spleen explode.
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 99 00:05:07 -0800
Subject: That once-in-a-lifetime performance that makes your spleen explode.
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KISS THE MR. CONGENIALITY AWARD GOODBYE
By Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post, September 26, 1999
I watched the Miss America pageant on television as I always do. I like to
tune in right from the start, when all 51 contestants go on parade, so I
can start winnowing down the field by crossing off the lumberjacks. Every
year there's four or five you just know are going straight home from
Atlantic City to start pulling out tree stumps with their bare hands.
I predict the 10 semifinalists strictly on looks. I realize that must make
me seem like a terrible sexist. But if the show was all about which woman
had the highest law boards, they probably wouldn't be wearing spandex and
spike heels. When was the last time you got bikini-waxed before torts
I don't mind if the woman who wins isn't quite as pretty as the woman who
comes in second or third. I don't even mind if the judges are pathetic
geezers -- like Judge Judy. (Oh, man. Did you see Judge Judy on the cover
of People this week? In a tight-fitting magenta exercise top! It's just
horrifying. It looks like an ad for some anti-aging hormonal treatment that
allows you to look 80 when you're actually 120. Seriously, at what point
does somebody say to Judge Judy: "Okay, lady, the joke's over. Get back
in the duffel bag"?)
My point is, I like the whole idea of Miss America. I like Donny and Marie.
I liked them even before their sex-change operations.
But somebody is ruining this show.
It's not just the proposed new liberal rules -- where you could still be
eligible to be Miss America even if you've been married before! That sort
of widens the field, doesn't it? I mean, eventually the only person who
can't be Miss America will be the pope!
The real problem, as I see it, is the way they're attempting to modernize
the TV show. For example, they've started pre-taping sappy "day in the
life" interviews with the contestants on location in their home states,
doing what Miss Americas typically do: volunteering at the hospital,
shearing sheep, Jell-O wrestling. Some of the contestants were actually
shown nuzzling their boyfriends! For 75 years Miss Americas were supposed
to be chaste. Now it's like they're in an episode of "Sex and the City."
Here's how we'll know we're in a new millennium: When the contestants are
shown nuzzling their girlfriends. (Right, Vanessa?)
Imagine my despair at the format this year -- where all this high-gloss
dross is crowding out the essentials, the true allure of Miss America
... no, not just hot babes with bazooms. You can see that on ads for
mouthwash. The real loss is that, because of all the taped pieces, they've
cut the number of contestants who display their "talent" from 10 finalists
This is tragic. Other than the Jerry Lewis telethon, there's simply nowhere
else where you can see some of the restaurant-quality acts that have graced
Miss America pageants all these decades. The glockenspiel players. The
archers. God help us, the earnest girls with the hand puppets!
These were contestants who sailed through their state pageants on, um,
posture. When they arrived in Atlantic City they had as much chance of
being crowned Miss America as Yogi Berra -- in part because they had no
talent, but were forced to come up with one anyway.
So they tried hard to twirl a baton, re-create the Battle of New Orleans
with glow-in-the-dark yo-yos, or cook a casserole while playing the
harmonica. Once in a while you'd see some stupefyingly bad hula dancer, or
a hopeless girl blowing up balloons and shaping them into livestock. My
favorites were the ones who completely despaired, and "performed" by doing
dramatic readings of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in full costume with a
crescendo of patriotic music in the background. What is this, a VFW hall?
If that's what you want in a Miss America, why not give the tiara to
Charlton Heston? I always thought they'd be better off carrying a boombox
to the center of the stage, slapping on a Barbra Streisand CD and saying,
"Let's not kid ourselves. If I could sing this good, you think I'd be
shaving my legs every morning? They gave me three minutes. I'm going
outside for a smoke. In the meantime, here's Babs." (I've tried to think
what I'd do in a similar situation. What could I possibly do to demonstrate
talent? Hit a pitching wedge into the audience? Eat a club sandwich?)
Now that they're down to five finalists, they can fix it so everybody sings
or dances or plays an instrument reasonably well. Where's the drama?
Where's that once-in-a-lifetime performance that is so hideous it makes your
Now the toughest thing a prospective Miss America has to do is come up with
a "cause" to believe in. Something empathetic, yet cutting-edge -- Happy
Meals for Kosovars, maybe. (This can be harder than it seems. I remember
reading about the tragic story of a debutante who got so frustrated trying
to attach her name to a worthy cause she whined, "All the good diseases are
The only other stumbling block to becoming Miss America is the "live
interview." And even that's easy now. First of all, it's this touchy-feely
format with all the finalists lounging on a couch, and guess who's firing
the tough questions: Marie Osmond. Forgive me, but this is not exactly
like being cross-examined by Barry Scheck.
Forget the couch. I want them standing alone in a spotlight on a dark
stage, choking on some impossibly long-winded question involving the use of
bunnies in medical experiments. I want them to have flop sweat. And the
usual abundant cleavage, which would glisten as they respond, "Um, I think
all animals should run free, and I believe world peace is within our grasp.
Gone. All gone.
How I long for a gymnast who recites the Lord's Prayer while balancing
herself on a pommel horse.
(c) Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
© 1999 Peter Langston