I am told this years show pathetically attempted to be a combination of American Idol and Survivor -without success. Despite new celebrity hosts and the most skin ever exposed for the pageant, a record-low 10 million viewers tuned in to the beauty contest last week. As recent as eight years ago the pageant recorded a decent viewing audience of 25 million. In 1960 those who tuned in peaked at 85 million.
For those who say Miss America is a relic of a bygone era or that beauty contests are politically incorrect because of the sexist images they portray, you may be right. Just dont forget the other side of Miss America.
The pageant used to be a family affair for many of us in its heyday. We all sat around the TV rooting for Miss Michigan to win the pageant. It was fun. Come on, Miss Michigan. You can beat that ugly, old Miss Georgia.
I remember getting misty watching the stunned contest winner begin to walk down the aisle with flowers - from whatever state she came. When Bert Parks sang, Here she comes, Miss America... the newly-crowned young woman would begin to cry and I noticed most everyone in our family rubbing their eyes, smiling, unable to speak.
It was a proud moment, like singing our national anthem. That instant seemed to crystallize what America was about. Though we were living in the mid-20th century, women could now aspire for higher education, travel around the world, make decent money - and it was all being promoted by the Miss America
It wasnt all about gawking at womens bodies (though Im still not sure about my dads motive). Those sexy one-piece bathing suits, showing little more than ankles, did seem risqué at the time. Yet, my parents were watching, too, so it was okay.
Even little girls watched the contest and wanted to grow up and be Miss America. Part of it must have been a desire to look glamorous, but Miss America also represented being confident, worldly, and smart.
Though TV audiences may be saying adios, Miss Americans have gotten better. Remember how some women skated through the talent contest by juggling bowling pins or training animals to dance on stage? No more. This years winner, Deidre Downs, proved to be talented enough to pursue a career in singing and excelled at answering the history and current events questions given to the contestants. This aspiring Alabama doctor will deservedly receive a $50,000 scholarship and up to $200,000 in appearance fees during her one-year reign.
Did we just discard other institutions such as baseball, marriage, and Ovaltine when they lost popularity? No, we spiced them up with inter-league play, tax deductions,
and new packaging. Now, they are back, baby, more popular than ever.
Miss America may need just a little tune-up in order to bring the prestige and popularity back to the pageant. What I would do is the obvious - let the people decide. Maybe families would get involved again, one night each year, if they knew the contest was interactive and each viewer would have an equal vote, electing Miss America.
Mysterious judges, subject to bribes and influence, now determine the outcome of most beauty pageants. Through phones and the Internet, we have the technology to allow viewers to vote for the winning contestants. If you could select the winner, wouldnt you be inclined
to spend a couple of TV hours each year judging some talented, hard-working young women who want to represent our country?
I know my Dad wouldnt mind.