Thursday, February 7, 2008

Article from a Miss Maple City Judge

Judging beauty is not as easy as it looks

By ANDY PRUTSOK …#8221; Reflector Publisher | Wednesday February 06 2008, 12:16pm

I was one of the seven judges for Saturday night’s Miss Maple City Pageant. It was a first for me.

My family used to watch the Miss America Pageant when I was a kid — in the late 60s and early ‘70s, but I’m certain it had been more than 30 years since I had seen one.

I came in to the event with some preconceived notions about “pageant girls.” Namely, that they had all been primping and preening on stage since the age of three, knowing little else. And that they all likely had pushy mothers like Patsy Ramsey who were trying to live their lives vicariously through their children.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 11 young ladies who submitted to 10-minute interviews in private from the panel of judges were bright, articulate, poised and accomplished. Pretty good lookin’ girls, too. All were college students, working the pageant circuit to win scholarships to help pay for their education. Just about everyone held down several different jobs while going to school and not only participating in, but excelling at, various extra-curricular activities ranging from soccer to women’s rugby to dance and student government. They were pursuing master’s degrees and doctorates.

I was dazzled. In addition, I was unclear on what exactly to look for in judging the contestants. The instructions were nebulous.

Things got really dicey when the pageant part of the competition commenced.

The first event was the swimsuit contest, during which judges were supposed to look for how physically fit the women were. I did not do too well at this. They breezed across the stage in about 10 seconds each, hardly giving you time to find the contestant’s name on the list, let alone judge her physical fitness and ability to walk in four-inch heels.

I was somewhat shocked at my reaction to the swimsuit competition. I have a long history of admiring the female form — and these were all spectacular examples — but sitting there with 17-to-24-year-old women — children to a man of 46 — parading in front of me barely clothed, with hundreds of parents and children seated behind me — it was all I could do to not be totally embarrassed and feel like some kind of pervert.

I could not imagine how the contestants must feel, having to parade their bodies in front of all those eyes. It would take supreme confidence.

After talent, evening gown and on-stage question, the judges were presented with cards with the top five point winners. We had to rank them in about 30 seconds and the results were tabulated to pick the winner.

I was surprised when 18-year-old Heather Wells was announced as the winner, even though I had voted for her to win. I never pick winners in anything.

Feeling pretty good about my judging abilities, all the judges filed out of the auditorium into the room where we had conducted the interviews and left our personal belongings. Immediately, the four female judges — all pageant veterans -- formed a huddle and started complaining about the winner, saying her swimsuit was too revealing, she wore the wrong kind of shoes during the question and answer period and her toes were not pointed in the right direction during her dance routine. Then they began demanding to know who it was who voted for her. We had been warned that we might get accosted by contestants or parents, but not by our fellow judges. I gathered up my stuff and got the heck out of there, skipping the reception that was held in honor of the new Miss Maple City.

While the Miss Maple City Pageant may have been a little stressful for me, I would highly recommend to anyone in Norwalk who has not been to it to go to next year’s. The organizers put on a wonderful, entertaining production with lots of local talent performing. The time literally flew by.

Be that as it may, I can’t help but think my pageant days are behind me. It’s just too stressful. I’d almost rather parade around on stage in front of hundreds of people in a swimsuit than go through that again.

Congratulations to Miss Wells and all the contestants. They are all braver than I.

In my response to this, I have to say I'm not really surprised. It seems like some locals give great directions to judges about what to look for, and others don't. I also have to agree with the judge here about being accosted by other judges. I'm sure fellow blogger Abby Bollenbacher
remembers this experience: this summer we judged the Miss Montpelier, a small local pageant in Montpelier, Ohio. At the time I was the reigning Miss Ohio Coed for American Coed pageants, and I had been referred to judge by my director at the time, Janise Thomson. It sounded like a fun opportunity and a great way to promote American Coed. I felt that many of the girls in the pageant this summer would have done extremely well in American Coed,where the focus is on a well-spoken All American girl.

In any case, we judges all had some personal favorites after interview but I went into the final night acting as though I had never met each girl before and judging her only on that one category at a time. And I have to say, sitting behind the judges table, it was an eye opening experience for me. The things I noticed definitely helped me prepare for Miss Greater Cleveland over the summer. I noticed a girl's shoes, posture, and all of the things I probably don't pay that much attention to while competing on stage.

In any case, we were mailed information about the contestants prior to the pageant so we could ask them questions in interview. Some judges asked the same question for each girl, and others of us varied the questions.

It was hard not to be biased-and impressed- by the speaking ability of these girls.

Going into the final pageant, I knew which girl I had felt was strongest in Interview (and she ended up winning the interview award). During the final pageant, they forgot to turn her microphone on while she sang her song. Some of the judges next to me complained "I can't hear her" and while I'm sure the audience couldn't, we were close enough to pick up her voice. After she performed, the judge next to me was angry-and admitted that she was going to score the girl low. Three of us on one end of the table conferred that we wanted her to perform again, this time with the microphone on.

I came at this from my own experience: how would I feel if someone asked me to tap dance a second time because of some technical problem not my fault? Well, I'd be even more nervous, tired, and stressed out. I felt that it takes a lot of performance ability and confidence to take that stage a second time to perform for us. One of the judges around me admitted that she took points off of the girls talent performance because the microphone wasn't on. Obviously, a performer should check everything before going on stage, but we can't predict anything (please just ask poor Bobbi Mitchell, who was dancing on pointe with a ribbon dangerously close to ripping during her Miss Williamsburg performance). The girl in question was an 18 year old. This was probably the first time she had ever performed on a stage for that crowd of people (there were about 300-400 ticket sales that night).

At the end of the night, this girl ended up in 2nd place. This was her last year of eligibility and I really felt for her- I could tell from her entire performance that day that she truly wanted to represent her community. Another girl won, and immediately we judges were informed that the new winner was the sister of the pageants director. None of us judges knew this information, and there was no clue in our judging information that this young woman was a relative. But immediately you could sense that for her entire year as the queen, the new winner would experience a stigma. I believe that the 1st runner up was the hometown favorite, since she had competed in this pageant for many years, gave a solid performance, and was in her last year of eligibility.

right after the pageant, the same judge who admitted she lowered the talent performance of the 1st runner up was joyous over the new winner. I thought the new winner was great, too, but I have to wonder whether other judges "scored down" the 1st runner up with technical issues.

This is in no way to say that none of the judges were qualified- indeed we had a wealth of pageant experience. Coming from a judges perspective though, I was worried about the lack of direction some judges were given in MAO. Abby, correct me if I'm wrong, but usually pageants train judges saying "don't hold a technical malfunction against a contestant" but I don't remember being told that on pageant day.

In any case, after the pageant I was in a hurry to get out of there- judging was fun but you could feel in the air that some people questioned whether the winner really deserved it. Having been a runner up myself many times, I know how that 1st runner up must have felt : proud to have made a strong showing, but disappointed to see the title go to someone else. It certainly makes placing as a runner up easier when the girl genuinely deserves the title, and I felt like some people in the auditorium didn't believe the winner was truly who we picked.

After that experience, I have a lot of respect for judges who really go into these volunteer experiences and do their job- I feel like as a pageant contestant myself, I was really paying attention and making this day all about the girls.

So, for all those judges out there, I hope you receive good directions.

We appreciate you being so generous with your time and talents- I know it's a lot of work!

On a side note: Heather Wells and I placed 2nd and 3rd runner up at Miss Greater Cleveland respectively this summer, and I can tell you that she is a girl who genuinely loves competing, sharing her talent, and someone who believes in the Miss America organization. She was also very generous sharing her supplies and "zip-up" help backstage. So congratulations on your win, Heather-hard work pays off!


Abby Bollenbacher said...

Hey Laura,

After judging that pageant I was so jealous of you! I wish I had had the opportunity to experience the other side of the table while I was still competing in the MAO.

Like you, I had my favorites based on their paperwork and then coming out of the interviews. But, I discovered that even if a contestant has a great interview, it can only take them so far, the onstage events have to be solid.

I was pulling for the woman who had done the pageant several time and wanted SOOO badly to finally win, but I couldn’t give it to her just because I knew how much she wanted it! Her talent wasn’t as strong as the winner, and her want translated into stiff anxiousness onstage. Wasn’t she the same girl whose mic didn’t work? I can’t remember…

As for the talent glitch, I wanted her to do it again. I have a different opinion; as a singer I almost always walk off stage thinking “I want to do it again- I know I can do a little better!” Though she did the right thing and kept going, I figured it negatively affected her performance. I did not hear anyone say they were going to judge her low- I would have given them an earful! That’s absurd; tech issues are never the contestant’s fault. I was on the end by a woman who didn’t say much. Actually, I kept trying to sneak a peak at her scores, just out of pure curiosity, but I think she busted me because she kept covering them. LOL!

I don’t recall hearing that the winner was related, or maybe I just have a bad memory. I do recall her saying she was doing it because it was something different for her and it was her last year to give it a try. How interesting – I’m sure some people in that community said “she only won because…” but you and I know that was NOT the case. How many times do we also hear that sort of thing in MAO pageants! I’m sure you read that immediately after Miss Maple City there were accusations that Heather worked with one of the female judges… and now we’re hearing that all the female judges were shocked by her win. What a classic example!


Laura said...

I definitely noticed that I made sure every little detail was perfect for Greater Cleveland- especially my shoes. For some reason, that was something that really stuck out to me as a "judge". I also seemed to notice all the contestants little movements in interview and became more conscious of what I do without noticing it.

Yes, the first runner up was the girl who had done the pageant several times and whose mic malfunctioned- I did feel bad for her. And I agree with you about the spark on stage. I just wonder whether someone taking off several points for a talent issue that wasn't the girls fault counted.

I've been a part of a pageant where the judges were not even watching the stage- not any girl, either. In one pageant I did there was an "aloof" judge who seemed to be staring into space the entire pageant; we were laughing backstage as he seemed to be oblivious to the talent performances and we all just figured "oh well, at least his scores could be the dropped ones...". Another pageant I did a judge wasn't even looking up from their binder... during swimsuit or talent. It happened for every girl- and we felt it was very bizarre.

So, I think we can pat ourselves on the back for paying attention!

I wanted her to perform again, too, but I felt like even though the performance wasn't a perfect 10, I give her a lot of credit for coming back onstage when she was already changing into her evening gown, and re-doing her talent. Maybe it's different for singers- I am literally gasping for breath and desperate for water when I am done with talent and I'm not sure I could handle going all out twice in a row for talent.

Yes, I wanted to give the judge who openly told me she was marking the girl down an earful, too, but I guess I was really surprised that someone would do that-and admit it.

I was also curious about where my scores fit into the rest of the judges scores- I was always trying to figure out if mine were too high or too low.

I think when the pageant ended the director came out on stage and hugged the winner and said something like "we'll never hear the end of this" and I asked her what she meant, which is when she explained the relationship. But obviously, I didn't know until then and you didn't know at all, so it IS possible to objectively choose a winner who just happens to be related. You can imagine the issues that would cause in MAO, though...

I did see the accusations that one of the judges knew Heather and possibly another contestant, too. People are always speculating. I agree with you though- I am not at all surprised to see Heather win a local. I'm sure all the contestants were great, but Heather has been a runner up in nearly every local she's done this year, so I think she was going to win a crown no matter what! Whether it was Miss Maple City or another title, whether brand-new objective judges sat on the panel, etc, I think her time was coming and I'm glad she won! :)

I've been at pageants before where people in the audience were surprised by runner up placements, and maybe that is a case of that "final ballot" sneaking in and someone unexpected placing higher than the audience expected. I have to say that after this year, I'm convinced the final ballot is not my friend!

Brandi said...

This is Brandi Barhite. I judged the Miss Maple City pageant. I voted for Miss Wells as one of my top choices. There was one and only judge who demanded people say who listed Heather as No. 1. I did not answer her because we weren't supposed to, although I did confess she was one of my top people throughout the evening.

When we came in from the pageant and someone asked me if I was surprised that Heather won, I said "only a tad." Like the one male judge, I didn't think my vote would make that much of a difference. I then went onto to say I liked her from the beginning, including the interview where I enjoyed her professional, but a little sassy attitude. I even interjected later when one of the female judges was complaining about her "look" and suggested she give her some suggestions because Heather is adorable. After the pageant, I offered my congrats to Heather and even told her about getting in contact with the Youngstown paper so she could get some publicity. Heather goes to school in Youngstown.

Also, I am not a pageant veteran at all. I am a fan of Miss America and have watched it for years. I've only been in a few pageants in my life, but realized quite quickly I did not have what it takes. Being a judge on Saturday only reaffirmed that this 29-year-old needs to stay a judge, not a contestant. The only crown I have is from Miss Strawberry Queen and that's a local thing hosted in my hometown.

I just wanted to share my thoughts. I took my role seriously and I think we made a nice choice. A a testament to the truth, the pageant organizer is more than welcome to share my score sheet. My high scores for Heather will demonstrate I supported her from the beginning.