Monday, May 17, 2010

Miss USA Is Not Miss America (And how to win Your Miss America pool.)

A lot of people are up in arms about the crowning of the "gaffetastic" Miss Michigan Rima Fakih as Miss USA. I suspect many of those in a state of concern may be conflating the Miss USA pageant with Miss America. Miss America is the preeminent "scholarship program" and as such holds itself out as having some objective standards. Miss USA is a Donald Trump production. It's an entertainment vehicle. Its "standards" are the standards of reality television. So you can only really get worked up about the injustice of Ms. Fakih's victory if you're the kind of person who'd also be willing to be outraged by the results on Dancing with the Stars.

None of that, however, is particularly important. The questions about the "judging" at Miss USA are just an excuse for me to point out a wonderful and often overlooked book: William Goldman's Hype and Glory. (Don't be the sucker to pay $132 for the paperback version on Amazon.)

Goldman wrote Hype and Glory after a year in which he sat as a judge for both Miss America and Cannes. He had plenty of good stories to tell.

What always interested me most, however, was his deciphering of the Miss America voting. Goldman claimed that the judges were instructed on what to look for in a Miss America, and that with those guidelines, it was instantly clear to the entire judging panel who the winner was. He reports that from the first moment, there was never any question among the judges who the winner would be. What were they looking for? I'll paraphrase, because I don't have my copy near at hand: The Miss America judges were told to look for the woman who would best represent the Miss America organization at public and private appearances throughout the year. That meant a woman who was calm, unflappable, articulate, and politic. In other words, they wanted the young woman who most represented a polished, TV news head.

Nothing else, Goldman wrote, mattered. Not the swimsuit, not the talent. And once you know that that's the quality the Miss America pageant is looking for, most of the time the winner is obvious.

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