I was one of the judges for the Miss Teen Detroit pageant this past weekend.
The event spanned over two days, with personal interviews on Saturday and the pageant on Sunday.
After interviewing 99 young women, I can somewhat understand how Simon, Paula and Randy [American Idol originals] feel as they are faced with a new contestant every 5 minutes all day long. As sweet as most of these girls were and as entertaining as some of the responses had been (singing, dancing and joke telling sprinkled throughout the day), listening to ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ is exhausting!
So many of these young women answered that the reason they are in this pageant is to ‘gain self confidence.’ At first thought, that may seem like a cliche; dressing up, strutting on stage and competing against other women…isn’t the first way you may think to build self confidence. To most, this probably sounds more like a breeding ground for cat fights instead of increasing your self-esteem. But you know what? These girls had fun…and I actually saw some of the shy ones ‘open-up.’
Another pleasant surprise was the variety of contestants. There was a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds. The only characteristic that many of them shared was that they wanted to emulate Tyra Banks and Taylor Swift.
The morning of the first day, I didn’t know what to expect and was wondering if I should have agreed to do this. Would it be tiara overload? Did I have to ‘deal’ with crazy pageant mothers? Would I resurface from the hotel coughing from White Rain hairspray? I’ve never watched Toddlers and Tiaras nor wanted to, maybe that should have been a prerequisite! In any case, these initial thoughts were stereotypical…and untrue.
The pageant itself had an additional spin to it-Casual Wear. While the usual Evening Wear category was there too, Casual Wear was meant as a way for the girls to show their personality. This is the part I liked best because you could really tell which ones were fun/funny/creative. We saw everything from hula skirts and soccer uniforms to mixing bowls and spatulas.
In addition to glitter and gowns, these young girls really did learn valuable skills from the pageant. Before the two day event, the contestants attend classes on how to interview, walk and carry themselves. Again, even as I write this, I too, am feeling this sounds a bit like charm school, but there is more to it than that.
Think about how you were raised. So much of how we conduct ourselves stems from when we were very young. These girls were taught to shake hands when introducing yourself (something that is slipping nowadays), look a person in the eye and maybe not chomp on gum during a conversation.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be (I was) surprised on many people don’t know this. These aren’t pageant practices these are things people need in real life; which makes me feel that the Miss Teen pageants are a step in the right direction to set young women on the right track…and letting them have fun at the same time.
I will leave you with my favorite answer of the night. When a seven year old girl in the Junior Division was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She confidently yelled into the microphone, “A Vegetarian!” The audience cheerfully laughed, although she misspoke, most understood that she wanted to work with animals…and not refrain from eating them.