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A reporter's look at the pageant world

There were tiaras. And sequins. And one guy with a really, really annoying circus whistle.

So it’s natural that one question dominated my mind Saturday as I covered the Miss Georgia pageant at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

If I had a daughter, would I let her do this?

Now the fact that this question remained debatable 20 minutes into my assignment was a feat in itself. As I approached the pageant’s theater, I watched a youngster – clad in a puffy white ball gown and silver princess tiara – be scolded by her mother.

The girl looked angry, and I couldn’t tell if it was because she dreaded the idea of sitting though the four-hour ordeal – or because she wanted more high-end jewelry.

Either way, she was spending a night with a subculture that also has some growing up to do.

Blame it on those darn swimsuits. Or better yet, the perennial presence of the Bedazzler.

The Miss America pageant has been criticized in recent years for losing is grip on modernity. That’s one of the factors that led the event to move from Atlantic City to Las Vegas, and expand its reach to the reality TV realm.

In a group interview, Saturday’s five Miss Georgia finalists were asked their opinions of those decisions, and all the women spoke enthusiastically.

(One added that her 11-year-old sister likely doesn’t even know where Atlantic City is.)

Wearing polished business attire, they said that Miss America needs to be someone with whom anyone can relate. Someone whose talent isn’t just singing and dancing. Someone who knows a prize beyond a crown.

And while those women may have the pageant’s best interests at heart, the process by which they achieve their ultimate goal is surreal at best. To an outsider, at least.

Walk into the Miss Georgia pageant audience and you’ll spot a sea of buttons and posters bearing the faces of the night’s competitors – magnified, of course, so that nose hairs within nose hairs are visible.

Then, there are the fashions. A good percentage of female audience members wear pageant-inspired gowns – signs of either former victories or a seething desire to vicariously live through the night’s competitors.

But before you know it, any people-watching beyond the stage itself is moot. The lights go off, and you’re cheering for someone modeling possibly the only gown with less future utility than a bridesmaid dress.

(Note to the audience members whistling for the Miss Outstanding Teen finalists: You’re creepy.)

Despite my sick secret desires, I witnessed no casualties Saturday. Contestants walked across the stage without tripping or breaking their heels. The five Miss Georgia candidates interviewed without any major geographical blunders.

In fact, looking back, I really didn’t learn that much about any of the contestants – one of whom could theoretically go on to become the face of my country.

Did these women – inspiration for giant buttons and posters – really hold an edge in grace and physical perfection? Or did they just have a couple lucky minutes on a Saturday night?

I don’t know. I did, however, get to see some pretty cool talents, including a monologue, a baton act and a dance to my favorite Michael Jackson song, “Smooth Criminal.”

I asked myself what I’d most want as a talent if forced to compete. In true loser fashion, I’ll answer with something that’s beautiful on the inside: a willingness to accept goals other than my own, and applaud anyone brave enough to allow herself to be judged.

Then, and only then, will I be able to one day tell my future daughter that I’ll cheer for her with a circus whistle.

If that’s what she really wants.

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