“Welcome, Ms. American Petite Beauty Pageant Contestants”. That’s what the sign at the entrance of Dollywood said when we arrived at the theme park in our shuttle from the hotel. We descended from the bus and posed for a few pictures under an arch… and then were set free to roam around the grounds for a while.
Ms. Petite Maryland and I, who had become buddies during our respective state pageants that were held simultaneously on the same stage, thought it would be a good idea to ride the roller coasters and water rides. Some of the other state contestants seemed shocked by this. Apparently, they thought we should have been doing more beautiful, pageant-like activities, such as merely strolling along looking glamorous. And they were probably right about that… but we were more interested in having a little fun.
At midday, we all gathered together under a tent-like structure to eat barbecue sandwiches for lunch. It smelled really good, but I don’t eat meat, so… I think I ended up eating the bun and maybe some potato chips.
Back to the hotel (which may have been this one)….
Throughout the week, we attended breakfast, lunch and dinner sessions…
We also had a makeup application seminar; a hairdo consultation; stage walking practice; show rehearsals; late-night dance practices to Gloria Estefan’s version of “Turn the Beat Around”; and self-introduction writing and speaking practice:
“Hello from the Commonwealth of Virginia, home to several U.S. presidents throughout history.” 😛
Across the highway from the hotel was an Elvis Presley museum. I bought a poster of Elvis there, and probably a magnet or two. I remember thinking he was much smaller than I would have thought, judging from the size of his beaded jumpsuits. The girls I had talked into coming with me to the museum laughed at my “need” to see Elvis’ belongings. But the lady behind the counter ringing up my sale told me, “It’s okay. *I* understand.” 🙂 It would be a couple more years before I actually had the opportunity (work-related) to visit Graceland at the other end of the state, in Memphis.
Soon enough, it was showtime!
– The night of the show, someone stole $50 out of my purse. I don’t know who she was, but… I have never forgotten her un-beauty-queen-like behavior.
– As usual when you’re putting on a show, there was a lot of nervous, anxious, waiting-around-for-something-to-happen going on. We were basically a bunch of girls in long sparkly dresses, with plastered hairdos and overdone stage makeup standing around chatting and making faces at each other until it was our turn to go on.
– At some point, I noticed that one girl wasn’t very good at walking. I offered to help her and gave her a few tips: chin up, shoulders back, one foot in front of the other. We practiced this several times together till she was moving across the floor like a pro. I heard another contestant whispering to someone, “Ms. Virginia is helping her walk.” I wasn’t sure how to interpret that comment at the time. Was I being commended or scolded? I’m still not sure. But… I wanted to help the girl look her best, so that’s what I did.
– It’s very awkward to walk around in a circle on a stage in a swimsuit with strangers judging your body from below.
– I shouldn’t have worked a full workweek prior to going to the pageant. It was an exhausting experience on its own, filled with late nights. I should have taken time to rest first.
– In the midst of competing against 50 other women (including Ms. Puerto Rico), I realized I was happy enough with my state crown — and that winning the national title wasn’t very important to me. The experience of doing such a thing, however, was priceless — it was a lot of fun and rather eye-opening.
No, I did not place in the top ten (or was it 12?)… and I was thrilled about that. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines as my new pageant friends continued to compete. It was Iowa who ultimately won the title. I’m sure she deserved it.
BTW, the woman who won the national pageant the year before, in 1994, was Roselyn Sanchez. I met her backstage before the show and she seemed sweet and genuine. (You can see her in her crown, standing behind the pageant director at the podium in the last picture above.)
TO BE CONTINUED…