Straight guys don’t watch beauty pageants. That’s because pageants take a normal pastime–ranking women by how they look in bathing suits–and turn it into something boring, with dance numbers. Plus, all the contestants are teenagers who look like 40-year-old anchorwomen and talk a lot about Jesus. You don’t have to deal with that by the pool at the Delano.
Though I could not imagine what good could come to our union from pitting one state against another, when the Miss USA pageant invited me to be a judge, my enormous ego would not let me turn it down. But before I left, I set two ethical ground rules: I would not acquiesce to the misogyny in any way; and if I slept with a contestant, I would vote for her in at least one category.
The experience was not quite as glamorous as I had hoped. Last Friday’s Donald Trump-run pageant took place in Gary, Ind., which meant it was short on the sophistication of Atlantic City and long on a really disturbing smell. Even worse, a new rule, designed to cut down on breast-augmentation surgery, allowed padding in the bikinis and dresses. It also turned out that I had been invited to judge the preliminaries, which meant that instead of sitting with Karen Duffy, Daniel Baldwin and Ernie (the black Ghostbuster) Hudson at Friday’s live telecast of the finals, I spent three days early in the week with Joel from Survivor, an executive from the CBS soap-opera division and Eddie and JoBo, Chicago’s Bumpin’ B96 morning team, whittling the contestants down to 10 semi-finalists.
We spent the first two days interviewing the contestants for the personality third of the contest. We were able to ask them about anything except current-events questions because “these women have been in a bubble for two weeks.” I’m guessing those bubbles had been forming for much longer. I never imagined I could be so bored talking to attractive women whose only goal was to impress me. I was mildly impressed by the fact that Miss Vermont had written several books, including True Beauty: A Sunny Face Means a Happy Heart, Betsy the Cow Goes to the Vermont State Beauty Pageant and What’s All the Noise About Boys? I also marveled at the ingenuity of the contestants who, not allowed to go to a gym at night, tried to lose pounds by running up and down their hotel hallway. And I also discovered a uniformity in idol worship: when asked to list those they most admire, almost all named Oprah, God, Katie Couric and Julia Roberts, in that order.
Toward the end of this portion, one contestant approached the panel and whispered, “Give me a low score. I don’t want to be Miss USA. These people are all phonies.” She said that her own bio was entirely fabricated, and that she couldn’t quit the pageant because her sponsors would be angry. She was the only contestant I wanted to win, and even though I knew it would hurt her, I couldn’t help giving her a 9.99.
Friday night, I watched Miss Texas win, the woman who answered my “Would you sleep with Donald Trump?” question with the misinformed, “I think he’s a little old for me.” After it was over, the only thing I felt was that I’d wasted two valuable TV viewing hours, and that I was the only one who knew which state really won.