Before last week I had never been to a beauty pageant. I watched numerous Miss America broadcasts over the years, but could never really relate. I am not – and never was – tall, slim and talented in a public performance way. I do not sing (I am tone deaf) or play a musical instrument, and my dancing is for fun and definitely not up to public appearance standards.
I witnessed the Ms. New Jersey Senior America Pageant on Thursday, June 7th. My zumba instructor was one of the contestants. Several zumba aficionados, including me, from her classes attended, cheering her on. We were excited for Carol and anticipated an interesting afternoon as we descended on Harrah’s casino in Atlantic City with signs and cameras in hand.
The pageant booklet explains the purpose of the event is to honor women reaching the “Age of Elegance.” Judging criteria include the interview (completed before the show), evening gown, inner beauty and talent.
Fifteen contestants from throughout the state vied for the crown. I have no idea what causes someone to enter this kind of competition. The women in Carol’s Seniorcize class prompted her to enter the pageant. Quite frankly I had never heard of the event. Whatever each woman’s motivation, they deserve a lot of credit for spending considerable time (and probably money) preparing for the event.
The show began with an introduction to all contestants. As the announcer related their name, occupation or current activities and family data, the women slowly walked across the stage.
The second event was the evening gown presentation. Each contestant, escorted onto the stage by young military personnel, stepped up to the microphone and gave a short monologue on their philosophy of life. A couple of women indicated why they were participating in the pageant. One woman announced she was celebrating five years breast cancer-free; another wanted to show her grandchildren they could accomplish anything they set their mind to in life.
Many of the women worked, while others were retired. They included an award-winning professional photographer, a lawyer, educators and teachers, a nurse and other health care professionals, financial planner, and of course our own personal trainer and zumba instructor. The program listed the numerous volunteer organizations the women supported.
The show included a choreographed musical number comprising all contestants, and musical numbers by previous contestants and contest winners.
I found the talent portion of the event the most entertaining. Contestants exhibited their talent as singers, piano players and dancers. Some spotlighted dual talents as singers and dancers, and one individual as a singer and piano player. It was obvious some had stage experience and professional training. Others organized a number and practiced just for the pageant. They all deserved credit for hard work and the courage to perform before an audience.
The key qualification for Ms. Senior America is age. Competitors must be at least 60 years old. I guessed most were in their 60s. One beautiful, feisty woman with a magnificent voice was probably 80-ish. Some were short, most of average height and there were a couple of tall candidates. A minority was slim, most carried a few extra pounds and a couple were quite plump. All had wisdom lines etched on their faces. Most died their hair, but there were a couple of silver-haired beauties (Most likely they also had some help from their hairdresser).
Our crew of enthusiastic spectators was not objective, but there was no question our favorite, homegrown participant would be among the top finishers. We felt strongly she was in contention to win following the gown, the group number, and the talent competition. We knew our contestant performed brilliantly.
There were a couple of musical numbers by past contestants to pass the time as the judges completed their task, and then the finale began.
Each contestant was once again introduced. They stood in line across the stage, awaiting the judges’ decision.
The announcements began with the fourth runner up. As the names were proclaimed, we (Carol’s cheering section) got more and more excited. Carol was not called.
There was a long pause before the winner was announced. It was probably only a few seconds, but seemed a long time to us and doubtless like an eternity to Carol, standing quietly, hopefully on stage. My camera was focused on her, and we all held our breath. Then the announcement:
Ms. New Jersey Senior America 2012….
And we all yelled and clapped and jumped for joy.
Carol now prepares for the national pageant. And she has obligations that will keep her busy throughout the year.
Our next group get together will be at the same place - Harrah’s casino, Atlantic City - in October for the national competition. Stay tuned…