Over the last three days, eight other judges and myself, interviewed 278 girls, saw 278 girls parade in front of us in their bathing suits and evening gowns, only to narrow this group of independent, confident and beautiful young women down to one, the new Miss California USA.
The process started early Friday morning; we spent the day interviewing two-thirds of the women and finished Saturday morning. The interview process involves each girl coming in, standing in front of the panel of judges and getting to know her. The saying, “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is appropriate for this situation. This is the first time we got to meet each girl and it is the first time for her to shine and make each judge remember her. There were a few girls who cried, many had emotional stories of their journey to where they are now in life, and most said that the pageant gave them confidence and helped to inspire them to get in shape. I was surprised at how many potential doctors and lawyers were in the competition, along with women who had lost significant amounts of weight, and for the first time there were two openly lesbian participants. So above all else, I would say that these 278 women represented DIVERSITY more than anything.
Of course, that’s not to say that more than once we didn’t receive what to me was the most obvious answer to our questions (No… not world peace!), but all of the women kept expressing the fact that they were making new friends for life, and all in just under 12 hours of being there, but hey, I am not a woman competing in a pageant, so maybe the stress and competition builds best friends quickly!
After interviews were over, it was time to judge all the women in their bathing suits and evening gowns. I had narrowed 278 girls down to 43 at that point, and after these stages of competition, some of my favorites dropped from my top contenders and some of the women who were not even on my radar pushed their way into the Battle for the Tiara. After the preliminary round was over, the other judges and I each chose our Top 20 and like everyone else, we waited to see what the hours of judging had produced…
The final day of the pageant was a warm night in the dessert, and all the judges ate dinner and then headed to the theater for the big show…which started with a dance number with all 278 women on stage dressed in short shorts or studded skinny jeans and a cut t-shirt, a la “Flashdance”. Then, the Top 20 were announced and from there we had to start all over! The slate was wiped clean.
The Top 20 competed in the bathing suit competition and it was a full on runway show, with bathing suit accessories, tons of bling and style. While the judges votes were tallied, there were video montages of the few days the girls were there, recaps of the time Katie Blair, the current Miss California USA, spent representing the crown, introduction of the judges and other fun highlights. Then, the Top 20 became the Top 10 and it was time for evening gowns.
The girls changed, walked the catwalk in their sequin and sparkles and soon became the Top 5. Next stop, the interview question… some were able to give a great answer to their questions and some were less than prepared to speak to the entire auditorium. Finally, the ballots were tallied, and the new Miss California USA 2012 is Natalie Pack, a 22-year-old who plans to attend medical school and will go on to compete in June for the title of Miss USA!
After all was said and done, I feel like I was definitely a part of an extraordinary experience!