Comments & Curiosities: The beauty of pageants

"There she is, Miss America." Well, sort of.

It's actually Miss Newport Beach, who will be anointed and appointed in the third annual Newport Beach Pageant, which takes place Aug. 29 on the good ship Endeavor in Newport Harbor, which is nowhere near Atlantic City and needless to say, Bert Parks will not be there.

The Newport Beach Pageant is young but has grown like Topsy in just 36 months. What started as Miss Newport Beach now includes Miss Newport Beach Teen, Junior Miss Newport Beach, Little Miss Newport Beach and Mrs. Newport Beach. Mrs. Newport Beaches can be 25 to 45, which I think is a little early on the age cutoff but that's just me.

That may be a lot of categories, but the Newport Beach Pageant follows the trend of the national pageants, which, in addition to Miss America, now include Miss Teen America, Miss Toddler America, and Mrs. America, to say nothing of all the World and Universe titles.

Was it better when there was just Miss America? Don't know, but it was definitely simpler. Women watched to see the gowns, men watched to see the bathing suits, and everyone watched the interviews to see if there was anyone who didn't want to be a pediatrician or a veterinarian or both.

This year's Newport Beach Pageant will be a reality TV feeding frenzy, starting with emcee Alexis Bellino, one of the stars of "The Real Housewives of Orange County," which will be there to film the whole enchilada and possibly use it in a future episode. What does "Real Housewives" mean exactly? Are there "Faux Housewives?" I don't get it.

And is there anywhere that doesn't have a "Real Housewives" show of its own? Seriously. If you live in a city or a state that doesn't have a "Real Housewives" show attached to it you need to churn out some e-mails and phone calls and see what the problem is. I'm sure someone is working on "The Real Housewives of Bell."

Assuming there is any room left at the Newport Beach Pageant to set up one more camera, Shari Belafonte will also be on hand, filming for a documentary she is producing called "What Is Beauty?" I'm almost tempted to go, just to watch the dueling film crews, at least one "Real Housewife", a gaggle of Miss, Junior Miss, Little Miss and Mrs. Newport Beach contestants, plus pageant wranglers, plus families, plus friends, all on one boat, all tense, some within seconds of imploding. Personally, I say we are way beyond an episode here. I'm thinking series.

As with most things, I know virtually nothing about pageants, but I have a lot of respect for the people who compete in them, whatever their age. Talk about a test of nerves. I was a judge for the Miss Costa Mesa contest a couple of times when I was in the mayor biz. I hated it. The problem was me, not them.

The contestants were nice, polite, personable young women, which only made me dislike having to vote for one over the other even more. I can still see one girl who was so nervous you could literally see her knees shaking. She made it through her speech after two false starts, but by the time she was done, I was a sweat-covered wreck.

It's an odd business these beauty pageants, no? Wait, you can't call them beauty pageants anymore. That's not allowed, ever. But whatever you call them, it all began on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, a long, long time ago. That's where the first "Miss America" pageant was held in 1921, with a grand total of eight contestants.

The winner was Margaret Gorman, a 16-year old from Washington, D.C., who was supposedly a dead ringer for Mary Pickford. As the new Miss America was crowned and took her star-turn on the Boardwalk wrapped in an American flag, labor leader Samuel Gompers told the New York Times, "She represents the type of womanhood America needs: strong, red blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests." Geez, Sam, lighten up. She's 16.

Speaking of interviews, people love to watch those just to see who will make headlines the next morning with something like "Can you define euthanasia?" "Yes, young people in China."

Of course, the All-Time/All-Universe Beauty Pageant Answer Ribbon went to Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina in the 2007 Miss Teen USA competition.

Judge: Recent polls have shown one-fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a map. Why do you think this is?"

Upton: "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some, uh, people out there in our nation don't have maps and I, uh, believe that our education, like such as in South Africa and, um, the Iraq, everywhere…and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our children."

Nailed it, Upton.

So there you have it. If you've always wanted to be a beauty queen and you live in Newport Beach, this is your time. Keep your head up, smile, and if you're going for the Little Miss Newport Beach title, stop flipping your skirt up and don't burble on the judges. It's important. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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