Monday, June 25, 2012

Judging the Miss New Mexico Pageant, 2012

(written on the plane - please excuse all grammatical errors and stream of consciousness writing)

How I came to judge the Miss New Mexico Pageant! 

I love to meet fans!  I feel making that connection is so important and meaningful, for both them and me.  After a concert, I actually look forward to the autograph line!  However, I get a lot of interesting invitations from the folks coming through that line.  It’s something that you let roll off and not take too seriously.  It’s just the nature of the profession.
I’ve heard a lot, so when I was in Lubbock, TX last winter performing with Mannheim Steamroller, I didn’t take too seriously the lovely lady that asked me to judge the Miss New Mexico Pageant in June, or the handwritten card she gave me that said the same.  Until….I turned the card over and saw the printed side, which said “Carol Henry – Executive Director, Miss New Mexico Pageant”.  Then I said something that stuck with her – “I am intrigued!”

Since that time in late 2011, Carol and I have had a great e-mail dialogue, getting to know each other, discussing the pageant and the specifics, and more importantly, being honest about how unlikely it would be for me to actually have that amount of time off in mid June, which is one of my busiest touring months with Dennis DeYoung. 

It must have been fate that I was meant to judge this pageant.  With almost every week of summer being booked, amazingly, the pageant dates didn’t fill in with concerts, and on June 20, I found myself on a 6 AM plane to El Paso TX, en route to Ruidoso, New Mexico! 

Although the pageant festivities began for me in New Mexico on June 20, my job started several weeks before that, when I received a very thick binder in the mail with all the contestants head shots, resumes, platforms (i.e. missions for the year), and statements, along with all the rules of judging in the Miss America program.  My instructions were to read everything, and then come up with 4 specific questions for each contestant, along with 10 general questions I would be able to ask any of them for their interview portion of the pageant.  After the initial excitement of seeing these lovely young ladies head shots wore off, I was left with one thought – “This is a lot of work!!!”  However, since I don’t do anything half way, I rolled up my sleeves and started my preparation.  By the time I headed to New Mexico, I was ready. 

Perhaps surprisingly for it being my first pageant, I went into this with extremely high expectations.  With these contestants all having educational achievements off the charts, platforms ranging from preventing domestic violence, environmental issues, children’s medical research, and career ambitions ranging from doctors, lawyers, teachers, colonels in the military, and more, I knew I wasn’t just judging a beauty contest.  I had the bar set extremely high from the beginning and expected these ladies to nail it. 

They nailed it.

For 4 days, a panel of esteemed judges (and me, lol) was treated to a competition of 19 sophisticated, classy, charming, and talented young ladies.  All of who were absolutely beautiful in many ways.  It was a difficult judging process, and one that none of us took lightly.  We handled this with great care, knowing that we were going to change the life of one person forever, and hopefully inspire many of the contestants. 

At our first judges meeting, the executive director Carol told us something that had a lasting impact on me the whole time I was making my considerations.  She said that this group of young ladies had the potential to have a Miss America.  The winner of Miss New Mexico always competes in the Miss America pageant, but this year, the task in front of us was to pick a winner.  No pressure there.  ;) 

I am not sure about confidentiality rules regarding the Miss America organization and letting you in on the judging process.  So, without going into any detail about the actual judging, we as a collective 7 judges are extremely proud of our new Miss New Mexico, CANDICE BENNATT.  Not only will she be a great ambassador for the state of New Mexico, I know that she is going to blow them away at the Miss America pageant. 

One unexpected surprise was how fun it was to meet and spend time with the other judges.  I was honored to be judging with Katie Harman (Miss America 2002) and Erin Griggs (Miss New Mexico 2002), Jayne Carroll, Jerry Westheimer, Tom Battin, and Barbara Rice, all of who were talented, smart minded, and an absolute pleasure.  I feel like I developed some real friendships!  And, to be treated like a star all week by Carol, Karen, Judy, and Jim was just so very special.  This, along with the host parties and a multitude of guest visits from former and current Miss and Miss Teens from across the country made this a memory I will never forget.

Oh, did I mention, I performed twice, including on stage at the finale?  :)   

My Mom is a huge Miss America fan.  It was such fun sharing pictures with her that I would snap this week on my phone (like me with our emcee Kellye Cash, Miss America 1987!).   Growing up, the pageant was mandatory watching at our home – a tradition that she still has, and has been adapted by my sister as well.  I, unfortunately, had lost touch with the pageant over the years. 

This year, I’ll be watching…and rooting.  Go Candice!!! 

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