Miss America 2016: Betty Cantrell

Good morning America, wake up and greet your new shining star, Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell of Georgia! This was the first Miss America pageant I’ve attended and I must say that I am thrilled beyond words with the results. Yes, another year and another complete whiff on predicting the winner, but I’ll be the first to admit that the judges made a great choice. Miss Georgia was a great overall competitor from start to finish. During the evening gown session, I recall thinking to myself “I bet that’s the girl who will win it”, even though, of course, I was rooting for my own selections. Her talent (operatic vocal) blew me away. She was the last one to go and really stood out among the vocalists.

The onstage question did not go smoothly, as she had to ask the questioner to repeat, and her answer showed a lack of knowledge about the “Deflategate” football scandal in the NFL. Clearly she deserved a complete pass on that portion since what pageant girl would possibly have an opinion about whether the New England Patriots quarterback deflated footballs? The presumptuousness of the question was outrageous. “Deflategate” is not an issue of national importance. When was the last time Tom Brady was asked about a pageant controversy at a press conference? He would have been just as dumbfounded (and surely far less composed).

It is the rare MAP that I wake up the next day feeling fully satisfied with the selection of a contestant which was not in my finalist predictions. (The last time that happened was Teresa Scanlan in 2011.) But that’s how I feel. I was there and I concur. She was the right choice.

I think what really puts the icing on a great pageant is seeing the winner overcome with emotion. They did the final selection differently this year. I can’t remember ever seeing it. There were not two, but three contestants — Miss Georgia, Miss South Carolina, and Miss Oklahoma — whose names had not been called. The first, second, third, and fourth runners up had been announced, so the ladies who remained were either the getting the crown or finishing outside the Top 5. They did not know which it would be.  

Miss Georgia had to be thinking that she would be one of the odd ladies out after stumbling over her onstage question.  Her nerves also had to be wracked from being the last contestant called for both the Final 15 and the Top 10.
When they announced her as Miss America, her reaction was as authentic as they come.  Pure shock mixed with hysterical joy.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

So here’s to a memorable reign for a special lady who I will always remember as the first Miss America I ever saw crowned in person!

As for my picks overall, I didn’t do half bad.  My first three picks (Florida, South Carolina, & Alabama), all finished in the Top 10. Miss Alabama finished just one spot away from my prediction (4th instead of 3rd).  Miss Oklahoma, Miss Mississippi, and Miss Louisiana all made the Top 10 as I predicted.  Miss Iowa did not crack the Top 10, but that was more or less a pleasant surprise since I did not understand how she won two preliminaries anyway.  Although I will say I think she did surprisingly well in the swimsuit portion and I was disappointed that she did not get to show off her talent.

I was very pleased to hear Miss Arkansas’s name called for the Final 15, even though I did no think she would make it.  I feel like she did the best should could and am very proud of her.

Miss Texas showed me up, as usual. That is a yearly occurrence.  Both she and Miss Georgia made my Top 20 but were left out of my Top 16.  Foolish me.  For the second year in a row, Kansas let me down in a big way.  I will be extra cautious with picking Miss Kansases in the future.

Overall, it was a fantastic pageant.  Great people, worthy causes, and terrific competition.  Until next year!

Miss America 2016 Pregame: Live From Atlantic City

Hello there from Atlantic City! So after many years of following the Miss America pageant, I finally decided to make the trek out to the east coast to partake in the festivities. It was a remarkably smooth flight to Philly and train ride to the coast. At first blush, the city strikes me as a more extravagant and vibrant version of Galveston. I was greeted by rain upon arrival, but that did not stop me from making it to the Show Us Your Shoes Parade (and indeed, I can be seen in the photo on the headline – an Arkansas boy really stands out!).

But now that the parade and preliminary competitions are over, it’s time to get down to business and make my selections for the 2016 Miss America pageant. To get caught up, the preliminary winners were:

Miss South Carolina for lifestyle & fitness:

Miss Iowa for talent:



Miss Florida for lifestyle & fitness:

Miss Georgia for talent:



Miss Iowa for lifestyle & fitness:

Miss Louisiana for talent:


My Predictions

First, here is my traditional Top 20 list of “regional representatives” and “wildcard contestants”:

Regional Representatives

The South – Miss Florida

Southern California – Miss California

Texas – Miss Texas

Northeast – Miss New York

Psuedo South – Miss Kentucky

Alaska – Miss Alaska

Upper Midwest – Miss Wisconsin

Lower Midwest – Miss Iowa

Pacific Northwest – Miss Washington

West – Miss Idaho

Rust Belt – Miss Ohio

Big Sky – Miss Montana
Wildcard Candidates

Miss Alabama

Miss Georgia

Miss Kansas

Miss Louisiana

Miss Mississippi

Miss North Carolina

Miss South Carolina

Miss Oklahoma

Now, for my Top 16.  My motto this year: Anyone but Miss New York! (Though nothing against her personally, she seems like a very sweet and well qualified girl.)

16.  Miss Montana.

I’m going completely with my heart on this one.  I know Montana hasn’t cracked the finals in decades, but here’s something about her that is completely genuine and inspiring.  She has the charm of a Miss America, and I could see her talent going over really well with the judges.  Seriously, if she went all the way, they would have to carry me out.

15.  Miss Alaska.

I have never predicted a finalist from the Great White North, but that all changes with Miss Alaska.  Another charming girl who soaks up the spotlight.  Also one of the prettiest in the field.  Would love to see her make a deep run… but the odds are stacked against her.

14.  Miss Idaho.  

Already a professional musician, Miss Idaho brings some borderline celebrity appeal to the pageant that could boost the TV ratings.  I’m all in on her, but can the she convince the judges that being a national role model is more of a priority than her solo career?  Judge Vanessa Williams may be able to weigh in on that.

13.  Miss California.

I have to be honest, I have seen much that stands out about Miss California.  She’s not very flashy.  But she has a quiet confidence about her and has been vetted by the most populous state in the country.  I have no doubt she would do a fine job as Miss America, and that’s why she makes this list.

12.  Miss Wisconsin.

 This girl stands out from the pack. The short hair style, tattoo, and laidback demeanor show that she is confident in herself. But talent is a major question mark.

11.  Miss New York.

Oh no, not again! By this point, I have no illusions that Miss New York will skip the finals in her quest for an Empire State four-peat (I shudder to even write that.) Fortunately, this young lady makes a graceful exit right before the talent round, as the rest of the country lets out a collective sigh.

10.  Miss Oklahoma.

I saw Miss Oklahoma win her crown, so she has a special place in my heart. That being said, I just don’t think she has the “It” factor of a Miss America. This Tulsa native is a good bet to make the finals, but more than likely will bow out in the first or second round.

9.  Miss Louisiana.


Ah, a girl who hails from one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, and added the word “langiappe” to my vocabulary. I don’t see how she makes an early exit since she clearly has talent (prelim award) and a stunning physique to go with it.  The only question mark here – and it’s a big one – is poise. Also, I skipped her pageant to attend Miss Mississippi, and don’t want to deal with the guilt of knowing I blew off the future Miss America!

8.  Miss Mississippi.

Speaking of Miss Mississippi, I watched her bring home her home state’s crown in one of my most memorable pageant nights.  This is a girl who I can just as easily see winning it as missing the finals altogether. She has a huge heart, the hottest violin this side of Georgia, and I truly believe she would make an amazing Miss America.  The only problem I see is that she seems to shy away from the limelight. If the judges are as captivated by her true character as others, she has a chance. But her lack of “pageant girl” chops make her a Cinderalla in a city where the clock can strike midnight all too soon.

7.  Miss North Carolina.


Miss NC is a special young lady. She is an authentic example of grace and Southern charm. However, Miss America is still a competition. Miss North Carolina will have to prove how badly she wants the job on stage… and, if she makes the finals, I’ll be rooting for her every step of the way.

6.  Miss Iowa.

Being honest here, Iowa was not even on my radar until she won two preliminaries and became the de facto front-runner. And frankly, I still don’t get what makes her so special. But if you consider how many ladies have won the pageant from off my radar since I’ve been prognosticating– probably about half — I have come to terms with my own blind spots.  The bottom line is the judges like her, and that’s what counts. 

5.  Miss Kentucky.  

Everything about Miss Kentucky screams uniqueness and feminity. She might be the most approachable contestant in the field.  But grace can only carry you so far.  In the past, the judges have been impressed by tenacity.  She will need show America that she can compete like a champion under pressure.

4.  Miss Kansas

I got burned last year when I picked Miss Kansas to go all the way only to watch her miss the finals.  But I’m back for more!  With this year’s Miss Kansas, it all come down to being well rounded.  I feel like she is a threat in every category, has a great story, and the look of a competitor.  Fool me once, shame on me, but this time will be different.

3.  Alabama.


Miss Alabama caught my eye from Day One and hasn’t lost my attention since. She oozes relatability, it’s my favorite platform, and Alabama is due!

2.  Miss South Carolina.

Miss South Carolina is a polished candidate with all the skills needed to take the crown.  Her preliminary win confirms that she is for real.  Given the recent events in South Carolina, she would be a great sentimental choice.  She exudes strength, confidence, and maturity. The judges can’t wrong here.

And my pick for Miss America 2016 is…



A year after her older sister had to return the Miss Florida crown due to a scoring error, Miss Florida 2015 can let her sister have hers… because she will have a new one.  An extremely mature, well-rounded candidate with a great pedigree and, as a college cheerleader, competitive  fire.  She’s ready for the job, and now it’s time to go win it! Gator chomp!

Those are my picks folks!  Enjoy the pageant!


I am exceedingly disappointed with the U.S. response to ISIS.  So much that I’ve felt the need to write about it.

It is shameful that the most powerful country on earth would allow a bunch of evil thugs in the Middle East kill our citizens, threaten our country, and carry out attacks against others just for associating with America — without sending troops over to destroy them.  We are fighting a WAR on terror.  We’ve been fighting it since our towers fell in 2001.  For nearly 14 years, we searched all corners of the world to find Osama Bin Laden.  Our pursuit was tireless.  And eventually, we found him.  We killed him.  We threw his murderous body into the ocean.  And everyone in the world knew that, if you attack the U.S., we will never stop hunting you.

The Bush Doctrine is clear — we take the fight to them there, so that we don’t have to fight them here.  In my mind, it is a sound policy.  The biggest challenge we face in executing that doctrine is (1) figuring out who the terrorists are, and (2) finding them.  The war is hard to fight because we often can’t see our enemy.

Behold ISIS.  This is low-hanging fruit, people.  We have an army of tens of thousands of militants in plain view, carrying out attacks on Americans and their allies, and urging others to do the same.  We know exactly where they are.  Mosul, Iraq and Al Raqqah, Syria.  They control huge swaths of territory.

Why are we not there fighting them?

Airstrikes are clearly not enough.  The side effect is we are killing and maiming the victims who live under their rule.  It is clearly not slowing them down much.  Most importantly, the optics are terrible.  We say we are trying to “weaken” and “degrade” them, as they continue to plunder and terrorize on a weekly basis.  Weaken and degrade?  We don’t starve out or sanction terrorists, like we might do to an enemy sovereign.  We annihilate them.

Whatever the cost, we must bear it.  America doesn’t maintain the largest military in the world for show.  Not since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor have we had more reason to fight.  You don’t behead our citizens in broad daylight and live to see the new year.  An army promises to turn America into a “Muslim province” and we “degrade their capabilities”?  Please.

The American people are incensed, and they should be.  We are at WAR and our president is treating it like it’s someone else’s problem.  This is OUR problem.  They are killing Americans.  They are killing others in our name.   Six million American men, myself included, would be proud to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq, if called.   We cannot let this cancer fester like the world did with Nazi Germany.  There is no “diplomacy” with terrorists, only eradication.

Hopefully the president will get the message soon and send a fighting force sufficient to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth in a matter of months.  There is no other dignified option.

As for the other countries, shame on them, too.  They allow their own people to be murdered and cower in fear.  Just today Italy said it would not take military action even though ISIS has threatened to invade Italy from Libya.  They do nothing while the enemy gathers its strength and plots its attack.  Just like with Hitler.  When will Europe get the message?  Freedom has a price.

When it comes to the War on Terror, the U.S. cannot try to “fit in” with the rest.  We must lead.  Like it or not, that has been our place in the world since the Second World War.  There is no question about the moral imperative to swiftly defeat ISIS.  People are dying every day.  The only question is, who has the courage to spend the money and give their blood to do what is right?  If we really are exceptional as we claim, the answer is clear.

We’ve seen the airstrikes are not enough.  They are like throwing darts into a bear.  It just makes them angrier and more vicious.  It is well within our power to destroy them, and we know it.  No more “summits” or negotiations.  When our interests and moral authority are clear, we don’t need permission from the rest of the world to do what is right.  There must be a full-scale invasion of ISIS territory to defeat this enemy.  Let’s roll.

Miss New York Wins (Again)

Well, so much for that.  For the third consecutive year, a Miss New York won the Miss America pageant.  And, for the third consecutive year, she was not among my finalists.  (She was among my “party crashers,” and that’s exactly what she did.)


But predictions aside, I am very disappointed with the result.  To see my beloved Miss Arkansas and Miss Virginia (a girl I picked to place 4th) up there with Miss New York as the last three girls standing, and then have New York walk away with the crown for the third consecutive year, was soul-crushing.  The most painful part is that it was very obvious to mr that both Virginia and Arkansas had outperformed New York in all phases of the competition.  But apparently the judges didn’t see it that way.

I am very proud of my Miss Arkansas.  She held her own in swimsuit and evening gown, then hit home runs in talent and onstage question.  And most importantly, she would have made an incredible Miss America.  I’m glad that we get to keep her all to ourselves because the rest of the country clearly doesn’t deserve her!


In the end, I guess I got exactly what I wanted.  By all accounts our new Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, is a very intelligent and well spoken young lady.  If the only consideration was who would be the best ambassador for our country, she probably would have made my Top 5.  But that’s not the only consideration, and it never has been.  Miss America is not a title that is given.  It must be earned.  And she did not do that, in my humble opinion.

Like last year’s Miss New York, there was never a time when I thought she would win.  Not even for a second.  Her talent was an embarrassment.  Not only because it required no, ummm, talent, but also because she didn’t do it well.  SHe looked uncomfortable, couldn’t keep eye contact with the judges, and lost her rhythm at times.  It was embarrassing.  I felt bad for her.  And then there were four or five tremendous talents – Arkansas, Virginia, Ohio, Mississippi, and Massachusetts.  I was honestly in shock when they called her name for the Top 5.  And when she beat out Miss Arkansas?  One of the most gut-wrenching feelings of my life.

And on top of all that, Miss New York had already won it two years in a row.  Talk about bad press.  How fair does it look when Miss New York wins a Pageant held 100 miles away from New York City three times in a row?  How is the rest of the country supposed to swallow that?  In my mind, the only way New York could possibly win for a third time is if she was clearly the most deserving contestant.  She wasn’t even close.

But like I said, I got what I wanted.  I picked Miss Kansas to win it all because of her people skills, not what she had done on stage up to that point.  A lot of people were upset when Nina Davuluri won last year.  If she turns another Nina Davuluri, forget I ever wrote this post.  Talk about some big slippers to fill.  Anyway, I fully expect her to do a great job.  I just can’t shake the feeling that the competition portion of the Pageant really meant nothing.

It reminds me of Miss America 1998, when I was just a boy watching the Pageant.  From the beginning, I wanted anyone, anyone to win except Miss Illinois.  And guess who won?  You got it.

As for the rest of my predictions, I did well.  Of course, my #1 pick Miss Kansas missed the finals.  But six of my top seven made the Top 10.  And 8 of my Top 10 made the Top 12.  It’s really amazing that none of them pulled it out.  Most everyone else made my preview in some way or another.  Only Miss Idaho (America’s Choice), Miss Massachusetts, and Miss North Dakota (Miss Congeniality / Judges’ Save) came out of the blue.  All and all, this was a very competitive pageant that was a lot of fun to handicap.

One of these days all will be right with the world, and everything will make sense. Until then, goodnight.

Miss America Pre-Game Show: My Final Rankings

The big day is finally here!  Fifty-three contestants will take the stage in Atlantic City tonight to compete to become Miss America 2015.  Are you ready for our country’s ultimate showcase of fashion, talent, beauty and charm?

As always, I have ranked the top contestants in the order I think they will finish.  In descending order:


Meet Your New Miss America – Miss Kansas


My Thinking: Miss Kansas has exceptional speaking skills and is an extraordinarily well-rounded competitor.  She won both the preliminary talent and swimsuit competitions at her state pageant.  She has an inspirational story of overcoming poverty and the loss of her father.  At 23 years old, she is one of the more mature candidates on stage.  This is a woman among girls.  Although there are many worthy candidates in this year’s field, Miss Kansas would likely do the best job representing our country.  Contestants like her don’t come around often.

Why She Comes Up Short: Does not quite seem like the pageant girl “type” and lacks the pedigree of some of her competitors.  Sure, she would make a great Miss America, but can she earn the title on stage with the whole country watching?

First Runner-Up – Miss Oklahoma


My Thinking: It says a lot about the Miss Oklahoma Pageant when a girl who initially did not stand out to me as much as her predecessors winds up in the number two spot on this list.  But the preliminary swimsuit award confirms that the judges like her, and her post-award interview confirms that she would be a superb choice for the job.  This Midwestern pageant girl has it all going from a physical standpoint, is an excellent communicator, is a mature 24 years of age, and has that intangible “it” factor that pushes her to the top of the heap.  If Miss Kansas falters, Miss Oklahoma could be the next best thing.

Why She Wins: Probably the strongest overall in the swimsuit and evening gown components, Miss Oklahoma looks to be a stone cold lock for the Top 10.  Her only weakness is talent, which unfortunately is the largest component of the overall score.  A candidate with her talent – “contemporary dance” – has never won the title of Miss America.  If she can get past that hurdle, there is no stopping her.

Second Runner-Up – Miss Ohio


My Thinking: A preliminary talent winner with outstanding speaking skills, the task for Miss Ohio will be to survive the first two rounds of competition (assuming she makes the finals as expected).  I think she does, but just barely.  Her swimsuit and gown are not strong points.  However, they are probably good enough to move her into the top 10.  Once she gets to talent stage, she will get to show the world the same skills that impressed the judges this past week.  She also has a sweet, girlish charm that should play well with judges and viewers alike.  Although this could ultimately put her in the top five, she strikes me as being a little too one-dimensional to take home the crown.  That said, many others would beg to differ.

Why She Wins: This is the 50th Year Anniversary of the first and only ventriloquist to win the Miss America Pageant.  And the woman who won, Miss America 1965 Vonda Van Dyke, has been an outspoken supporter of Miss Ohio during the preliminaries and even appeared on stage to perform her act.  Plus, the state of Ohio is long overdue for a victory – their last win was in 1978.

Third Runner-Up – Miss Virginia


My Thinking: Miss Virginia has not been getting a lot of buzz in pageant circles and is not the most popular contestant on social media.  But I see some major darkhorse potential here.  Only 21 years old, she is a former Miss Virginia Outstanding Teen and has already graduated from college.  She is well-spoken and platform relating to disabilities goes well with the MAO’s affiliation with the Children’s Miracle Network.  Her swimsuit and evening gown are strengths, so I don’t see her going home early.  In my mind, it all comes down to talent, and I could certainly see her knocking it out of the park.  Miss Virginia is a contestant who could just as easily take the crown as miss the finals altogether.

Why She Wins: A true pageant girl who glows under the bright lights.  All she has to do is put it all together.

Fourth Runner-Up – Miss Mississippi


My Thinking: You simply cannot discount Miss Mississippi’s talent or star appeal.  Her impeccable Pageant pedigree is highlighted by a Miss Mississippi Outstanding Teen Award in 2007 (at the tender age of 15.).  Perhaps the most popular contestant on social media, she will likely ride a wave of support into the Top 10.  Once she gets a mic in her hands, watch out.  That being said, I do think she is more recording artist than national representative.  The Pageant does not need another Vanessa Williams.  Although all things considered, we could do a lot worse.

Why She Wins: A former American Idol finalist with experience performing under pressure in front of large TV audiences.  A dazzling talent showing could make her the obvious choice, just like Caressa Cameron in 2010 and Mallory Hagan in 2013.


6th Place – Miss Florida


My Thinking: Miss Florida is a preliminary swimsuit winner with a gorgeous evening gown, but her public speaking skills leave something to be desired.  She does not seem to have the presence and confidence of a Miss America.  Also, there have been mixed reviews about her talent.  On the flip side, she won a highly competitive state pageant and has garnered a great deal of support from pageant followers and casual observers alike.

Why She Wins: Judges miscalculate the scores in her favor.  (Just kidding!)  After charming the judges win her beauty, she becomes the first contestant in recent memory to be crowned Miss America without ever being formally crown in her own state pageant.

7th Place – Miss Arkansas


My Thinking: You know where my sympathies lie.  I am a firm believer that Miss Arkansas would make an exceptional Miss America, probably just as good as, if not better than, Kansas or Oklahoma.  There is no question that she is the one I will be rooting for tonight, and I thought long and hard about putting her in my Top 5.  The problem here is that there are just too many question marks in each phase of the competition.  Although she is a former Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen, she is also from a small town and may be out of her element in Atlantic City.  She does not have stunning beauty and her talent song – “Note To God” – may be too conservative for the tastes of some.  However, her communication skills and attitude make her stand out from the crowd.  The way I see, if my home state girl pulls off the upset I will be overjoyed beyond words, and if she doesn’t, well at least I was right.  It’s a win-win for me.

Why She Wins: The strongest candidate from Arkansas that I have seen since I started handicapping the Pageant.  She has been steadily garnering attention from others in the pageant community as a sleeper candidate.  And doesn’t it make sense that Miss America should come from the same state as where all the dresses are designed?

8th Place – Miss Texas


My Thinking: One of the strongest talents in the Pageant, Miss Texas also benefits from the prestige of her home state.  However, very little stands out to me.  She is a polarizing candidate and her wardrobe has been sharply criticized by some Pageant commentators.

Why She Wins: I’ve been proven wrong on Miss Texases before.

9th Place – Miss Minnesota


My Thinking: Miss Minnesota is a natural born Pageant girl and she is good under pressure.  That’s really all I need to know.  You don’t need the hype when you’ve got the goods.

Why She Wins: The 19-year-old is coming off a dominant sweep of the Miss Minnesota Pageant where she won both the swimsuit and talent competitions against older, more seasoned competitors.  She has all the tools, and a killer instinct to boot.  Do you really want to doubt her?

10th Place – Miss Tennessee


My Thinking: Miss Tennessee looks to be a force in all phases of competition, from great vocal talent to a smoking swimsuit body and eye-catching evening gown.  The missing elements here are the intangibles.  She is not a particularly impressive speaker and lacks the poise of a Miss America.  Not enough pedigree and too much of a girl-next-door to wind up with the roses.

Why She Wins: Tonight promises to be a battle of singers, and if Miss Tennessee comes out on top of the pack, she could become the logical choice for judges with lingering doubts about the others.


11th Place – Miss Illinois


My Thinking: Love, love, love me some Miss Illinois.  In my eyes, she is strong from head to toe, and could be a real force tonight if she makes the finals.  Well-spoken, mature, and a seasoned competitor, it’s hard for me to find any flaw in her game.  Unfortunately, she is flying completely under the radar despite being from a large state.  Her career path (music) and platform (fine arts education) may not be exactly what the Pageant is looking for.

Why She Wins: This girl is a complete package and is ready for the job.  If the judges take notice before she gets eliminated, Atlantic City could be in for a big surprise.

12th Place – Miss New Jersey


My Thinking: The hometown girl will certainly have the crowd on her side tonight.  She has been very popular with the press, but in my opinion lacks the poise and tenacity necessary for the job of Miss America.   Also, with the past two winners coming from the Northeast, the cards may be stacked against her.  I see Miss New Jersey advancing to the evening gown round and then bowing out gracefully.

Why She Wins: A popular top 5 pick in Pageant circles.  Stranger things have happened.

13th Place – Miss California


My Thinking: California is long overdue for a win, but I don’t think this is the girl who ends the drought.  To quote a Fall-Out Boy song, she’s “a little too much Sixteen Candles and not enough ‘Touch Me.'”  The whole Seaworld thing kinda creeps me out, too.  That being said, there’s a lot here to like.

Why She Wins: Anyone who wins the Miss California Pageant has the potential to make waves in Atlantic City.  No question that she is qualified for the job.

14th Place – Miss Pennsylvania


My Thinking: A preliminary talent winner with major league spunk.  I’ll be very blunt about why I don’t see Miss Pennsylvania advancing beyond the early stages of the competition: the swimsuit and evening gown are just not there.  A great talent won’t help her if she never makes it to that round.

Why She Wins: Her preliminary talent score and overall charisma give her just enough to make the Top 10.  She then grabs the mic and delivers a heart-stopping, crown-winning performance.

15th Place – Miss Michigan


My Thinking: With a solid swimsuit and gown, she has probably done enough to slip into the finals.  Her ultimate fate will be decided by her talent and interview.

Why She Wins: An inspirational story and platform.  She overcame hearing difficulties to get here, so the long odds shouldn’t phase her.

16th Place – Miss South Carolina


My Thinking: Miss SC is a pageant girl’s pageant girl.  Gorgeous, ultra-feminine, and with a laid-back demeanor, she is the epitome of easy-going Southern charm.  I just don’t see enough poise and competitive fire in her to make her a real threat tonight in a super competitive field.  She seems to be more or less along for the ride.

Why She Wins: As explained by one SC writer, Miss South Carolina “has a bright personality, a glamorous look and a strong, consistent talent. While a clogger may have never won Miss America, the energy and consistency in her routine will not be ignored by the judges. [She] also won a preliminary swimsuit award at the state level, so she will be strong in that area of competition.”  Or, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”


Miss South Dakota


My Thinking:  This one was really hard.  Here you have a stunningly beautiful girl with a very athletic build and a solid pedigree (she is a former Miss South Dakota Outstanding Teen).  She oozes confidence and has the look of a winner.  My hesitation here is mainly because she is from South Dakota.  She is not the strongest contestant from the Dakotas that I’ve seen in the past five years, and none of those girls, inexplicably, made the finals.  I’m also not sure she would be a great Miss America if chosen to serve.  In short, I’ve been down this road before and I’m not taking the bait this time.

Why She Proves Me Wrong: The winner of an unofficial “Face of Miss America” poll, Miss South Dakota’s confidence and physical fitness could make a lasting impression on the judges.

Miss Iowa


My Thinking:  Another tough cut to make.  She certainly has the potential for a deep run, and is a former Miss Iowa Outstanding Teen.  She also has the intangible “it” factor that draws judges like flies to honey.  But her physical fitness is only average and the talent come off as a bit stiff.  What really tipped the scales for me was an interview in which she talked about coming back to Iowa after the Miss America Pageant, as if she didn’t think she would.  Maybe I am reading too much into that or maybe she was just being realistic.  Either way, somebody needed to be cut.

Why She Proves Me Wrong:  She has a suitcase full of poise and charm, and absolutely nothing to lose.

Miss Hawaii


My Thinking: Would love to see her do well.  If we were choosing who would make the best representative alone, she would be in my Top 5.  I’ve read rave reviews about her intelligence and maturity.  I just don’t think she passes the test from an aesthetic standpoint and no one will be blown away by hula dancing in this strong of a field.

Why She Proves Me Wrong: Judges put brains over brawn.

Miss District of Columbia


My Thinking: She’s from D.C. and is one of the less physically gifted contestants.  Meanwhile, she has a solid talent, a wealth of connections, and several intangibles working in her favor.  This all probably leaves her standing just outside the finals.

Why She Proves Me Wrong: Piano skills and positive attitude are good enough for government work.


Miss Alabama


My Thinking:  Miss Alabama is a very obvious name missing from this list.  She was America’s Outstanding Teen in 2007 (the teen equivalent of Miss America) and was also awarded the Quality of Life Award in this year’s competition.  Unfortunately, none of the past nine QOL winners have placed in the Top 10, and 2007 is so seven years ago.  She is perhaps the most polarizing figure among pageant followers, with some ranking her as the favorite and others painting as one of the least impressive candidates in the field.  I personally tend to lean toward the latter category.  My sense is that most of the hype is based on past achievements.  I have not seen or read anything that would lead me to believe she deserves to make the finals.  Not impressed by the body, dress, talent or intro video.  Bottom line: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Why She Crashes The Party:  Big time hype and a top notch pedigree make her one of the better candidates on paper.  And did I mention she’s won a national pageant competition before?

Miss Connecticut


My Thinking:  Came very close to making my list of 20, but she’s a young girl and I had lingering questions about her maturity.  Also a former Miss Connecticut Outstanding Teen, she has earned some serious acclaim in the preliminaries and is favored by many to take home the crown.  I have no doubt that she will bring her game on stage; it’s off-stage that worries me.  At 21 years old, her career ambition is to be a sports broadcaster for horse races.  That just seem like a Miss America to me.  I tend to lean toward candidates that I feel would make excellent representatives of our country, and while Miss Connecticut has a great sense of humor, I am not sure she has the passion and focus to fit that bill.

Why She Crashes The Party: A stand out contestant with serious pageant chops.  She can hold her own with anyone on stage and has the look of a winner.

Miss Kentucky


My Thinking:  A preliminary talent winner that never caught my eye when I put together my initial list.  Miss Kentucky is charming, down to earth, and obviously very talented.  She has made serious waves with Pageant followers and is widely predicted to be a Top 5 finalist.  I’m not sure how much of that is based on her talent award and how much is based on her overall appeal.

Why She Crashes The Party:  Miss Kentucky is the type of girl that has slipped by me in the past.   I might have missed this one.

Miss New York


My Thinking:  Similar to Miss Alabama, I just have not seen anything from her that would make her stand out.  I also think there will be an inevitable bias against her since New York has won the past two Pageants.  And in comparison with her recent predecessors, she seems very ordinary to say the least.  Her talent (which apparently involves tapping a cup) has been widely criticized.  New York has been spoiled enough lately; it’s time for other states to get a shot.

Why She Crashes The Party:  The Miss New York Organization is obviously doing something right.

Miss Wisconsin


My Thinking:  Yes, I realize she is the only person to serve as Miss Wisconsin twice.   She is also a healthy 24 years old and seeking a Master’s degree in philanthropy.  I can’t point out any flaws, but I’m just not feeling it given the other options out there.  They can’t all be winners, now can they?

Why She Crashes The Party:  Miss Wisconsin is a seasoned vet who will be competing in front of one of her home state judges, Donald Driver.

That’s it, folks! I hope you are primed and ready for the show. I will probably update again late tonight or tomorrow (given how late the Pageant usually ends). Good luck and may your favorites do well!

A Breathless Moment In Time

There are moments in popular culture that are seared into your memory forever; the kinds of moments that send chills up your spine whenever you recall them.  In real life, not everyone is a hero and not every day has a dramatic plot and picture perfect ending.  That’s why when special people do come along and miraculous things do happen, we tend not to forget them.

One of those events happened thirteen years ago yesterday.  When a flight from Newark to San Francisco was highjacked and 40 brave Americans paid the ultimate price to save countless others.  The men and women aboard that plane rose up against the evil that stood before them, and rather than go quietly to their graves, sent the wretched instruments of terror hurtling to earth in a blaze of glory.  We haven’t forgotten them, and we never will.

That’s the spirit of America.

The weekend of the Miss America Pageant is now upon us.  And tonight I want to take a break from the updates and predictions to remember one of those breathless moments in time.

The moment happened in last year’s Pageant.  At the tender age of sixteen, Myrrhanda Jones was crowned Miss Florida’s outstanding teen.  This honor is generally a stepping stone to the big pageant.  And sure enough, four years later, she was crowned Miss Florida 2013.  It was a title she had been working for her entire life.


Myrrhanda Jones as Miss Florida Outstanding Teen 2009.


Four years later, as Miss Florida 2013.

Myrrhanda had an usual talent.  She wasn’t a singer, dancer, or musician.  Her gift was the ability to twirl a baton.  In her pageant career, she wowed her audiences with her incredible ability to spin two, and sometimes three, wands at lightning speed, over her back and shoulders, and tossing them high into the air.  All the while spinning and twirling her body and entertaining the crowd with true showmanship.  She had even performed her talent at the London Olympics.   She was regarded as having one of the superior talents in the 2014 Miss America field.

After training for months on end to prepare for her one and only Miss America Pageant, she arrived in Atlantic City full of hope and energy.  Then, the unthinkable happened.  As she was warming up for her routine on the final night of preliminaries, her knee buckled and she fell to the stage in excruciating pain.  She had completely torn her ACL and partially torn her MCL.  The type of injury that would immobilize a professional male athlete in his prime for nearly a year, if not longer. Any rational person upon hearing that news would have assumed that her Pageant was over.


Only it wasn’t.

Immediately after the injury, Myrrhanda announced that she intended to still compete.  Within hours of her injury, she was fitted with a knee brace.  She returned to the stage the same night and won the final preliminary talent award.  Since the preliminary competition is not televised, many assumed the award was given out of sympathy.


Myrrhanda, on the right, with her preliminary talent award.

On the night of the competition, social media was abuzz with news that the girl with the torn ACL would be competing.  She quickly became a fan favorite and Internet sensation.  “I firmly believe if there’s a will, there’s a way. I willed myself to be here, I willed myself to win Miss Florida, and I’m willing myself to win Miss America,” Myrrhanda said.  She then added:  “I’m finishing this thing.”

It’s hard to imagine being 20 years old and walking out across a stage on national TV and a live audience of thousands, in the biggest moment of your life.  Knowing that your every step and gesture is being judged and scrutinized.  It is unfathomable to do that with a torn ACL and virtually no time to practice walking in a knee brace.  But that is what she was about to do.  And. It. Sounded. Crazy.

The millions watching the Pageant cringed at the thought of what they were about to see.  Would she trip and fall?  Would she aggravate her injury and collapse in pain?  Or was she going to pull off the most miraculous victory of all time?  The possibilities were limitless, and we couldn’t look away.

The Pageant began and Miss Florida was introduced.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as she made it through the opening routine without catastrophe.  Then it was time to call the finalists, and sure enough, Myrrhanda was on the list.


The swimsuit competition began and Myrrhanda carried herself with breathtaking poise and grace, as if she had been walking in a knee brace her entire life.  After advancing to the next round, she elegantly strutted her evening gown like a pro.  At this point in the Pageant, there were only 12 contestants left.  Only ten would be chosen to compete in the talent portion of the competition.  Had she impressed the judges enough?  Would her name be called?

Over the next half hour, Myrrhanda listened as nine other contestants were called, but she was not.  There was only one name left to call, and three remaining contestants.  Myrrandha’s storybook journey was on the brink of ending and everyone held their breath.  Everyone could see and feel how much she wanted this — maybe as much as anyone had wanted anything.  Chris Harrison opened the envelope . . .

“The final talent performance, and moving on . . . I hope that knee can hold up a little longer . . .”

The rest of what he said was inaudible.  Atlantic City split open with such a deafening, ground-shaking roar that it must caused waves in the Pacific.  Myrrhanda pumped her fist in the air like she was about to win the Super Bowl!

The moment she had been waiting for her entire life was here.  The final phase of competition in the Miss America Pageant.  And there she stood, all alone, knee brace and all, in front of a country full of captivated onlookers.  An ordinary person in her place would not have been able to hold a glass of water without spilling it.

And then she set the stage on fire: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BgOO6yjAoFg


By the time she was done, I was sure we had our next Miss America.  Never had I seen something like that before.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that it was one of the most gritty and incredible live performances in the history of American television.


Myrrhanda’s parents were emotional after witnessing their daughter’s inspired performance.


Myrrhanda celebrates as she is announced as a Top 5 finalist.

Unfortunately for Myrrhanda, she had the bad luck of competing with one of the most outstanding young women of her generation, Nina Davuluri, and ultimately placed third runner-up.  But there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was a winner that night.  The 2014 Miss America Pageant will always be known for the girl Florida who shone like a star under the bright lights of the big stag against the greatest odds.  True to form, she kept a positive attitude despite coming up short.  Because she knew, as did everyone else, that she gave it all she had.

And that’s the spirit of America.

Miss America Preliminary Night 3

And the final night preliminary winners are:


Miss Maryland and Miss Pennsylvania!

Miss Maryland – Lifestyle & Fitness


Miss Pennsylvania – Talent


That brings my preliminary total to four out of six, which is the same as two out of three, which again, according to Meatloaf, ain’t too shabby.  Now that the preliminaries are over, fifteen contestants have earned their way to the finals.  Of course, we will not find out who they are until Sunday night.  In addition, America gets to vote one special contestant into the finals, for a total of 16 finalists.

Interesting fact: Did you know that every gown that will be worn in the Pageant this year was made and designed in my home state of Arkansas? http://www.arkansasmatters.com/story/d/story/only-in-arkansas-one-designer-dresses-all-miss-ame/32659/Z4qTWTlCQUahKtkmpXp_bA

The ladies can thank Tony Bowls of England, Arkansas for their elegant evening wear.  I don’t know him personally but he lives about 20 minutes from where I grew up.  Great work, Tony!

Who will the new Miss America be?  All will be revealed in the next 72 hours.

Purple & Black

BALTIMORE — She stood between two cars beneath an underpass outside of M&T Bank Stadium, but Christina Burke wasn’t hiding early Thursday evening — far from it.

The Bel Air, Maryland, resident and Baltimore Ravens season-ticket holder displayed the Ray Rice jersey she wore not so much as a matter of pride but as a show of her belief in fairness and redemption.

“I still support Ray Rice,” Burke said at a tailgate outside of the stadium. “I just don’t believe one action or mistake should define a person.”

The home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the Ravens’ first game since Rice was released by the team and then suspended indefinitely by the NFL after video was released Monday of him striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino elevator in February. Rice had been serving a two-game suspension for the incident, which was scheduled to end Friday, at the time of the video’s release.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has come under intense fire for his handling of the situation.

A handful of Ravens fans told ESPN.com that they believe Rice was not treated fairly since nothing new about the case emerged this week except the video, which sent shockwaves from Capitol Hill to California.

Sandra Mattocks, a Ravens season-ticket holder, said Rice has been condemned and further punished only because of the public outcry that the video stirred.

“I have a problem with that,” said Mattocks, who lives in Essex, Maryland. “They knew exactly what the facts where when they made [Rice’s initial] punishment. I’m very disappointed with the NFL and the Ravens for their treatment of Ray Rice.”

Burke and Mattocks both took issue with the Ravens abruptly releasing Rice and the NFL suspending him indefinitely since it had long been in the police report that Rice punched Palmer. Mattocks said Rice should have been suspended six games at most since the policy that the NFL enacted after initially punishing Rice mandates a six-game suspension for first-time offenders of domestic abuse.

Burke echoed similar sentiments.

“People were so quick to hang him out to dry,” she said. “People saw the video, but did they get new evidence?”

Bobby Kemp, a longtime season-ticket holder, said he also had a problem with how so many were quick to judge Rice.

“The Man above is the only one who’s perfect,” said Kemp, who lives in Baltimore County.

Miss America Preliminary Night Two

Night Two of the Pageant has come to a close in Atlantic City.  Your preliminary winners for tonight are:


Miss Kentucky and Miss Oklahoma!

Miss Oklahoma – Lifestyle & Fitness


Miss Kentucky – Talent


This makes the second year in a row that a Miss Oklahoma has won a fitness award (something in the water?) and a violinist has won a talent award.  Of course, Miss Oklahoma is another girl from my initial group.  As the meatloaf song goes, three out of four ain’t bad.

You will also be pleased to know that after last night’s scare Miss Rhode Island recovered quickly and rejoined the competition tonight!  It was a delight to see her back on stage and doing well.

Meet the Judges:

The Pageant judges held a press conference today and offered some insights into their decision-making process.  Below are some pictures of the men and women who will be choosing our next Miss America.  They look like a pretty good crew.  (Football fans will recognize Donald Driver, former wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers.)












In other news: Chris Harrison (of Bachelor / Bachelorette fame) will once again be hosting the pageant.

More news: It was announced that, for the fist time, the Pageant TV coverage will begin an hour early on Sunday Night. The preview will be called Countdown to the Crown and will go behind the scenes to show the contestants as they prepare for their big night. As if there wasn’t enough to be excited about already!

And one writer has already made her picks.  And did a pretty fine job if you ask me!  She’s a lot higher on Miss New York and Miss Alabama than I am, but she may be right and I may be wrong.  I’ll guess we will have to see.

That’s all for tonight, folks.  See you tomorrow.

Miss America 2015 Preliminary Night One

The Miss America competition is officially underway! The contestants have been broken into three groups, each of which will take turns competing in the talent, evening gown, swimsuit, and onstage question portions over the course of three nights.  Two awards for Lifestyle and Fitness and Talent are handed out each night.  The winners for tonight were:


Miss Florida and Miss Ohio!

Miss Florida – Lifestyle & Fitness

image  image


Miss Ohio – Talent

image image

Both of the winners were from my group of 20.  I am off to a good start.  Miss Ohio also mentioned in her post-pageant interview that it has been exactly 50 years since the first and only ventriloquist won Miss America.  And Vonda Van Dyke, Miss America 1965, was there tonight to cheer her on.  The two have become good friends.

The scariest moment of the night came when Miss Rhode Island fainted and fell on stage due to heat exhaustion.  She had be assisted by paramedics and was taken the hospital.  There has been some speculation that it may have been a stroke.  Lets hope she is feeling better and makes a full recovery.

Here are some pictures of Miss Rhode Island before she fainted:

image  image

Then next thing you know, everyone was huddled around her.


This makes the second pageant in a row that a serious medical emergency has occurred during the preliminaries.  You will recall that last year Miss Florida tore her ACL during the preliminary talent portion.  These pageants are tougher than they look, folks.

Here are some more pictures of a few of my favorite contestants from tonight:

image image

Miss Iowa singing and practicing her introduction.


Miss New Jersey dancing and practicing her introduction.


Miss Texas in swimwear and evening gown.


Miss California in her evening gown.


Miss District of Columbia on the piano.


Miss Michigan fielding an onstage question.


Miss Illinois singing opera.

image image

Miss Hawaii showing off her swimsuit and evening gown.



Miss Minnesota practicing her wave.



One contestant I’m beginning to wish I included on my list: Miss Alabama.


And last but not least, our lovely Miss America chatting with the host.

Goodnight everyone and see you tomorrow night.