At 6:20 p.m. last Saturday, Miss Yosemite Valley Jane Kennedy became a footnote in history as she bounded off the rare, white Marley floor in a white, two-piece swim suit at the Saroyan Theatre stage.
That’s because the swimsuit will no longer be a part of the Miss America/Miss California competitions following massive changes to the pageants following embarrassing – and sexist – e-mails that were exchanged among the pageant executives.
They have since left the organization, and television commentator Gretchen Carlson (Miss America 1989, and now Miss America board chair) has overhauled the pageant. The evening wear competition will give way to whatever the contest chooses.
“We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance,” said Carlson. “That’s huge.”
That means that the newly crowned Miss California, 23-year-old Lodi resident MacKenzie Freed, will head to Atlantic City for the Miss America competition in September as one of 50 guinea pigs for what is being billed as an interactive, on-stage interview with the judges.
“I’m sure it will be a positive and encouraging change,” said Freed, who won the title on her fourth try, minutes after hearing her name called as the successor to Jillian Smith.
It is as difficult to find a pageant contestant who is celebrating the retirement of the swim suit. After all, the Miss California Pageant was founded as a swim suit competition in 1924.
“It was always very fun for me, and I love being able to show off a different body type than what is typically portrayed in the pageant world,” said Nessary, one of nine Latinas who competed in Miss California last week. “Especially coming from the fact I’m a Latina and I have that kind of body more like J. Lo than maybe a Victoria’s Secret model.
“I like showing girls out there that it doesn’t matter what your build is as long as you’re living a healthy life and you’re going after your dreams.”
No politics here
The pageant is not a political event. However, there were some moments that couldn’t be ignored. Especially with the on-stage questions, one of which was about transgenders serving in the military.
Asked if President Donald J. Trump’s use of Twitter was a good way to establish public policy, Miss Silicón Valley Teen Emma Gerson didn’t hesitate in saying no.
“It shows a disrespect for policy and government,” said Gerson, to the loudest roar of applause during that segment.
There were other political connections during the pageant:
▪ Fresno communications director Mark Standriff served as one of the six Miss judges.
▪ Miss Central Valley Alexandra Macedo is the daughter of City of Tulare Mayor David Macedo.
▪ Former Assemblymember Connie Conway, who missed out on her candidacy for the state Board of Equalization, was among the judges for the Miss Teen pageant.
▪ Trump sent signed, gold award proclamations to 2017 Miss California Jillian Smith and 2017 Miss California Teen Violet Jo Hansen.
Change is good
The new stage for Miss California – the Marley dance floor, the lower platforms in the back of the stage, the “Charo-looking” cloth spirals that bounced off the lighting colors – was a good move for the pageant.
Not-so-good was squeezing the Miss preliminaries into three days (down from four) and the Teen prelims into two days (down from three). That meant pageant-goers didn’t walk out of the theater until after 11 p.m.
Saturday was reserved only for the Miss finals, so the program wrapped up within two hours.
Talent on display
Whenever I’m asked about the pageant (Vida en el Valle has covered the pageant whenever there has been at least one Latina participant), my response is that there is no better entertainment around. And, no, I’m not talking about the swim suit competition. (For the record, we don’t publish swim suit photos unless the contestant is in the finals, or it’s part of feature story).
This year, there were two baton twirlers, three Bollywood dancers, one Mexican folkloric dancer, a vertical fitness routine (some might inappropriately call it a pole dance routine), tap dancers, and several monologues.
The vocalists ranged from gospel to operatic pieces to soul to Broadway.
The pianists performed pieces that I had to Google just to get the song title correct!
In past years, there have been quick-drawing artists, comedians, and harp players.
When headlines don’t fly
Right before the Saturday night recap of the Miss California final got posted, a co-worker gave two thumbs down to a headline that blended the winner’s name (MacKenzie Freed) with the fact that the swimsuit competition would be eliminated at the upcoming Miss America Pageant.
The nixed headline: Miss California freed of swimsuit at upcoming Miss America.
Juan Esparza Loera has been editor of Vida en el Valle since it first published in August 1990. Send comments, questions or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org