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January 29, 2013

From Pageants to Politics

Long derided for its swimsuits, sequins, and spray tans, the Miss American Pageant has undergone an extreme makeover, becoming an unlikely boot camp for political up-and-comers. Here she is — ready for office.

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Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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Over the course of its 92-year history, the fabled Miss America Pageant has seen its share of quirky performances for the talent portion of the competition: a dramatic reading of an anti-nukes screed, a banjo-strummed rendition of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song, even a ventriloquist's re-enactment of Laverne & Shirley. This year Maryland native Allyn Rose, a 5'9" January Jones look-alike competing as Miss District of Columbia, adds her name to the list of Miss America curiosities, with a dance routine set to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" — performed on roller skates. The Miss America Pageant is scheduled for January 12 in Las Vegas, and if Rose has her way, that 90-second roller boogie won't make her a standout at the competition as much as her grand plans for what comes after the crown. "This is a stepping stone for my ultimate goal," she says earnestly. "I'd like to be the governor of Maryland."

It used to be that such lofty aspirations — the pageant equivalent of declaring that your career goals include achieving world peace and an end to hunger — could be counted on to draw snickers and eye rolls. Not anymore. While the crown once attracted scores of wannabe models, news anchors, and actresses (the ever-popular "communications majors"), in recent years, the profession of choice for a Miss America prospect has shifted to politics. The pageant system, long dismissed as a feminist punch line, has emerged as a surprisingly effective training ground for a new generation of female leaders. That's right: Miss America, relic of the Joan Holloway era when a girl went to college to get an M.R.S. and her potential could be gauged by her measurements (included in the official pageant program until 1985), has rather discreetly and with little fanfare been recast as a quasi — boot camp for would-be politicos, sharpening core skills like public speaking, networking, glad-handing, and grace under pressure.

"The women in our system are career-minded young ladies who go into many fields, so seeing them go into politics doesn't surprise us," says Miss America President and CEO Art McMaster.


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