In Macon County, there are a handful of things that everyone does. They are the rites of passage, the checklist for anyone who wants to go through the Macon life with their proverbial bucket list well in hand.
Ride in a float for one of the parades (Christmas, Homecoming; doesn’t matter). Attend a Vacation Bible School. Participate in 4-H. Pick a sport and give it a go for at least one year. Check out Hillbilly Days, Makin’ Macon Fit, singing convention, and the fair. Host a cookout or a roadblock to raise funds for something. And, of course…
Enter a pageant.
Everybody does pageants in this town! When I first moved here, I was mystified by this tradition. In Nashville, the only pageants I ever heard of were the ones you saw on TV; here, it’s hard to find a single person who hasn’t been in a pageant.
So this week, I decided that it was time for me to enter the fray. The fair is here, and with a pageant that is especially designed for married folks like me (The Mrs. Macon County pageant, ages 21-55), it seemed like the perfect opportunity for my first (and last) walk across the stage.
So, as a perfect stranger to the whole scene, I decided that the best thing to do was to call in an expert.
Kayla Day was the obvious choice. Day was 2006 Fairest of the Fair, 2006 River Teen, and 2004 Portland Strawberry Queen (“That’s actually a bigger deal than it sounds like,” she told me); she also competed several times in the TN Teen USA pageant. Just as importantly, she has coached 15-20 people for pageants over the past decade.
So naturally I asked her to come on over and do a coaching session. She is now the official Macon County Times pageant correspondent, and her words of wisdom were both dazzling and confusing. Here is what we covered:
Before we did anything else, Kayla had us go out into the lobby and practice walking and standing. “It’s very important,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know how important it is.”
Apparently, pageant girls are supposed to stand with their feet in the shape of a ‘T’. I always knew that part, because of TV, and the pageants I’ve seen around here. What I didn’t know is that while you place your feet in this T shape, you are also to slightly bend your front knee, pull your shoulders back, tuck your pelvis forward in a most unnatural manner, and –all while maintaining the T—tilt the rest of your body to face the judges, with one arm in front and one behind.
This, turns out, makes a body feel like a cross between a flamingo and a paraplegic. If anyone can hold this position with a smile (instead of an expression that communicates a long history of chronic constipation), I’m impressed. And apparently they can, because I’ve seen it.
Then, there was the walk. Apparently, walking in a pageant and walking a straight line during a DUI pullover takes exactly the same skill set. In heels, the pageant queen is supposed to take lengthy, confident strides, along a straight line, with the toes pointed slightly outwards (this, Kayla explained, elongates the legs). She is also not allowed to fall, to cry, to take off her heels, or to Karate chop other contestants, a la Charlie’s Angels. Duly noted.
Should you cry when the winners are announced?
I didn’t actually ask Kayla this question, but I did look it up online, and apparently the rule is this: Did you win? If yes, you may cry. Did you lose? If yes, then you may not cry.
Kayla was very adamant about the importance of the interview. “A lot of girls get really nervous and make a really huge deal out of interviews. And it’s a really big part of your score… but it’s not difficult.”
Questions, she said, could be about anything. Yourself, something going on in the news, or questions about your hometown. You should know that stuff, “but if you don’t,” she said, “make something up. You’re not being judged on your opinions in the interview; you’re being judged on how you handle the situation. So you basically just have to sound confident in your answer, and they’re going to believe it…
“If you don’t know something, don’t stand there and say ‘um, uh, um…’ Just say ‘I am undecided on that issue right now.’ You basically just said ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’, but it sounded much better.”
So… it’s almost like being a politician? I asked. “Yes,” she said.
What if I want to use a big word in the interview? I asked her. Do they like big words, or do they like small words?
“Well…” she thought about it. “It’s all right to use big words, if you use them correctly.”
Decent advice for any life situation.
I did some more research after she left. Then I practiced answering some potential questions that seemed likely to come up:
“Considering America’s struggling economy and high unemployment rate, which menu item at Sonic would you order right now if you were there?” “Which is your favorite Jane Austin novel, and why?” “The 2nd Amendment of the Constitution grants citizens of this country the right to bear arms. Do you like to go hunting on the weekends?”
I think I’m ready to go.
Should you cry during your interview?
This was another internet question I came across. Apparently, you may cry during interviews, but only if the importance of the question carries you into genuine emotion. Do not cry out of embarrassment over your answer (like, such as, if you mispronounce ‘The Iraq’.)
Kayla is also 100% up on the most current formal fashions. She has been to the buying floor this season already, and she says that it’s all about bright colors and creative necklines. No more of the boring strapless styles; dresses have sleeves now. One shoulder, off the shoulder, sheer overlays with large jeweled faux necklaces. She showed me some pictures, and they are quite fabulous.
Unfortunately, my pageant budget is $0, because I don’t think I can justify this to my husband as a necessary expense. So I called up my sister and asked her if she had anything. She used to be a ballroom dance instructor and competitor, so I figured she’d have something with sparkles on it.
She does. We’ll see if it works.
Hair and makeup
“People will always have to wear more than they usually do,” said Kayla. “That’s something not a lot of people understand fully. So… even if you feel a little funny in the mirror when you get through putting it on, you’re going to be good on stage. Because you need more lip color than normal, more blush than normal, even throw on some fake eyelashes if you’re comfortable with that.”
I’m decidedly uncomfortable with that, but I think I could be persuaded. My ex-dancer sister also has a full stock of those fake eyelashes, so maybe I can use some of hers.
And the hair? “Well, I like big hair,” said Kayla. “But that’s because I look a little funny with flat hair.”
Well, I don’t know how I look with big hair, I tell her, but I’m willing to give it a shot. How does one go about it?
“Backcombing,” she said. Oh, I said. Backcombing. I’ll try that.
Maybe these tips will also be helpful to the other pageant hopefuls out there this season. Here’s to you, pageant girls! We’re all winners!
And here’s to world peace.