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Judging Miss California

By, Tim Neavin, M.D.

I returned Sunday from an exciting 3 days in Long Beach where I served as a judge for the Miss California Pageant.

The weekend was met with fun and an unpredicted anxiety as the judges and I were faced to continuously narrow down our selection of beautiful, talented girls one by one. I was one of 14 judges, 8 for the Miss group and 6 designated for the Miss Teen group. While I was initially assigned to the Miss group, final changes were made to balance to the panel as I was swapped into the teen competition. I arrived to the Westin Hotel in Long Beach late Wednesday night following a fantastic New Year Eve party spent with good friends. After a good night of needed sleep, I met with the other judges in the morning for a review of the activities for the weekend and the judging process. I was initially struck by the wonderful diversity of the judging panel, comprising actors such as Quinton Aaron from Blind Side, Hector David Jr from Power Rangers, prior pageant winners such as Lindsay Douglas and Jane Quebe, former Major League baseball player and sports announcer F.P. Santiago, among other interesting celebrities, fashonistas, and socialites such as Olga Kay, Regina Rodriguez, Tarah Byrnes, Jane Netheron, and Nicole Carathon. The Miss and Teen groups then sat through an elaborate presentation of the pageant competition and rules for the judges. Rule 1: Judges are not to discuss any of the pageant girls. This struck me as a bit of a surprise since we were there collectively to choose a winner.

However, as the events progressed it made more and more sense. All judges arrived from different backgrounds and experiences, and it added no value to the system by sharing opinions and potentially influencing the competition. The pageant girls oddly enough became the elephant in the room, because as the the mornings, days, and nights came and gone, the judges spent breakfasts, lunches, and dinners talking about everything except the contestants whom we judged just hours ago. In fact, it wasn’t until all of the ballots were in just moments before the crowning did any of us know of our top picks, which made the crowning just as exciting for us as it was for the audience. Rule 2: Judges could not look at or talk to any of the pageant girls outside their event. This rule was easy to obey since the judges and girls were virtually quarantined into their reserved areas of the hotel. Between shows, great care was taken among the directors to keep the judges segregated from contestants. In fact, each bathroom break by a judge was met with directors escorting us to the bathroom to ensure pageant girls and those rating them could not even meet with eye contact. It was a serious affair and for the better. The first competition were the interviews.

One by one, each pageant girl was interviewed by the panel for 3 minutes. Each judge including myself asked 3 questions, some of which were formed from the brief bio submitted by the contestant, others made up on the spot. My favorite question that I asked was, “If you were stranded on a desert island and you could bring only 3 things not including a cell phone, what would you bring?”. My favorite answer was “a boat”. This was the answer that the winner actually offered, although at the time I hadn’t necessarily appreciated her being the future victor. The next evening comprised swimsuit and evening gown competitions for both the Miss and Teen girls on stage in front of a large audience. These girls were all well prepared, and I was shocked by their ability to walk so easily, strike a pose, quickly rotate, and march back in some of the highest heels known to humankind.

From 63 teen girls and 160 Miss contestants, 20 were chosen in each group for the following evenings final competition consisting of another round of swimsuits, evening gowns, and questions. The judges retired around 10 pm Friday night to rest up for the following morning’s red carpet photographs and competition. The auditorium for the final show was packed, and the energy in the theater was palpable. The show began, and former, beautiful pageant girls Chloe Hatfield and Mabelynn Capeluj pranced to the podium to launch the night. The pageant girls put on a fantastic dance show to hit it off, and the night’s excitement grew with each contest slowly narrowing the groups down to 5. As the evening moved on, the judges dug in deeper to split hairs among a plethora of beautiful women.

In the final moments, the top 5 girls in each group received one question from the Pageant, and one randomly from a judge. As each judge submitted two, there was no guarantee that any question I submitted would be chosen, but it was. On stage in front of a jam packed crowd with a growing tension that could be cut with a knife, my question was read to Bianca Vierra, “Are looks important? And if so, why?”. A fair question I thought for a beauty pageant that weighed interviews as heavily as bathing suits. Bianca paused, and with grace and poise knocked the question out of the park inciting a roar from the crowd. And moments later, she was crowned Miss California Teen. While the show ended soon after her and the Miss California crowning, the memories will last forever. I met some amazing people over the course of this Contest. And I helped pave the way for a bright, and talented girl as she takes on her new role representing this great State.

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