By J.J. Smith
Beautiful... elegant.. .magical... entertaining... these are the superlatives that best describe the 2003 Miss USA Pageant. Creating their own "shock and awe," the team collaboration of NBC, the Miss Universe Organization, and the GuyRex Organization surprised the huge viewing audience with the return of glamour. It was evident throughout the telecast that the selected stars of this show were the 51 contestants. With the war in the background and with heavy on-site security, the televised event showcased the host city, San Antonio, Texas, with its many exciting tourist attractions, including The Alamo, lending a reprieve from the problems of the world.
What did this new telecast format provide? It delivered NBC a victory in the TV ratings race. As Donald Trump, co-owner of the pageant, said in an exclusive direct quote to Pageantry after the ratings were in: "We won our time slot that night and doubled our viewers from last year. I've received hundreds of congratulatory phone calls from across the country regarding this magnificent production, which reflects that we are a beauty pageant with the country's most beautiful women."
To heighten the drama this year, the pageant's new "command-and-control" team consisting of Donald Trump, NBC Television Network, producer Phil Gurin, the Miss Universe Organization and its president, Paula Shugart, and pageant specialists Richard Guy and Rex Holt of the GuyRex Organization brought out their most effective weapons. They built the show around the 51 alluring delegates themselves, showcased on a dazzling, sophisticated stage set inside San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium.
In the days leading up to the Monday night finals, NBC aired well-positioned promotional commercials for the pageant. In a stroke of genius by NBC and Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart, a special edition of the popular reality series Fear Factor, featuring six Miss USA delegates, was aired in the one-hour time slot directly preceding the pageant's scheduled 9 p.m. start. What more could viewers ask for three full hours of television, starring Miss USA contestants, ending with a grand finale, as 51 gorgeous delegates competed for one of the most coveted crowns in national pageantry Miss USA.
The return of glamour that last year's Miss Universe pageant ushered in was in greater evidence this year, as the Miss USA Pageant unveiled more elegance and sophistication. Like the good old days of pageantry, viewers once again heard the contestants introduce themselves using their own voices, rather than the generic announcer's voice-over employed in the past. This simple change created a more personal atmosphere right from the start. After all, this event should culminate in the feeling of our knowing the young woman who wins, not only watching the great choreography or the dazzling sets and lighting techniques. Said veteran production executive Phil Gurin, whose most recognizable hit is the game show The Weakest Link, "We're very excited about working with the Miss Universe team. The pageants are a great tradition that brings together all the best of great television characters, competition, and a great story."
Thankfully absent were the pop-music acts which took up so much time in past telecasts. Instead, viewers had more time to familiarize themselves with the contestants, with the use of up-close-and-personal videos. Besides the opening greetings from the delegates, the co-hosts model-actress Daisy Fuentes and Billy Bush, host of the new version of Let's Make A Deal reintroduced each young woman, which allowed the live audience and home viewers to see more of what they demanded to see: the delegates!
Then came the moment when a year of hopes and dreams for the 51 Miss USA hopefuls was to be whittled down to only 10. Those who delighted in hearing their names called took center stage, wearing contemporary red designs by GuyRex Fashions. The first name called was Tashina Kastigar (Indiana), followed by Beth Hood (Tennessee), Susie Castillo (Massachusetts), Michelle Arnette (Alabama), Elisa Schleef (Michigan), Alina Ogle (New Mexico), Alicia Michioka (Hawaii), Anna Hanks (South Carolina), Star Williams (Oklahoma), and Nicole O'Brian (Texas).
After 41 delegates exited the stage, the Top 10 strolled around the shimmering pools inlaid into the dramatic stage. With personally recorded videos and voice-overs, the audience was treated to more in-depth information about each delegate. Marking another change from the past, the graceful evening gown competition preceded the swimsuit segment. As the semifinalists changed clothes backstage, videos of all the contestants highlighted their intelligent, thoughtful insights in response to the question: "If you could pass any law as Miss USA, what law would it be?" While beauty was in abundance, there was no shortage of smarts among this crop of Miss USA delegates.
The evening gown competition saw a return to its former glory. As non-finalists emerged on the stage in groups of color-coordinated evening gowns, soft instrumental music set a lovely mood of elegance and sophistication for the remaining hopefuls. As each woman modeled her choice of evening wear, the theatrical dance sensation, Burn the Floor, whirled in the background, alternating costumes between black-and-white tuxedos and evening gowns. This year, the semifinalists wore gowns both simple and elaborate, with white, black, and champagne still the colors of choice. In a departure, Miss Tennessee Beth Hood created a stir with her fiery orange, red, and yellow finery. The stately pace of the evening gown segment was a welcome relief from the fast-paced productions of the past, where contestants raced by in a blur.
The pace quickened in the swimsuit competition, in which contestants wore identical pastel-colored two-piece swimwear. The segment allowed the judges to rate the Top 10 in the areas of "self-confidence, presence, and charisma." Those many hours at the gym certainly paid off for all 10 contestants.
While the judges narrowed the field to the Top 5, the awards for Congeniality and Photogenic (the latter based on Internet voting) were announced. Stepping up to claim the Miss Congeniality prize, a Hoya Crystal trophy honoring her friendliness, was Miss Washington Breann Parriott. The Clairol Natural Instincts Photogenic award went to Miss Minnesota Sarah Cahill.
The new $200,000 Mikimoto-designed Miss USA crown, containing 117 pearls and 482 diamonds, remained in the grasp of only five, as the Top 5 finalists were announced. Advancing were Misses Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama.
But before one of these deserving girls would claim the prize and all that goes with it, each of them answered a question posed by one of the other finalists -- another change in the production that added to the suspense and exposed "skills of expression under pressure." After brief interviews with Daisy and Billy, each finalist drew a question and quickly composed her answer, leaving one final impression on the judges.
While all five delegates looked incredibly at ease, considering the growing pressure on-stage, one stood out. Miss Massachusetts, Susie Castillo, captured the judges with her friendly nature, as she spoke fondly of her grandmother, who bore 19 children. "There's girl power in my family!" she exclaimed. For her final question, Susie was asked, "What three items would you place in a time capsule to represent the 21st century?" After pausing, she responded, "I would probably have to choose a cell phone, makeup and, lastly, a computer, because the cell phone and computer tell us a lot about our century's technology and everything that has evolved since then."
History has a way of repeating itself even at Miss USA. In the 1998 Miss USA pageant, Shawnea Jebbia, also representing Massachusetts, was asked: "The millennium is coming. A time capsule is being prepared, not to be opened for a thousand years. What three things would you put into the capsule to best remind people of what this generation is and why?" It proved to be a lucky question for Miss Jebbia, who went on to be crowned Miss USA 1998. This year, would the question be lucky for another daughter of Massachusetts?
As the judges' votes were tallied, the drama heightened. Which of these five very deserving young women was about to have her entire life turned around? Billy Bush opened the judges' envelope dramatically, and revealed the decisions in reverse order of finish. Tennessee's smoky-eyed beauty Beth Hood was announced as 4th Runner-up. Michigan's classy Elisa Schleef followed as 3rd Runner-up. The beauty from the host state, Nicole O'Brian, stepped forward as 2nd Runner-up. Ending her quest at 1st Runner-up was Alabama's gorgeous blonde Michelle Arnette.
The luck, and the destiny, it turned out, went with Miss Massachusetts and Miss USA 2003 Susie Castillo. As she accepted the glittering new crown, the banner, and the bouquet of roses, the audience showered her with the attention and admiration deserving of a winner and a role model. Susie now embarks on her own special journey, including a trip to Panama City in June, and a chance to win the Miss Universe Pageant. With her one-year reign as Miss USA filled with anticipation, wonderment, and high hopes, only time will tell what lies ahead for Miss USA and the country itself. However, if history repeats itself as it has so often in the past, Susie Castillo and the rest of us will have a great deal to be proud of.
To read more stories like this one, subscribe to Pageantry TODAY!
|Home I Subscribe I Advertising I Classifieds I Pageantry Mall I Links I Our Writers I Back Issues
Next Issue I In This Issue I Picture of the Week I Contest I Newsline I Feedback