Pageants have changed their focus and platforms throughout the years, but how has that affected what Judges look for?
I’ve been around and involved in the pageant industry since the mid-to-late 1980s. I’ve seen us evolve from an industry that historically nearly exclusively celebrated beauty and scholarly pursuits to one that has broadened its reach to become a platform to drive women’s empowerment, environmental consciousness, body positivity, inclusivity, diversity and a host of other critically important socioeconomic and geopolitical issues that affect not only women, but everyone. And one thing I’ve found true throughout all of this? Judging hasn’t changed much. Sure, the categories of competition have kept pace with changing pop culture over the years to include categories beyond interview, swimwear, evening gown and onstage question to platform/cause and other “of the moment” categories previously unknown. But fundamentally, judges judge on a few core elements. In this industry I’ve served as a pageant owner, a state director, a national director, a host, a coach and yes… as a judge. Having judged more than 50 local, state, national and international pageants for systems including Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss World America, Miss Universe, Miss Globe and others what has always held true for me is that fundamentally we judge for three things: relatability, character, and qualification. What do I mean? Of course, we’re judging a contestant’s ability to articulate and communicate during interview or on-stage Q&A. Of course, we’re judging a contestant’s physical fitness in swimwear. Of course, we’re judging a contestant’s poise and carriage. When it comes to that on-stage talk/chat/Q&A portion of the competition, of course we want to hear somebody who can speak with conviction and convince us she’s the right woman for the job. But what underlies all of that for me? What do I look for?
Regardless of the type of pageant I’m judging—whether it’s a pure ‘beauty’ pageant, a scholarship competition, a pageant for models, a humanitarian or cause platform pageant—I am fundamentally looking for the woman who convinces me that she is the most sincere, genuine and connected to the purpose of the pageant she’s competing in. If she’s competing to win a university scholarship—is she able to show me how fundamentally her life or the lives of others are changed if she wins? Do I “buy” it? Do I “believe” her? Is she “credible?” If she’s competing to win a beauty pageant—is she the most beautiful to me and can I see that beauty radiate from the inside and outward. There is no shortage of beautiful young women competing in pageants all over the world, but what about my winner’s beauty stands out? How does she rise above all the other “pretty faces” and “poised figures” to show me that she’s the one? If I’m judging a cause or platform pageant, who am I convinced is truly able to be the brand ambassador for that pageant? Who do I “believe” truly “believes” herself in why she’s there and what her purpose as the winner will ultimately be? I look for who I believe fits the criteria inside and out, and that colors my judging process throughout all facets of competition. And I think that is critical for all judges—consistency.
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