Cover Story

Bye-bye, Miss American pie

"Bye-bye, Miss American pie" Continued...

Issue: "The narrow runway," Oct. 14, 2000

Both Miss Buie and Miss Jones acknowledged that judges are expected to play devil's advocate to test contestants' ability to defend their platforms. But the interview should never focus entirely on the platform, according to former Wyoming pageant director Jon Young, who judged pageants for several years.

"You are not supposed to have the interview center on the platform because you really want to know about the girl," such as "what attributes and qualities she would have to be able to go on to be Miss America," he said. "The platform is part of it, but you don't judge them based on what platform they have chosen."

Not everyone who chose an abstinence platform experienced discouragement. Last year's Miss Wyoming, Elaine Dabney, told WORLD that she "never met discouragement at anytime by anyone" after choosing her abstinence platform. And during the televised alphabetical parade of state platforms, Miss Kurey and Miss Dabney followed one another and "were able to make a statement" and "to just hit them with a wham-bam finish," said Miss Dabney.

But it doesn't look like there will be any "wham-bam" statements this year. None of the national contestants have listed "abstinence" as their platform title. Instead, there are only nebulous-sounding titles like "Youth Inspiration" and "Character Education."

"You have to remember that sexual abstinence is very controversial and any time you choose something that is very controversial it could hurt you," said Miss Buie. But the pageant system doesn't seem to mind other kinds of controversy. In 1998, Miss America winner Kate Shindle stirred debate by publicly advocating drug-needle exchange and condom distribution in public schools as part of her "AIDS Awareness" platform. When a student at a Montgomery, Ala., high school asked Miss Shindle whether she personally chose abstinence or safe sex, her response-"I don't get into my own sexual experience"-elicited boos from the student audience.

At the time Miss Shindle was advocating condom distribution, her predecessor-1997 Miss America Tara Holland-was speaking at True Love Waits rallies across the nation. But during her beauty queen tenure, Miss Holland (now Mrs. Christensen) chose to focus on her literacy platform. Miss Buie said she will follow that example. "You just have to decide what your goal is. Do you want to stick to sexual abstinence no matter what?" she asked. "Or do you want to get as high up as you can so that you can have a national platform to say what you want once you have the title?"

But even then she may not be able to say what she wants. Nicole Johnson-an outspoken Christian who won the 1999 Miss America title-cited outside "pressures" that limited her ability to share her faith. "My year as Miss America was the hardest thing I've ever done," she told WORLD. "I wouldn't trade it for anything, but spiritually it was very difficult," she said, adding that "it was disconcerting at times to feel as though you weren't allowed or it wasn't advised to say certain things and maybe react in certain ways."

Miss Shindle's freedom certainly didn't seem limited. While provoking the outrage of local audiences, she garnered extraordinary media attention and won accolades from the Associated Press for having "completed the evolution of Miss America from beauty queen to social activist."

In addition to media bias, marketing pressure may also affect an abstinence-platform holder's chances of winning. "It's not my opinion that abstinence is a good choice for a platform. And that's just my opinion," Miss Johnson told WORLD, explaining that the most successful platforms are those easily marketed in a wide variety of forums. "It's very much a business that the young woman is involved in," she said.

Even so, Miss Kurey chose to keep her abstinence platform. Now she says the Miss America pageant has its own choice to make: "Are they going to head down the route of Hollywood values and reflect that kind of ultra pop superficiality, or are they going to reflect the diversity and the values of young women growing up in America today?" she said. "Young people are embracing abstinence. This isn't a movement that's being led by adults, but by young people, and they are searching for truth and meaning."

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