The spotlights were beating down on us and my fingers were crossed at my sides. With the swimsuit and evening gown competition finally over, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for. They were announcing the top 20 girls. I was hoping and praying—praying that they wouldn’t call my name. I had everything I wanted already. I was the People’s Choice.
After they finished announcing the top 20, I happily strutted to the wings to listen to the interviews. But backstage I couldn’t hear the question and answer period because I was busy consoling the losers, as we had quickly named ourselves.(In retrospect, I really wish I could have heard the interview portion of the night though. Apparently one of the girls responded to a question about “oral health” by talking about “aura health.” In prepping the other girls to answer questions, my particular area of expertise, I had no less than two people ask me, “But, Jessica, is capitalism a sin?”) Their tears surprised me, maybe because it hadn’t even occurred to me to be upset. I hadn’t been there to win in the first place.
“You can compete in other pageants,” I told them. “There’s still a lot of time.” I told them they deserved to be there, that they had worked hard and performed well. But nothing seemed to work. Mascara was running down cheeks and hands were clenched in frustration. So, I took a new tactic—I told them what I honesty thought.
It all started last Wednesday during our interview rehearsal process. Denis Davila, the pageant director, was giving us a pep talk and preparing us for Thursday’s interview. “Even if you’re not chosen, I don’t want you to be upset,” he reminded us. “Think of all the friends you’ve made along the way.” It was a heartfelt speech, meant to remind of us of all of why we were there. It was also meant to remind us that some of us would lose.
Denis is a bit of an enigma. For months now, I’ve been waiting for some sort of sleaziness to shine through. I mean, the guy is a beauty pageant director, after all. But there’s been nothing. Denis is a seemingly genuine individual. You want to be friends with him. You want him to mentor you. You trust him.
But listening to him on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think that there had to be some dirt on Denis. In the words of Tim Falconer, there had to be a fly in the ointment.
So, I started searching.
What I turned up was basically all heresy and unjustified allegations. Pageant conspiracy theories, if you will. But they were enough to make me consider the possibilities: The judges are always personal friends of Denis. In the national pageant, the winners are always from the GTA. Denis prefers Eastern European women. Girls who compete more than once basically buy their way to the top through their registration fee. But finally, the most jarring allegation—the winners are pre-determined and perhaps even “groomed” to win.
As I shared my thoughts with the girls backstage, the tears stopped. And although I may have been the instigator, I wasn’t the only one who had connected the dots. It wasn’t hard for everyone to reach the same conclusion. The judges barely watched us on stage. They were too busy BBMing. They were personal friends of Denis. And then there was the most conclusive proof; we were told that points would be deducted for being late. Yet, girls who were perpetually late (by hours) still managed to win. Denis himself even admitted on Wednesday that if he didn’t agree with the scores, he would move girls into the top 12.
That’s not to say that the top 20 or the top 12 girls didn’t deserve their spots. They are beautiful, stately and some are previous titleholders. And quite frankly, they are Miss Universe material. However, there were other girls who had worked hard and perhaps also deserved to participate in the national competition. I’m just saying that in order to make it to the national level, I think you had to come into rehearsals on day one with the walk, the look and the attitude. It didn’t matter how you performed on the night of the pageant or even whether you showed up on time and demonstrated professionalism throughout the process. The results had been predetermined.
So why even bother hosting a preliminary competition?
Well, the Beauties of Canada organization is a business, like all other sinful capitalist activities in life. The preliminary competition, depending on the corporate sponsorship levels, may be a money-generating event that helps to generate publicity, pay salaries and fund the national competition. The registration fees from the girls Canada-wide are just the bread and butter. It’s as simple as that.
That’s not to say that I think the organization is diabolical in any capacity. I can honestly say that I came out of the Miss Universe Canada 2011 preliminary competition with improved self-confidence and an amazing experience behind me. (Well, at least until the pageant photos of me in a bikini surfaced. I’m now sorely regretting eating the catered bagels and pasta salad prior to competing.) And, as Denis hoped we would, I made friends. Among others, I loved Darcy’s determination, Alena’s sense of humour and Jaclyn’s sincerity. With the exception of a couple of catty bitches (another thing I can openly say now) everyone was so lovely and supportive of one another.
And as we waited backstage, I almost started crying too, but for a completely different reason. For the second time this Fall, I had successfully carried through on something that I was scared shitless to do. I know group-leading a team of medical professionals through Guyana and dancing to Usher in a bikini may seem at the surface to be two completely separate activities, but for me, they were both a challenge. I had sacrificed my weekends for over a month to do something that I had never seriously visualized myself as being capable of. And even if I didn’t place in the top 20 (regardless of whether or not the competition is fixed), I won the People’s Choice Award. For the first time in my life, I won the popularity contest—and not because I’m the most beautiful or the best dressed or the queen bee. I won the popularity contest because my friends and family love me—potbelly, scars, sarcasm and all. My family and friends love me regardless of whether I’m the editor of a feminist magazine or if I’m a beauty pageant loser.
In the dressing room after the show, I hurriedly slipped out of my canary yellow evening dress and threw everything in my bag, save for my sash and my award, which I proudly carried with me into the lobby to meet Team J-Lock. But before I could leave, our runway instructor approached me, “Everyone really thinks you should go into acting,” he told me. (I don’t know who “everyone” is, but I was flattered.) “I’m way too old,” I told him. “I think I missed that train.” “No way,” he said. “You really should be an actress.”
An actress? Really? I am too old. But then again, I’m also too old to be a beauty queen. And if nothing else, it sounds like another adventure.
Anyone want to take some head shots for me?