WORCESTER, Mass. Karen Spilika has dreamed of being a beauty queen since she was a little girl, dressing up in swimsuits and high heels and parading before her bedroom mirror singing “There She Is–Miss America”, the theme song of the most widely-known pageant. “Other girls may want to cure terrible diseases or help students overcome learning disabilities,” she says. “I’d rather win first and then pick out something like that as my ‘Platform’,” the signature cause each Miss America chooses to promote during her reign.
But the odds are long that Karen will ever realize her goal, and it has nothing to do with her looks, her figure, or her accordion-playing talent. “New England has just got a jinx against it,” she says, and indeed, statistics bear her out. In the 86-year history of the Miss America Pageant, only one girl from the six-state region has ever won–Marian Bergeron of West Haven, Connecticut in 1933.
“It’s not as if our girls aren’t pretty,” says Oliver Buchter, executive director of the New England Regional Beauty Queen Task Force, an intergovernmental body created to raise the region’s profile in the world of beauty pageants. “Yes, there are a lot of sarcastic girls in Massachusetts, and snooty ones in Connecticut, but there are also a lot of fresh-faced ingenues up in the mountains of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont if we could only lure them out of the woods.”
One concrete suggestion that the Task Force has come up with is the creation of the sort of “minor league” pageants that girls in other areas of the country use to hone their skills before they reach the national stage. “In Cole Camp, Missouri, you’ve got the Miss Sorghum Contest. In Hoxie, Arkansas you’ve got the Miss Largemouth Bass Festival. In Macon, Georgia, you’ve got the Miss Pellagra Pageant,” says Buchter. “Other areas of the country are developing their farm teams–we’ve got to do the same thing.”
So each New England state has been charged with responsibility for the creation of a network of minor beauty festivals that the region’s governors hope will produce the sort of deep bench strength that an Alabama or Mississippi can draw on come summertime, when slender, beautiful young women from around the nation tread the catwalks of Atlantic City, Las Vegas and other venues.
State representatives have so far created the following “junior varsity” pageants, which will debut this summer:
Miss Abrasives Festival, Worcester, Mass. “Worcester is known as the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World,” says Karen’s dad Richie Spilika. “We want to highlight our girls against that backdrop, which makes just about anything look pretty.”
Miss Unemployment, Bridgeport, Connecticut. This gritty industrial city was once home to P.T. Barnum, the circus promoter famous for saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” “People are always throwing that in our faces,” says Paul Scorzito, a convenience store owner. “I’d like to see us get known for our girls’ baton-twirling skills.”
Miss Potato Festival, Bangor, Maine. Maine produces more potatoes than any state except Idaho, and teenagers are traditionally released from high school to help with the harvest. “It could be a problem in the swimsuit competition,” says Armand Aubuchon, the town’s mayor. “You can hide your carbs in the winter, but not in the summer.”
Miss Snowmobile Festival, Craftsbury, Vermont. Snowmobiling is a fun family activity, but one that tends to discourage teenage girls from developing the Barbie-like, hourglass figures favored by beauty pageant judges. “We’ll hold the swimsuit part indoors,” says Lyle Mahoney, owner of a snowmobile repair shop. “Then there’ll be a series of sprints and a ‘poker run’ through the woods outside of town.”
Miss Hunting Accident, Laconia, New Hampshire. Hunting accidents are New Hampshire’s fastest growing industry, as payments by out-of-state insurers fill the coffers of state hospitals and physicians every fall. “This is our way of saying ‘Thank you’ to all those idiots who shoot friends and family members in the mistaken belief that they’re deer,” says state Fish and Game Warden Jeffrey Marston. “Come enjoy the Q&A during the ‘Presence and Poise’ segment of the competition while you recuperate.”
Miss Coffee Milk Pageant, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Coffee milk is the state drink of Rhode Island, and a delicacy that is found nowhere else in America. “It goes great with hot dogs unless you’re Kosher,” says Frank Trimarco, a local accountant. “We decided it projected a better image than ‘Miss Political Corruption’.”
Copyright 2008, Con Chapman