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Date Posted: 19:32:44 10/09/18 Tue
As I sit before this beautiful work of art, this amalgam of fondant, buttercream and pulled sugar, I am amazed. This castle, complete with a tower, draw bridge, champagne mote and bride and groom is spectacular.
“That,” she said as she entered the room, “is a $4,000 cake and weighs in at over 250 pounds. Can you believe that?”
The baker was a beauty and, while I was impressed with the confections, it was the stunning woman behind the edible art and a story from more than a decade ago that brought me to this southern café and bakery.
“I understand that you competed in the Miss America Pageant when you were younger?”
An eye-roll preceded the response. “Hardly.” She adjusted her skirt, sat up taller and stated, “I didn’t have a talent.”
After some prodding, she agreed to relay the story I had heard from my older sister. The woman before me was known to be of legendary beauty and grace and now, a self-made millionaire, she is what the young girls in this southern town aspire to become.
“You see, I didn’t have a ‘talent’ and, therefore, I chose not to compete at the local level after my first try. I can remember Mrs. (name withheld) with her JCPenney blazer and blue dye-job,” she laughed. I went to the pageant orientation and she asked me what my talent was and I said ‘cake decorating.’ She informed me that this was not a talent. Singing is a talent. Dancing is a talent. Piano is a talent. Cake decorating was definitely not a talent. It was a skill.”
“Well I persisted and was informed that I could make some rosettes on stage with Gershwin playing in the background, but I could not bring the finished product on stage and the judges could not taste the cake as part of the judging. The girl that won? She won in a $2,500 gown and tap danced. Not being disrespectful, but she is divorced with three children and lives at a trailer on the edge of town. She probably spent more than $50,000 to win local pageants and has nothing to show for that. If her mother had invested that money in her education, she would have a very different life right now. After that pageant, I never entered another one. Why would anyone with half a brain enter a pageant that costs thousands of dollars to win in order to get a $250 scholarship and a tiara I can buy on e-bay for $30?”
This, I fear, is the state of affairs that the Miss America Pageant finds itself in in the era of #metoo. After eliminating the swimsuit competition earlier this year, it is the talent competition that most clearly relegates the pageant to irrelevance.
The southern baker whose shop I visited is only one of the many stories on which I will be reporting in coming weeks. Consider the basketball player who could sink a three-point shot from any spot on the floor, but was told that “athletics are not an acceptable form of talent.”
“They told me I should dribble a basketball while I do a monologue. My talent is not reciting a monologue,” she stated with a slight speech impediment. “I turned to sports because I struggled with communication. My talent is my sport.” After attempting to learn a jazz dance routine and never receiving a scholarship in the Miss America system, she ultimately received an athletic scholarship and parlayed that experience into a collegiate coaching career.
Consider the artist who works as a graphic designer for a Fortune 500 company. “Speed painting. Honest to God. They said I should try speed painting. I am a true artist and I have true talent. My talent requires time. I cannot create art is 90 seconds and to even suggest that I should is insulting. Can I yodel with a pair of ventriloquist dummies in my hand? No. Can I perform ballet en pointe to a Michael Jackson classic? No. Can I make a living with my talent? You bet I can.”
Therein lies the dilemma. The architect who has won awards for her designs, the cheesemaker who runs a successful farm-to-table operation, and the seamstress turned fashion designer were all told they were irrelevant at the time because they could not squeeze that talent into a 90 second multimedia extravaganza and, as it would turn out, these could-have-beens are the real successes.
Are swimsuits out-dated? Perhaps, but the truth of the matter is that nowhere is the irrelevance of the Miss America Pageant more obvious than the 90-second talent portion of the competition.