Understand the Different Types of Pageant Interviews
Since each pageant system has its own pageant interview format and focuses on the unique qualities that system is seeking in its winner, contestants need to understand the differences. A pageant interview in the Miss America scholarship system, which emphasizes interview, platform and talent, is very different from a Miss USA pageant interview, which emphasizes personality, charm, and charisma.
For example, since Miss Teenage America travels the country as a spokesperson for teenagers and pageant sponsors, her public communication skills are crucial. “Miss Teenage America must be able to articulate well, represent teenagers at sponsoring companies, and carry on a conversation about what’s going on with today’s teenagers,” explains spokesperson Lori Moore. As such, judges evaluate finalists for “poise and public speaking ability” during a panel interview with experts on teenagers.
Miss America is recognized as a spokesperson for worthy causes ranging from AIDS education to preventing violence against women. Although she also mingles with the public constantly, the emphasis of her year of service is serving as a spokesperson for her official “platform.”
Marjorie Vincent spent her year addressing the tragedy of domestic violence, including speaking before state legislatures. Leanza Cornett achieved national recognition for her work on behalf of AIDS education. National and state titleholders give hundreds of speeches in a year, sometimes several speeches in one day.
Thus, the program’s press conference-style pageant interviews replicate the demands of the winner’s“year of service and reveal which contestants possess the knowledge, confidence, and communication skills to fulfill that responsibility.
Other pageants want a titleholder who is a people person with a vivacious, outgoing personality. Miss USA, for instance, has to be able to chat with everyone from hospitalized children to the celebrities she greets while handing out trophies at the People’s Choice awards.
The informal interviews help judges to see which contestants have that great rapport with people. “In Miss USA your interviews are one on one with each judge,” says Kati Fish, Miss Arkansas-USA 1993. “So it’s more of a casual conversation, ‘Tell me about yourself, the things you like to do, your likes and dislikes. Tell me about you as a person.’ As opposed to the Miss America system where it’s, ‘Tell me about your platform and your views on the world.’ I found the Miss USA system to be more relaxed.”
Those conversational pageant interviews reflect the nature of Miss USA or Miss Teen USA’s reception-circuit reign. “In the Miss USA system it’s all celebrity judges,” Kati explains. “Those celebrities may be famous, but they’re not always personable or outgoing, so sometimes you have to carry the conversation. But that is exactly what Miss USA has to do, because she is around celebrities and she’s got to be able to relate to them. You have to be a completely charming hostess no matter what!”
Different Pageant Interview Formats
Pageant interviews can differ greatly depending upon the interview format used in a particular system. They include:
Many pageants, such as Miss Teen of America, and Miss Teenage America, conduct “panel interviews” where each contestant is interviewed by an entire panel of judges. The contestant is introduced and seated alone facing three to twelve judges, usually seated behind a conference table. Demanding panel interviews reveal if a girl can think on her feet, or in this case, her seat. Panel interviews usually count for 25 to 30 percent of preliminary judging.
Many pageants, including Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, Mrs. America, and Miss Teen All American, conduct individual interviews where contestants talk with one judge at a time. After judges are seated at individual tables in a large room, contestants are brought in for one-on-one conversations with each judge. As a contestant ends an interview with one judge, she moves on to the next judge’s table until she has chatted with each judge privately. The format’s advantage is its less intimidating atmosphere. Such one-on-one interviews usually count for one-third of preliminary balloting.
Conference-style Pageant Interviews
The conference-style interview was introduced in the Miss America program in 1993, and is valued at 30 percent of preliminary scoring. It resembles a press conference, with the contestant standing at a speaker’s podium facing the judges (and a cameraman and television lights at state and national levels). As in a press conference, the young woman makes an opening statement about herself and then fields questions from the panel.
Whatever the format, the pageant interviews with judges are critical because they highlights the most important quality required of any titleholder during her reign — the ability to quickly create a positive impact everywhere she visits.
David Bartley, a respected pageant photographer who has worked with dozens of state and national titleholders, explains, “The winner has to be a young woman who can affect people — someone who can get off a plane, walk in a room, light it up, leave the room, get on a plane, and go do it all again someplace else,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
And that’s what pageants interviews are intended to show.
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