The fever builds with each night’s preliminary competition at the Miss America Pageant.  The state delegations are fiercely competitive for their contestant, each one believing (as they should) that their girl is the most talented, intelligent and beautiful.  And when she doesn’t win one of the segment competitions like talent or swimsuit, they can’t imagine what the judges were thinking.


Last night, Miss Vermont, Ashley Wheeler, won the third night preliminary talent competition with an acapella rendition of God Bless America.  Though her voice was strong, her song selection played to the patriotic heart of the audience and may have given her an edge.  Out in the lobby after the show, I bumped into someone I had met earlier from a state I won’t name, who chastised the judges on making a bad choice.  Others, in similar positions, have faulted the judges in their selection.  They could not understand how the judges didn’t see the superior qualities of their own state’s contestant.


Leigh-Taylor Smith, Miss New York won the Lifestyle and Fitness competition (aka swimsuit).  Even if none of the preliminary winners end up wearing the national crown, they are winners because of the scholarship awards that go along with their preliminary wins.


One thing I’ve learned through my contact with twenty-two former Miss Americas, several judges and senior MAO staff is that none of us sees what the judges see.  So many of the Formers told me, when I asked them what set them apart that the judges chose them, that they didn’t really know, though they had their own opinions.  Maybe they were more natural, or had a sense of poise and confidence that impressed, or revealed an original authenticity in the one on one interview.  But they all felt that if it had been a different set of judges, or on a different night, the outcome may have been different.


Though the organization tries to make the judging as objective as possible, with a strict scoring schedule, a litany of required qualities and attributes, ultimately it is the intangible that makes the difference.  And for every person that unknown is different. 


And that’s just the way it works in so many areas of all of our lives.  Winning often depends on a complicated mix of ingredients, not the least of which is our confidence in our own abilities.