My journey to write Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas has been full of the unexpected, the glorious and the mundane.  I explored a world I knew nothing about, met people I never would have met and challenged myself daily to be bold, all the while struggling against the inertia that fear of rejection creates.  The hardest part was picking up the phone, which for that brief moment became a malevolent alien endowed with the potential for pain, as I pounded the number for a former Miss America into the handset, hoping that she would say yes to an interview.

Who would have thought that this nice girl who grew up in Queens, NY (me) and only peeked at beauty queens on September Saturday nights in the Pageant’s earliest television days, when these women seemed like exotic creatures from another universe, would spend a year traversing the country, talking to Miss Americas, peering at what’s behind the myths, the perfect make-up, the talent, trumped up and genuine?

So after I met them, on my flight home, or waiting in terminals eating stale sandwiches, I would chronicle my first impressions of each of the twenty-two fabulous former Miss Americas that I met over the course of a year: Jean Bartel 1943, Lee Meriwether, 1955, Marilyn Van Derbur, 1958, Mary Ann Mobley, 1959, Lynda Mead, 1960, Donna Axum, 1964, Vonda  Van Dyke, 1965, Phyllis George, 1971, Rebecca King, 1974, Tawny Godin, 1976, Kylene Barker, 1979, Susan Powell, 1981, Gretchen Carlson, 1989, Heather Whitestone, 1995, Shawntel Smith, 1996, Tara Holland, 1997, Nicole Johnson, 1999, Heather French, 2000, Angela Baraquio, 2001, Ericka Dunlap, 2004, Deidre Downs, 2005, Jennifer Berry, 2006.

Only the first few surprised me with their warmth, wisdom and generous spirits.  After that, I realized that those were qualities that each one of the Miss Americas I interviewed, exhibited.  Watch for my first impressions of each one of these beautiful-from-the-inside out women in subsequent posts.

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