Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 | 3:39 p.m.
At the Miss America Pageant, decorum trumps bombast, every time.
That includes when Rush Limbaugh is in the room. The man who has built a following of 20 million self-proclaimed "Dittoheads" by forging finely honed bombast on AM radio across the country was constrained today by a simple edict: There would be no questions for him other than queries addressing his direct affiliation as a judge for this year's pageant.
That knocked out such questions as this: "If you were to ask President Obama a question that would require a 30-second answer, what would that question be?" Which is a shame, really.
Limbaugh appeared at a Planet Hollywood conference room alongside his five fellow judges for his lone formal press session leading up to Saturday night's show at the Theatre for the Performing Arts. He was introduced fifth, coming out in a dark suit, white shirt and pretty cool black-, red- and silver-patterned tie. I'm thinking it could have been a Jerry Garcia, or at least Garcia-esque. After being introduced, the conservative talk-show icon spent much of the time eyeballing the room, smiling at times, and at times appearing a tad nervous to be so far removed from his radio womb. He also wore a large hearing aid in his left ear.
Joining Limbaugh onstage were a sample plate of newsmakers and celebs of varying fame that would make a fine lineup for a season of "Surreal Life": Vivica A. Fox of "The Cougar" reality show and HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," 2002 Miss America titleholder Katie Harman, 2008 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Shawn Johnson, multiple Grammy Award-nominated jazz sax man Dave Koz, and "American Idol" Season 7 finalist Brooke White. Comic Paul Rodriguez originally was part of a field that usually numbers seven, but he was a late scratch for a family emergency.
So six will do, and Limbaugh easily is the hottest property on the panel, given his giant listening audience and the resulting free publicity afforded the Miss America Pageant. But by limiting the questions to those only dealing with the pageant, Limbaugh was gelded of any chance to unleash any of his pointed intonations. There is a time and place for everything, and Miss America week is not the time to start beating up the president over plans to overhaul health care, or to gloat over the outcome of a Senate race in Massachusetts.
Instead, Limbaugh talked of how impressed he was with the pageant's procedure and the high quality of the 53 contestants. He takes his job as a judge seriously, inspired by Fox's rat-a-tat-tat cue and asking the hard questions to press the contestants to show grace under fire. Asked if he'd remain involved in Miss America after Saturday's show, he said, he would always support the pageant, but not in any official capacity. Expect him to show some love to the pageant on his radio show, reminding his 20 million listeners that the titleholder and pageant itself still hold relevance. As Miss America Organization President and Chief Executive Officer Art McMaster said after confirming Limbaugh as a judge, that platform is the central reason Limbaugh was recruited to be part of this year's pageant in the first place.
Asked if he would be swayed by a contestant answering a question with an opinion he disagreed with, Limbaugh said he was only interested in the conviction and sincerity of the answer. "I'm not trying to find Miss Conservative," he said. "I've already done that." He later drew laughs when he said, "I feel comfortable judging people."
Repeating a move he displayed Tuesday night at the TPA as he was introduced during preliminary competition, Limbaugh thumped his chest, the same sort of gesture Terrell Owens makes after catching an 8-yard pass. That led to Ubiquitous Robin Leach asking Limbaugh about his heart, which Limbaugh said was just fine (he suffered pain in his chest over the holidays in Hawaii), the discomfort likely caused by an infection.
At the end, the judges rose for a group photo. There was applause from some of those assembled in the media center, and Limbaugh said, "This is the first time I've ever been applauded by the press."
At that, Miss America Chairman Sam Haskell leaned over to Limbaugh and said all there was left to say: "Welcome to Miss America."
Though there seemed to be beefed-up security near Limbaugh and the judges during Tuesday's prelims, McMaster said that other than holding the judges' news conference in a larger conference room (which was not full), there have been no special arrangements made for Limbaugh's appearance in the pageant. ... Miss Nevada Christina Keegan says she never searches her own name on Google because comments on pageant chat boards are often so negative. "I don't need to read that I'm too skinny, or fake, or that I'm stupid," she said during an interview Tuesday. "I don't need to hear that." ... Look out for Miss Puerto Rico, Mimi Pabon, who won Tuesday night's preliminary swimsuit competition. Puerto Rico is back in the pageant after a 50-year absence and usually is one of the favorites to win Miss Universe. ... Knowing this, it's a shame there isn't a live betting line on the pageant at the Planet Hollywood sports book. ... Clinton Kelly, host of TLC's "What Not to Wear" (also known as, "A Canvassing of Johnny Kats' Closet") hosts "Miss America: Behind the Curtain," a one-hour pageant special airing at 10 p.m. Friday. ... Keegan, who is 24, has five siblings, and her oldest brother is 52. This was all planned.
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