Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 | 12:32 p.m.
2012 Miss America Pageant
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2012 Miss America Pageant judges
Even though Miss America officials and the ABC production team have promised surprise new elements for Saturday’s live pageant broadcast, it looks as if this year’s judges will bring about new changes for next year, too. “Dancing With the Stars” pro champion Mark Ballas and “Good Morning America’s” Lara Spencer want the pageant to become “even more modern,” and “The Bachelor” producer Mike Fleiss goes as far as saying “super sexy and hot.”
Miss America chief Sam Haskell said at Wednesday’s meet-and-greet with the judging panel: “I am open to all ideas. We will try to facilitate them. Change sometimes scares our associates across the country, but I believe we can be invigorated with change.
“All of us at Miss America are impressed with this year’s contestants. They are making it very difficult for the judges. This really is the year of the smartest, most talented we’ve had in coming to Las Vegas the past seven years.
“Since moving to Vegas, we have made it more relevant and hip. It’s a difficult, ongoing process of baby steps, but we are embracing it. We have persevered to rebrand it and are continuing to move forward.”
Lara and Mark said that they recognize the relevancy of Miss America but want her to become more of a celebrity during the yearlong, hard job she reigns over. “It’s a shame that she’s MIA in public recognition when they’ve taken on this incredible responsibility and worked so hard for it,” Lara said.
Mark commented: “We can update and still respect the fact she is relevant and a wonderful role model with great confidence who connects with everybody from politicians to pop stars. I want to have more young people saying, ‘I want to be like Miss America” -- and that might mean taking a ’70s wardrobe look into modern times and changing the music for the talent competition. “
Mike interjected, “To be more relevant, she has to be hot. She can still be a role model and be super sexy. That makes her a TV celebrity and cover girl.”
Sam commented: “We want Miss America to be a beauty missile and achieve all that recognition, but we have to make change an ongoing, slow, steady, acceptable process. Miss America doesn’t necessarily have to be the best talent, the best in swimsuit, the best interview, but she has to be one of the best in everything.”
Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner explained that the judges are not permitted to talk to one another about the contestants or reveal scores. “We can’t let the very first impression count. We go after much more. It will be an equal surprise to all of us Saturday night when all the numbers are tallied up from our five days with them and the winner is announced.”
Lara, the chairwoman of the judging panel, said emotionally: “We look so carefully at each contestant -- it’s tunnel vision as we vote in each category. She should be hip, she should be talented, super smart, but also modern.
Chris Powell from “Extreme Makeover: Weight-Loss Edition” said: “I’m looking at the winner for health-and-fitness reasons. She has to be relatable and somebody my own daughter would look up to.”
Actress Teri Polo of “Meet the Fockers” and “Man Up!” said: “Someone who is genuine and relatable the minute they open their mouth. Somebody who doesn’t just recite what they’ve learned but who really genuinely cares. She can be breathtaking and lovely at the same time. I am so impressed by these girls, I know I could rule the free world if I had what they have.
However, she added: “It’s disappointing to me that it isn’t just brains, beauty and talent. I don’t believe she has to be hot to be relevant. It’s not about Miss America becoming a pop icon on a reality show. It’s about her being accepted as an all-around package of being a sensational woman with brains, talent -- and beauty. All 53 of these girls qualify for that criteria. It’s very difficult to choose.“
Kris told us: “As a family, we always watched Miss America -- my grandmother, my mother, and now all of us. What I’ve learned this week from these girls already has affected me and motivated me. I know this is not a beauty pageant, and I am amazed at their work ethic.
“I want Miss America to really be in touch with today and that she can handle the job of being on the road for the next 365 days. With expanding social media, she also has to touch more women in the world than ever before, so she’s going to stand out because life today for Miss America will be much different than it was years ago.
“I’m impressed they work so hard and take their healthy workouts so seriously. It’s a routine to them -- a lifestyle -- and they aren’t going to gorge on cheesecake when this is over. It’s the girl with the most confidence who will win.“
Emmy Award-winning Univision host Raul de Molina said: “Beauty contests are huge audience favorites and paralyze South American countries, and that’s what I came to Vegas for -- beauty. But now I see all this brainpower. They have so much talent, they could run for president, and, believe me, these girls are better than presidents of some of the countries I’ve visited! I want Miss America to work very hard and be the best at that.”
Mark concluded: “She has to be genuine and comfortable in her own skin. She has to believe in herself and not be disconnected. She has to be beautiful even in sweats.”
2009 Miss America Katie Stam attended the judges’ session and suggested to Mark that he put in a good word for a Miss America to compete on “Dancing With the Stars” -- and promptly volunteered herself!
That brought laughter, but it was a line from Kris that had the room howling: “I’ve learned the best beauty tip of my life here that they have butt glue in the swimsuit segment to protect the curves and ensure nothing slips out of place.”
Lara promptly topped her: “Elmer’s works better -- and I know!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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