Miss America 2016: We Are All Winners, But Especially Miss Georgia

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

The official song that greets every newly crowned Miss America goes, “There she is, your ideal,” and when it comes to this year’s winner, Plato would have to agree. Miss Georgia truly deserved the title of America’s Only Perfect Woman, perhaps solely due to her wild facial expressions upon winning the crown. But the word “ideal” could also apply to the Miss America Competition itself, which, through its use of awkward bikini parades, jazz dancing, and scream-singing continues to be the ONLY reliable way to properly judge and assess women’s value to society, and this year was no exception!

Only months after that televised broadcast of the elephant graveyard referred to only in hushed tones as the Miss USA pageant (i.e. Donald Trump’s cheap knock-off competitor), real deal Miss America returned with the full backing of ABC and its charming devotion to perpetuating princess culture in all forms. It made sense that this year’s broadcast was hosted by The Bachelor overlord Chris Harrison in that, like The Bachelor franchise itself, the Miss America pageant is often written off as reductive trash only to prove compelling and insightful in the end. Yes, we’re saying it: This year’s Miss America pageant was very fun and borderline GOOD. If you are skeptical of this claim, that is fair, but please keep in mind that you are incorrect and please consider jumping down the chute labeled “Haters.” Because the rest of us have GOT to talk about this pageant.

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The first thing you need to know about this year’s Miss America broadcast is that it boasted the most baffling stage design I’ve ever seen on television. Like, what are we even looking at here? The whole thing appeared to take place in some kind of airplane hanger on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and there was sort of an X-shaped catwalk and also a giant tiara, and was the top half of the stage green-screened? I am honestly not sure. Anyway, it was great.

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In addition to Chris Harrison, Brooke Burke-Charvet helped with hosting duties. Which, that reminds me… *Google Image Searches David Charvet*… Okay cool, I’m back. Anyway, she seems nice. Last year’s Miss America was in the mix a bunch also. If we’re being real, the #1 most important job of Miss America is to show up for the next year’s pageant. Duties fulfilled!

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Things got off to a festive start when all 52 finalists were introduced in batches via pre-taped segments in and around Atlantic City. So, groups of ten or fifteen heavily made up women would be loitering on a wharf, or awkwardly shimmying on a golf course while introducing themselves with an array of wonderful one-liners about their respective home states. For example, Miss Idaho pointed out that Napoleon Dynamite was filmed in her state but warned, “Don’t vote for Pedro, vote for me!” I also appreciated Miss Oklahoma’s line, “From the state that has frequent earthquakes, I’m here to shake things up!” Who doesn’t love natural disaster humor? Miss California’s line had a poignant twist: “We have plenty of pinot, but it’s water we need!“ I would argue we need both.

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But the most talked-about moment of the entire night (Sorry, Miss Georgia) was when Vanessa Williams saved the best for first by coming out and belting out a tune while her entire life in headlines flashed behind her. Yes, that’s correct, the former Miss America ‘84, who was once strong-armed into resigning her title after nude photos surfaced in Penthouse, returned to the franchise that had forsaken her! This momentous occasion probably had nothing to do with the fact that the ABC Network has kept Vanessa Williams steadily employed for about a decade now, and had everything to do with her just wanting to let bygones be bygones.

Related: Miss America CEO Apologizes to Vanessa Williams

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It was undeniably a moving moment when the creepily close-talking CEO of Miss America Corp. came out and personally apologized to Vanessa Williams for all that drama back in the '80s (Vanessa Williams’ elderly mother seemed especially moved). But I am not going to lie to you: Vanessa Williams fixed her icy stare at that man and accepted his apology with the calculated sincerity of a wronged sorceress. I’m not saying that Vanessa Williams has malice in her heart, but has anybody heard of the other Vanessa Williams lately? The one from Melrose Place who once forced this Vanessa Williams to go by Vanessa L. Williams? Let’s just say that much like the other Vanessa Williams, that “L.” is now missing, presumed dead. Anyway, welcome back, True Vanessa Williams!

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With all that business out of the way, it was time to get to the fun 'n games part of the show: The systematic elimination of subpar women! Next thing we knew, all 52 came out dressed in some kind of matching death cult uniform and fifteen of them were summoned to the front! They included America’s Pick, Miss Tennessee, whose delightful home video involved stem cell research and hoop earrings.

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Singer and child bodybuilder Nick Jonas was apparently in charge of choosing the music for different sections of the show, and this involved, I’m guessing, Nick Jonas plugging his Zune into the sound board and playing a couple of Top 40 songs. I don’t know. But I did love this shot of every single bikini-clad contestant towering over him. Because, you guessed it: It was swimwear time!

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The absolute best part of the swimwear competition was that, as each contestant gallivanted out in their skimpy lycra getups, we were treated to sustained non-reaction shots from each of the celebrity judges, who included a Shark Tank dude and the widow of American Sniper. Like, here’s how Disney Channel’s Zendaya reacted to women in high heels and bikinis getting all up in her personal space:

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And here’s the rather perfect expression of former Wonder Years star Danica McKellar during the entire sequence:

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But nobody could outdo Ms. Vanessa Williams when it came to reaction shots. I mean…

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Imagine walking through an enormous thunderdome in front of thousands dressed only in swimwear, just flexing your abs and trying to avoid the spinning cameraman only to come face to face with this:

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Suddenly this was less a swimwear competition and more a personal challenge for each contestant to not utterly crumble under the weight of an all-encompassing nightmare scenario. To the extent that none of them collapsed in terror, great job, ladies!

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After a brief but slightly useless segment in which the ever dwindling contestants wore “gowns” and “walked around,” it was time for the always-highly-amusing talent portion of the show! This year there were a surprising number of singers, one or two of whom were actually good at singing. For example, Miss Louisiana absolutely nailed her rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. As for the ladies who played musical instruments, what’s not to like about Miss Tennessee wearing her favorite Beauty and the Beast-inspired “talent gown” while ripping through a Liberace cover on the piano?

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This lady, who in another life is a nurse doing actual life-saving work, performed an “original monologue,” which really was just her talking about one of her patients for a couple minutes. One nice touch for each of these talent performances was that pop-up facts would appear onscreen while the ladies performed. So in this case, as Miss Colorado discussed the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s on one of her patients, the broadcast informed us that she’s “6'1” without heels!” Powerful stuff.

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Even though my absolute favorite performance of the night was Miss Alabama’s contemporary dance routine to “Club To Death” from The Matrix soundtrack (complete with beaded Lady Gaga mask), the clear winner of the talent portion was Miss Georgia, who belted out a pitch-perfect operatic performance in some other language, probably a foreign one. Like, okay, lady, you can do opera. Even Vanessa Williams seemed impressed, and considering she was visibly restraining herself from putting her head down during the other vocal performances, that’s saying something. Good job, Miss Georgia!

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Except, whoops. Miss Georgia did very badly during the question and answer portion of the show! But first: Mega props to the Miss America pageant for throwing some actual hardball questions at the ladies this year. Sure, one question was lame (Which woman should be on the new $10 bill?), but the other six were guaranteed to polarize. One woman was asked about #BlackLivesMatter, another was asked about Planned Parenthood defunding. Miss Georgia straight-up did not know how to answer a question about Tom Brady’s Deflategate (“I’d have to feel the ball.”). Miss South Carolina suggested that if more people were educated on how to use military-style assault weapons, it would reduce gun violence. (Yikes.)

With questions this polarizing, I half-expected these beauty queens to deliver neutral non-answers designed to appease people on both sides of each issue, which was why I was delighted and surprised when some of them took firm stances. Like, I loved when Miss Alabama said that Donald Trump was an embarrassment to the Republican party, before openly endorsing some of his competitors. And I really loved when Miss Tennessee articulately explained the importance of Planned Parenthood to low-income women. But this lady was my favorite, just for her bluntness:

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Miss Mississippi got the Kim Davis question, and without missing a beat declared that Kim Davis had broken the law by denying gay people marriage licenses. Now, obviously that’s pretty much an answer both conservatives and liberals should agree on, but it was still impressive to see someone take a bold stance and then get such a raucous approval from the crowd. So much of this pageant seemed to cater to Southern states and had been relatively staid and conservative almost in deference to that demographic, but these little glimpses of populist progressivism were kind of wonderful. I don’t know what I’m talking about, but still. This segment proved just how smart and dynamic these supposed beauty queens really were.

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So then it came time to crown our winner! One thing this pageant does differently from Miss USA is that it invites the Top SEVEN onstage and awards the four runners up first, leaving three possibilities for the winner. It’s just a more exciting reveal, is what I’m saying. Anyway, Miss Georgia won.

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As we all know, the mark of a true Miss America is what she does with her face when she receives the good news. Miss Georgia did NOT disappoint! I mean, look at her:

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Our nation deserves a Miss America who can not only scream-sing opera, stand confidently in a day-glow bikini, and offer to hold Tom Brady’s balls, she needs to be able to contort her face into an ecstatic grotesquerie. There she is!

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“The dream of a million girls who are more than pretty can come true in Atlantic City… For she may turn out to be the Queen of femininity.” Congratulations, Miss America! But mostly, congratulations to us! We did it. Truly what a night.

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