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Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst looks at eight pageant scenes from popular TV shows and movies.
She rates "Miss Congeniality" (2000), "Dumplin'" (2018), and "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999).
Kryst was crowned Miss USA 2019 and placed in the top 10 in Miss Universe the same year.
Cheslie Kryst is a New York attorney and an Emmy-nominated correspondent at ExtraTV. She runs White Collar Glam, a blog focusing on working attire for professional women.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Gracie Hart: OK, what are you doing?
Victor Melling: It stops the suit from riding up.
Cheslie Kryst: I've actually tried that. Hairspray does not work. I use something much stronger.
Hi, my name is Cheslie Kryst. I'm a former Miss USA, Miss USA 2019. Today, we're going to be watching pageant scenes from TV and film and judging how real they are.
"Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999)
- Oh, my God! My tap costume's gone!
- You heard me! Where is it?
- Get it off!
- I might even take seconds!
Cheslie Kryst: I've competed in, I don't know, almost 20 pageants in my entire lifetime. I've literally never seen something unfold that way. You may see some sort of underlying cattiness between people, but not anything that would be different from what you might see in, like, a regular workplace. Like, I've heard at one international competition somebody put gum on somebody's dress.
Iris Clark: You know the rules. All talent costumes have to be OK'd by Gladys before the pageant.
Cheslie Kryst: Her having to approve costumes, that is a real thing. They would have to see your swimsuit to make sure that, you know, your swimsuit is appropriate for the competition. For Miss USA and for Miss Universe, obviously, those competitions are televised. A specific person takes photos of us in every single outfit we wear on stage so that they can approve it for television.
Lisa Swenson: My jacket. Take it! 'Cause, you know, I got my costume OK'd a month ago, before the pageant. You could wear it! Come on!
Cheslie Kryst: One of the things that people miss out on pageants is really how kind and generous most of the contestants truly are. I've actually been in a state competition where a woman signed up to compete and she didn't know how to do her own makeup. And so there were, like, four or five girls surrounding her literally doing her makeup for her at this competition. I've seen girls, you know, give each other shoes to wear or jewelry to wear. Yeah, I'd give it a 6. Generally, women who compete in pageants are so sweet and genuinely nice, and there are, like, a small fraction every now and then you run into that are catty.
"Miss Congeniality" (2000)
Gracie: Hello! Ah!
Agent: Your pageant identity.
Cheslie Kryst: "Miss Congeniality" is, like, every pageant girl's movie. We quote this movie. This is obviously sort of a souped-up version of what really happens, but in a lot of cases, when you win, you have a committee that is there to support you. So, when I won my state pageant, we literally had, like, a retreat weekend. They brought in an interview coach, who gave us private interview sessions, went over our résumés with us. We had a makeup artist, who brought in makeup that matched our skin tones and gave us a makeup lesson. We had a self-defense coach, who came in and talked to us. So it felt a lot like this in one weekend.
Gracie: Um, well, my roommate's asleep.
Cheslie Kryst: That absolutely is real. I've had a roommate. At my state competition, at Miss USA, and at Miss Universe, I've had a roommate.
Roommate: That's it. Excuse me. I am in the middle of a REM cycle over here.
Cheslie Kryst: Some days, you know, you had to be ready by maybe 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. And if you think about hair and makeup before then, you're up pretty early. You know, you try to get as much rest as possible, but during pageant week, sometimes it really just isn't possible. So, I think I got ... five hours of sleep the night before Miss USA.
Gracie: OK, what are you doing?
Victor: It stops the suit from riding up.
Cheslie Kryst: Yeah, I think he's spraying hairspray on her bottom. I've actually tried that. Hairspray does not work. I use something much stronger called Firm Grip, which I think is the same product that baseball players spray in their mitts, so that they're more sticky and they can catch balls easier. So it's very heavy-duty product, but there's other types of glues that we use to keep your bikini on. Otherwise, your swimsuit may end up riding up and you may have, like, a wedgie, and, you know, your butt cheeks may be hanging out of your swimsuit when you walk, and you don't want that, obviously.
What, hemorrhoid ointment?
It's for the little baggies under your eyes.
Cheslie Kryst: I haven't really tried. I think some people talk about using Vaseline on your teeth to make sure that your smile, it stays on, sort of, when you're onstage. I've never done that. I think it might make it more difficult to talk, or you might have product, you know, in your teeth. And for those close-ups on television, you can actually see some of that.
Stan Fields: New Jersey.
Cheslie Kryst: So, our sashes are usually taped to our shoulders onstage so that they don't fall off of our shoulders. Our sarongs, when we compete in swimsuit, after we're done competing and we're just standing, I remember somebody came and literally tied the sarong into my swimsuit, so that it wouldn't come off when they were making the top 10 announcement. So, tons of sticky things on our bodies.
Victor: Turn around.
Cheslie Kryst: There's only women backstage. My dressers have always been women, our chaperones are always women. But obviously pageants have continued to evolve, and we do want to make sure that it's a safe space for people and that people feel comfortable.
Stan: Describe your perfect date.
Cheryl: April 25th. Because it's not too hot, not too cold.
Cheslie Kryst: This poor woman. [laughs] I have to say, onstage question is by far the most difficult and stressful part of any competition. Partly because you're speaking onstage in front of a lot of people. A lot of the times, it's the last area of competition. You usually have a really difficult question about some controversial or polarizing issue, and usually you also have a time limit. If you've competed in a pageant and you haven't messed up your onstage question, have you really competed in a pageant?
Contestant: Let me have some of that.
Contestant: Oh, yeah.
Gracie: Guess we'll be needing some more pizza.
Cheslie Kryst: In the competitions I've been in, they've typically provided food. Especially if you're there for two weeks, obviously we need food. And usually it's really healthy food. A lot of women are generally eating really healthy when you're at a competition, 'cause you're going to compete in swimsuit and you want to make sure that whatever diet or exercise you've put into your prep is still there when you're onstage.
I would give it, like, an 8 1/2 or 9. And I like that, at the end of the day, "Miss Congeniality" portrayed women in -- you know, a lot of these women were really nice, they were real, they were imperfect. And that's actually what happened.
Verna Chickle: Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, wrist. Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, wrist.
Cheslie Kryst: There's a lot of coaching that comes along with pageantry. I love the little wave, though. There's actually a thing, it's like, elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist, touch your pearls, blow a kiss. That's sort of like the sort of pageant wave. We don't wave like that anymore. We just wave like regular people. Either you, like, do one of these or wave like this, or you give, like, the big, the big wave when you win. This is the big wave, where you've got your hand all the way up in the air. That's a thing.
Verna: Turn your body slowly. Very good, eye contact, yes.
Cheslie Kryst: There are certain poses that are specific to pageantry. Can I show you some of them? So, there's one pose that a lot -- here, I'll go to my white space. There we go. That a lot of girls like to do in evening gown, where you pose like this and then you put a hand, like, right here on your thigh/leg area. And so it's supposed to be like this. A lot of people do, like, a model T, where you've got, like, your foot, your front foot like this and your back foot like this, and it's supposed to give you this more hourglass shape. A lot of girls nowadays do, like, the legs-apart pose. So, you're standing, I don't know if you can see my legs, but, like, you know, you've got your legs out like this. One leg would be kind of in front of the other so that you look longer, your legs look leaner and everything. All of these are very specific to pageantry.
So, like, the kiddie pageants, like, you know, the "Toddlers & Tiaras" pageants, that kind of posing is very different from what you would do at Miss USA. Oh, yeah. I would give this a 5. Because I can't say there was a whole lot that I saw in these clips that actually happens the way that it's depicted here.
"Queen America" S1E1 (2018)
Vicki: And Stillwater, and you are Miss Tulsa.
Cheslie Kryst: Somebody from her team is photoshopping one of her pictures. That happens too. There's been a former Miss USA who talked about, somebody from her team had photoshopped one of her photos and made her look really skinny and really tall. So she was at Miss Universe, and, you know, she's got this photoshopped picture. She looks really good. And then she saw some other pictures that some of the on-location photographers had taken that obviously weren't photoshopped, and she said that she felt bad because she was like, "Did I gain weight since I've been here?" And she talks to her old team member, and they were like, "Well, I photoshopped your photo." And she's like, "I wish I would have at least known that. Or maybe I wish you wouldn't have done that, so that I at least had a real perspective on how my own body looks." But it definitely happens. I hope people know that, you know, we're not perfect. Obviously we want to put our best foot forward, but just know, you know, photoshopping and filtering happens.
There's tons of people backstage, or it can be at least just as hectic as it looks here. There are hair and makeup people who are going around and doing touch-ups, there's hairspray all over, there are people adjusting your costume or your gown or your swimsuit, there are members of the production team back there that are counting down on their radios.
I just try to focus on the task at hand and compartmentalize what's going on. Think about, where am I standing? Where do I go after that? If they call my name, where do I step to next? Yeah, I'd give this, like, a strong 8.
Rosie: And five, six, seven, eight!
Cheslie Kryst: The difficulty of the dances just varies by the pageant. Low key, we had an audition. They don't call it audition, but low key it kind of is. What the choreographers did for us is they taught all of us, I think it was maybe two or three eight counts of a dance, and then they lined us up in rows of six or whatever and made us do the dance, you know, sort of one row by one. And so some of the more difficult dance moves they gave to people who could pick it up quickly, and some of the maybe walking patterns they gave to people who were less coordinated. And it has, like, no effect on who wins.
Millie's Mom: You lied to me? You just lied? You lied straight to my face? Is this who you are?
Cheslie Kryst: I've never seen a parent randomly interrupt the middle of a pageant and come backstage and try to take somebody home. I think that would be way out of the ordinary. Not saying that it's never happened; I've just personally never seen it happen. And we have security backstage, and so you're not going to be able to just bust in the backstage area. But as a teen, yeah, you would need some level of parental consent. Pageants can be pretty costly, and so as a teen, if you don't have a job, you're going to need your parents' help, either to pay for your entry fees or to pay for your makeup, your wardrobe. Now, as far as, like, having family members not know, that could definitely happen. I remember when I competed my final year at Miss North Carolina USA, I didn't know if I would win. And I gotta tell you, there is nothing that puts more pressure on you than knowing that your friends and family have driven or flown from far away to watch you compete, have paid for hotel rooms, have paid for tickets, are out there rooting for you, and then have you not win. It's terrible.
For this one, I would give it a 7. The parent coming backstage is, it's not super realistic.
"Parks and Recreation" S2E3 (2009)
Tom Haverford: Here we have Leslie's custom scorecard, with categories such as: presentation, intelligence, knowledge of herstory.
Cheslie Kryst: So, the judging criteria for every competition is different. Some judges have scores that they'll put down either in swimsuit or talent or onstage question. You have a score from, like, 5 to 10. I've actually judged a state competition in the Miss Universe Organization, and I really liked that we didn't assign people numbers. So for swimsuit, for example, I wouldn't give someone a 10 out of 10. You would just make selections. If only 15 contestants get to advance in the swimsuit competition, you would watch everybody compete, all 40, in the preliminary competition, and then you would literally just select 15 people that you thought should advance in swimsuit.
Contestant: And I volunteer at the children's hospital.
[upbeat dance music]
Tom: My girl Trish is talented!
Cheslie Kryst: Unless a judge makes, you know, really inappropriate comments or something, I don't see why they would kick them off just for not being a good judge. What makes a good judge or a bad judge? I mean, you know, I think, like I said, it's really subjective, and what somebody may appreciate in one contestant somebody may not be able to stand.
April Ludgate: We don't get cash? This is for a fence?
Host: Well, it won't cover a whole fence, but it will defray the cost considerably.
Cheslie Kryst: In a system like the Miss America Organization, no matter what level you're competing at, you get some sort of scholarship. Miss America gets, like, a $50,000 scholarship. And Miss America is a salaried employee. So, you also get, you know, additional prizes and stuff on top of that. Miss USA and Miss Universe, we are also salaried employees of the Miss Universe Organization. We also have housing. We lived in a high-rise in Manhattan, in New York, for the the term that we were titleholders. This one's kind of low, yes. I would rank this one pretty low, maybe, like, a 3 out of 10. I did like how they depicted one of the competitors. I mean, she said that she, you know, she talked about her volunteerism, that she was a student.
Cheslie Kryst: So, this particular scene was 1970s, the protesters were part of the Women's Liberation Movement, and this was at Miss World. If something like that happened now, I would assume that security would probably remove those people. Obviously, you know, voicing your opinion and protesting is an important exercise, but we also have a competition going on. We want the women who are given an opportunity to make a change and make a difference. But we have had something similar to this happen. A different kind of protest. During the election cycle for 2016, former President Donald Trump then owned the Miss Universe Organization. And you may remember that he made some awful, disparaging statements. Was talking about immigrants crossing the border and just was disparaging them. The network that owned the competition I think decided not to air the competition on television. The celebrity judges that were lined up for the competition pulled out. I think the host pulled out, the talent pulled out, and rightfully so, right? We have to say that we don't stand for these kind of comments. I don't stand for those kinds of comments, and nobody wants to be associated with that. So, you know, on that end, that was an important move. But on the other end, you have these women who are titleholders who also don't stand for that. And these women have prepared for a year, and now we're, like, out of a competition because this man decided to make these awful statements.
There were similar protests when Miss America and Miss USA were happening in the States. And there were many times when women would talk about pageants and say that they, you know, weren't appropriate for the times or that they were disparaging or objectifying to women. Obviously I don't believe that, but I think it's important that women and people in general voice their opinions and try to push for progress the way that they see fit.
There are people who believe that pageants are just about showing up and being pretty. I've actually had someone say that to me when I was a state titleholder. I was standing backstage at an awards show, and this woman walked up to me, and she said, "It must be so hard just showing up and being pretty." Being Miss USA opened up so many new opportunities for me and gave me the opportunity to speak about issues that were incredibly important to me, like Black Lives Matter, the resurgence of the movement last summer. I talked about immigration reform.
Host: Is Miss Grenada.
Cheslie Kryst: Your mind goes totally blank, or at least mine did. And I remember forgetting where the cameras were. So, you're supposed to look out into the stage so people can get your reaction. Instead, I'm holding hands with my first runner-up, who is Miss New Mexico, and I literally just collapsed into her arms, and I'm sort of bending down like this. And because I was doing that, there are no reaction shots. Literally, all you're looking at is the side of my head. This is me when I win.
So if you win, make sure you look at the camera.
I certainly knew about the landmark titleholders in the Miss Universe Organization. Like, for example, Carole Gist, she was Miss USA 1990. She was the first Black Miss USA -- which is crazy to think that in the '70s, you know, we already had a woman of color who had won Miss World. So I feel like Miss World and Miss Universe were obviously far more advanced when it came to racial diversity than some of the competitions in the States. Even today, we're still dealing with some of those issues. We're still dealing with colorism in competitions, we're still dealing with women feeling like we have to do code-switching in competitions rather than just being able to be our authentic selves.
I would give it, like, an 8, for the time. Yeah.
"Tall Girl" (2019)
Cheslie Kryst: I've seen some pretty interesting talents. I can't say that I've seen some very dangerous ones. I think there's been, like, luggage packing, years ago. The current Miss America, I think she did a science experiment for her talent. At Miss North Carolina and Miss America, that's sort of the system that still has talent. There are always tons of tap dancers. They are always tons of musicians, singers, oh, my -- so many singers.
You would almost never see somebody doing the same song at one competition, especially when you get to the state and the national level.
[audience member mouthing answers]
- Which is all about meeting and exceeding.
Cheslie Kryst: Generally, you cannot see. I've never been able to see into the audience that well. But as far as, like, being able to communicate messages back and forth, I don't think that that would be possible. Especially because, you know, onstage question is usually timed, and you just don't have time to sit there and watch somebody, read their lips. I can't say that anything from this is very realistic other than, you know, a woman wearing a pretty dress onstage. I'm going to give this one a 2 out of 10.
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