On Saturday January 15, the 2011 Miss America pageant will bring the glitz of Las Vegas to millions of American living rooms. Viewers across Indiana – especially in Bloomington – will be perched on the edge of their recliners to chart the progress of the Hoosier State’s contestant.
Gabrielle Reed is a junior at Indiana University, where she is a vocal performance major at the Jacobs School of Music.
Sending Her Off In Style
Reed looks every bit the part of Miss America. 5’10” before heels, with long dark tresses and a gleaming smile, she is resplendent in the red evening gown she’s donned for a December send-off party in the Indiana Memorial Union’s elegant Federal Room on IU’s Bloomington campus.
Seymour, Indiana native Katie Stam, Miss America 2009, is in attendance at the December event, as are dozens of well-wishers, the state and regional directors of the Miss Indiana program, and current and past title-holders from across Indiana.
Reed greets her guests and models a few of the outfits she’ll be wearing over the course of the ten-day event in Las Vegas.
Beyond The Glamour
But according to Frank Ricketts, co-executive director of the Miss Indiana pageant, the program is about so much more than high heels and false lashes.
“We don’t want a beauty queen,” Ricketts insists. “That’s not what we’re about. We stay involved because we see young women’s lives changed and enhanced. The Miss America program is the largest source of scholarship money for young women in the world.”
Scholarship funds are a big incentive for Reed to renew her involvement in the pageant world. Although she did the sash-and-crown circuit as a teenager, she thought she was done by the time she got to college. With no way to finance her first semester in Bloomington, though, Reed turned to the Miss IU program as a funding option. Winning the competition paid her tuition.
It’s stories like this that take you straight from pageant glamor and fabulousness to gritty reality. The Hispanic Los Angelena had a rude awakening when she moved to Bluffton, Indiana as a preteen with her mother and stepfather. “It was the first time I was seen as a minority,” she explains. “I experienced bullying and harassment because of it.”
The Crown Can Spread The Word
To make matters worse, things were rocky at home. Reed’s mother and stepfather were locked in a pattern of abuse. Reed found a refuge in music and pageant competition. She has used the crown not only to fund her education, but to spread the message of domestic violence prevention.
Given the educational and societal opportunities the Miss America program affords, it’s tempting to overlook the fact that what began as bathing beauty contest in Atlantic City in 1921 still includes a swimsuit category.
Slimming Down The Swimsuit Score
“Now ‘swimsuit’ is down to fifteen percent of the score,” explains Miss Indiana co-executive director Erin Strager, “which tells these women, ‘It’s important to be physically fit and to be healthy, but that the majority of the points that you’re going to receive in this pageant system have to do with your education, with your community service, with your talent.’ The organization is not saying to you, ‘You’re winning this because you’re beautiful.’”
- Track the winners of the Miss America Pageant, find out more about the contest, and vote for your favorite contestant on their website.
The 2011 Miss America Pageant is broadcast live from Las Vegas Saturday, January 15 at 8 pm, on ABC.