Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 | 2:19 a.m.
Covering the Miss America Pageant is a journalist’s dream assignment because when you sit down to have lunch with 53 gorgeous women, you never know what stories you will unearth. And at the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood, I came across four blockbusters!
Miss Vermont Caroline Bright has a well-mapped-out 20-year timeline to be in The White House as president. Miss New York Claire Buffie is the first-ever pageant hopeful to run on a gay rights platform. Miss Delaware Kayla Martell suffers from baldness with a rare form of Alopecia, Areata, and will wear a blonde wig on Saturday’s telecast. And Miss Massachusetts Loren Rabinowitz tells the heart-wrenching story of her grandparents, who jumped from a moving train to escape death in the gulag of the WWII concentration camps.
Here are their stories in their own words.
Miss Vermont Caroline Bright
“British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is my hero. She said, ‘Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.’ I may only be 20 years old, but I’ve always wanted to be in politics. I started in public service at 10 years of age putting stamps on mailers as a volunteer. I went on to become a page in our state legislature and was appointed by the governor. Obviously, I have to talk to both parties, but there’s an open seat in our state legislature coming up in 2012, and I’d like to run for it. I could run as an Independent if they don’t want me representing a party. As Miss Vermont, I have to be nonpartisan, and that’s been somewhat challenging.
“But if I start serving at age 22, then that means six years to learn everything in the state Senate so by the time I’m 28 to 30, I could run for governor. I plan to be ready by the time I am 40 to run for president. You have to be 35 years old to become president, so I might shave some years off my plan, although there is no specific timeline.
“Politics affects every area of your life, so I really want to be in it to help people and make life better for everybody. I don’t want to be the first female president. I hope there’s one or two ahead of me. And if you come to the inauguration, you can call me Madam President. It has a nice sound to it.”
Miss New York Claire Buffie
“My platform is not so much gay rights, but it’s equality for all. I’m 24, and my older sister Sarah, who is 27, is gay. I’ve seen the natural discrimination. I have seen them be treated as second-class citizens. So my platform, ‘Straight for Equality: Lets Talk,’ is to foster an open dialogue. Many people are opposed to it simply out of not knowing.
“Sarah came out with full confidence because no subject was ever taboo at the Buffie dinner table. I want that same confidence for everybody. Nobody is right. Nobody is wrong. Just talk about it and stop the bullying. No kid deserves that because they are different. My mission is to show respect, dignity and equality for human beings whatever their choices are.
“I’ve gained a lot of respect for adopting this platform. I am not preaching. I am not aggressive or attacking. I come at it moderately, and I’m pleased to say it’s working, and I get a lot of support from people now that I never expected.”
Miss Delaware Kayla Martell
“I was only 10 years old when I first lost my hair. I was just 11 when I was diagnosed with this rare form of Alopecia, Areata. My hair vanished from the front backwards, and I still remember when I had the last strands where a ponytail would be. I’d never heard of the disease, but it affects over 5 million people. There’s no proven cause yet for it, but everybody who suffers is very healthy, no other medical problems, so it’s a mystery. At school, I went through the name calling -- being Baldilocks. All the teasing I got, though, made me a stronger, more confident person.
“I actually competed four times in the Miss Delaware pageants, three times bald and one with a wig. I actually placed fourth once being bald. One judge who knew I wanted to enter Miss America told me I had to wear a wig. To be honest, I was hurt and offended. I wanted to win by being me but slowly realized a wig would make me more approachable. They could relate to me normally, so it would be more about me than just the disease. Now I understand, so I have no problem about it. I actually have five blonde wigs in rotation -- all identical -- from human hair. After all, you win a pageant because you’re the right person to do the job.
“Research into the disease is very exciting now. The doctors at Columbia Medical Center in New York believe they have isolated the gene that causes this problem. If they find the breakthrough to treat Alopecia, it will also help all premature balding people or those who suffer from large hair loss in normal life. I am very excited about this because Alopecia is my platform, to make people aware of it and the need to find a cure.”
Miss Massachusetts Loren Rabinowitz
I had the most extraordinary grandparents. They were WWII sweethearts who’d known each other from childhood in the gulag. They were separated to go to different concentration camps. They both wound up in cattle cars to be shipped to a death camp. My grandmother was just 16 years old when she was pushed off the moving train with six others. Two kids with her were shot by the soldiers. She buried them in the snow. Only two of the seven survived. The miracle is that my grandparents were reunited after the war meeting in a totally different center.
“She had no documents showing her real name was Eva. She took the documents of one of the slain girls who was called Katrina. From that moment on, she was Katrina. First they went to Sweden where my mother was born, and then they all moved to America, so I am the first-born American. They traveled to New Orleans, and my grandmother died there during Hurricane Katrina. It was the name that gave her life, and yet the name that took her life.
“My grandfather wanted to come to see me here in Las Vegas, but he’s got health issues now at his age. So he has a big viewing party in Houston, and he told me that my making it to Miss America is the fulfillment of their American Dream. In 1945, Bess Myerson became the first Jewish girl to become Miss America and was the first recipient of Miss America scholarship money. I am hoping that I will be the first since her!
“I am blessed that I come from an incredible family from all those tears and hardships. My great uncle is the famous conductor Leonard Bernstein. My sisters Arielle and Danielle are 18-year-old twins -- child prodigies. They have played piano together in Carnegie Hall, and each one knows exactly what the other is playing on the piano. That’s incredible. I will be very proud on Saturday night whatever happens knowing that I got to fulfill my grandfather’s wish for the American Dream!”
The View host and judge Joy Behar said, “I never realized the Miss America Pageant was all about scholarship money. These girls need that money. Their backgrounds are simply amazing in how they’ve struggled, how they’ve battled problems and what they have overcome to reach this point. I thought they came from privilege and were just typical blonde-haired, blue-eyed American girls.
“I was completely wrong. They have true grit about themselves. Their dream to win the crown is not about dressing up. It’s about using it for their platform, their charity and their goals. The girls are incredible, and I have a renewed respect for the Miss America Pageant.”
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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