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2013 Miss America: TV cameras at closed judges’ interviews for first time


Miss America Organization

Lara Spencer interviews 2013 Miss America Pageant contestants at Planet Hollywood on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013.

2013 Miss America Pageant: Lara Spencer Interviews Contestants

Lara Spencer interviews 2013 Miss America Pageant contestants at Planet Hollywood on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Launch slideshow »

ABC’s “20/20” has won exclusive and unrestricted access to 14 of the 53 2013 Miss America Pageant contestants, all of whom have arrived at Planet Hollywood for next Saturday’s two-hour competition airing on ABC.

Now for the first time, the cameras will take viewers behind the closed doors of the celebrity judges as they grill the girls -- that all-important first interview is believed by many to be the determination of who goes on to the Top 10.

Here she comes, Miss America, but like you’ve never seen her before!

ABC producers know that none of the 14 they selected for filming could wind up in the Top 10 because they don’t start covering the judges’ interview portions until Monday.

“Good Morning America” anchor Lara Spencer is hosting the news special, and it all began when she was a judge at Miss America here in Las Vegas last year. She told me back then she’d been moved by the stories of the contestants and their determination and discipline working for scholarships. Miss America is the only pageant to fund such programs -- last year contributing $45 million.

Returning to New York, Lara pitched the idea to network executives for the one-hour “Pageant Confidential: The Road to Miss America,” and, for the past six months, cameras have captured candid moments with the state winners on their journey to the crown.

“It is a surprising and intimate portrait of what it takes to become Miss America,” Lara said. “It is the most iconic pageant in the world, and it shows their transformation from state beauty queens to the polished Miss America contenders seen onstage. These are beauty queens as you have never seen them before because they reveal all their stage tricks, but also share their vulnerable sides in rare moments at home.”

The “20/20” news program will be filmed until midnight Friday and edited right up until the 8 p.m. ET broadcast leading directly into the two-hour Miss America Pageant hosted by Chris Harrison of “The Bachelor” and Brooke Burke-Charvet of “Dancing With the Stars.”

2013 Miss America Pageant: Arrivals at Planet Hollywood

The 2013 Miss America Pageant contestants arrive at Planet Hollywood on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The 92nd pageant is at PH Live on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

In an exclusive interview, Sam Haskell, Miss America Organization board chairman, told me: “The producers are all from ‘20/20,’ and they jumped on this thing. They have thanked us over and over because they had no idea how interesting it was going to become. It’s what Lara learned last year as head judge that got this off the ground. She just fell in love with the program and the type of young women who compete in it. She discovered, as anyone who judges for the first time discovers, that these are quality young women, the tops in their class, the best in their communities.

“They range from the girl next door to a would-be doctor, and she found that it was very intriguing to hear their stories and how hard they worked to become Miss America. She was moved by the experience of meeting them and selecting Miss America. She realized that she had just been a part of changing lives. That’s what happens, not only for Miss America, but every single one of the contestants. Their lives are all changed forever because of this experience, and for the rest of their lives their legacy will be attached to being a Miss Massachusetts or Miss Mississippi or Miss Montana.

“We had no fears whatsoever about letting the cameras in to see the judging process. This year, though, it may be even more nerve-wracking for the young ladies. I have always felt that the judging process has been mystifying to people at home watching the show. Sometimes a girl wins, and the audience doesn’t know why or how she won. It’s probably because she had an incredible interview. I think it is important for the viewers to see how tough these interviews are and the types of questions that these young ladies have to field.

So, for the first time in pageant history, the veil is being taken off the secret judging process of our pageant -- and any other pageant.”

The stories include Miss Montana Alexis Wineman, who has to conquer her fears as the youngest and only autistic woman competing, and Miss Iowa Mariah Cary, who battles Tourette syndrome. Two competitors working to raise funds for scholarships and the contest are Miss New Mexico Candice Bennatt and Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan, who is a waitress.

2012 Miss America Pageant: The Big Night

The 2012 Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, with the crowning of Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, 23, of Kenosha as the new Miss America. Launch slideshow »

There’s the fascinating story of Miss Maine Molly Bouchard’s 50-pound weight loss to win her state title and Miss Wyoming Lexie Madden, who once wrestled pigs for scholarships. Our neighboring states feature Miss Utah Kara Arnold, a biochemist who dislikes manicures and getting her hair done for pageants, and Miss California Leah Cecil, who flubbed her mock interview and is working right up to pageant time to get it right. Miss South Carolina Ali Rogers, Miss Florida Laura McKeeman and Miss Kentucky Jessica Casebolt share their beauty secrets, stage tricks and the “secret weapon” used for perfect onstage bikini wear.

Sam added: “The producers picked them. Our Miss America Organization didn’t want to show any favoritism. We just sent them all 53 dossiers of photographs, platforms, talents, all the information on every single girl, and they picked them. Here is what is interesting, though, and this is what I warned them about: They picked them based on what they saw on a piece of paper.

“They have not seen them perform, they have not seen them interview, and I have a feeling some others are definitely going to emerge once they roll the cameras Monday and start following what goes on here. It’s very possible that none of them could make the Top 10 because it is all about what happens this coming week, not about what happened before they got here.”

With Miss America closing in on a blowout 100th anniversary, the “20/20” special not only will show the sweat and tears that go into the making of a modern beauty queen, but also look back at the history of the hallmark icon and the women who won and went on to become successes.

Sam summed up: “It allows us to have a three-hour event as opposed to whatever the lead-in was at ABC and having to build from that. It starts getting everyone in front of the sets much sooner for the competition.

“We also have something special new and unique planned for the live telecast, too. We always do for the live competition. There will be another wrinkle that even the girls won’t know about until we go live, nor should they!”

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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