The Question: What separated Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan from the field to win Saturday’s Miss America Pageant?
The Answer: The answer.
The 23-year-old blonde, green-eyed contestant from Brooklyn who favors her grandmother’s broccoli casserole and the music of Prince was asked about firearms and grade schools. Hagan’s name was called by co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet, who told Hagan her question would be asked by “Good Morning America” host Sam Champion.
“In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, there has been a lot of talk about gun control,” Champion said, his voice echoing through an otherwise silent-but-full PH Live. “One solution being proposed is an armed guard in every school. Do you think that would make our schools safer?”
“I actually don’t. I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence,” Hagan said. “I think the proper way is to educate people about guns and the ways we can use them properly. You can lock them up, we can have gun safety classes. A longer waiting period before they are sold. The answer is not to fight violence with violence.”
The give-and-take was 20 seconds deep. The crowd applauded, but pageant audiences are possibly the most forgiving in all of entertainment. A pageant contestant would have to belch her answer not to earn applause.
But it was a crisp and opinionated response. She had a clear and concise thought about that topic. Compare that to the answer of Miss Iowa, with the singsong name Mariah Cary. Asked by fashion designer and judge Bradley Bayou, “Medical marijuana is by far the most frequently used illegal drug in America. But now voters in two states have supported legalization for recreational use (a couple of people clapped at that reminder). Is this the right direction for our country?”
She said, “I think that depends on the situation. I personally know people who have had to go to medical marijuana as their last resort for health care. I completely agree with that. However, I don’t think it should be used for anything but recreational use in health care.”
Thus, we heard a medical/recreational disagreement from Miss Iowa, an outstanding contestant who was one of the five finalists. She was fourth runner-up; Miss New York won. Miss South Carolina Ali Rogers, who many observers thought was the favorite to win what is often called the “Sparkly Hat,” was first runner-up. The onstage question is just five percent of the total score, but it’s something the judges, audience and millions of viewers pay keen attention to.
More notes from the show:
• The opening scene of the telecast on ABC featured the contestants introducing themselves in four segments from Las Vegas landmarks or venues: Neon Museum, Mizumi at Wynn Las Vegas, the set of “O” at Bellagio and the 51st-story patio of VooDoo Lounge at the Rio. The exposure for Neon Museum to a national TV audience was a boon to that attraction, which just opened in October.
• Funny intro given by Miss Michigan Angela Venditti. “Representing the land of runners-up, from the Detroit Tigers to Mitt Romney …”
• The night’s most familiar seat-filler, 2011 Miss Nevada America Alana Lee -- who competed in the Miss America Pageant in 2012 -- was moved three times during the evening. She said attending the show was a late call, as she wasn’t even sure she’d be in town tonight. It’s something of an oddity that a former beauty queen would not be given a ticket by the Miss America Organization, especially since the pageant is in her home state. But Lee said she didn’t ask for tickets and was fine with stealthily moving around the theater, having signed up for free entry to the show on a website looking for seat fillers.
• Co-host Chris Harrison offered doughnuts to the contestants who were not among the final 16. It was a funny moment, but also a blown opportunity for any resort eatery serving fried anything. We have enough deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies (still), even at Mermaids, to tie into a Las Vegas property. Or, maybe I have given this too much thought …
• Asking the judges, without warning, to determine an extra finalist in the field of 15 and giving them three minutes to make that decision while assembling around lead judge Mary Hart. Inspired theatrics or dopey gimmickry? Discuss.
• Comic Dena Blizzard held the crowd together during breaks in the two-hour telecast, which was live except for the West Coast, where it aired tape delayed at 9 p.m. She frequently asked contestants for shout-outs, and it was a bummer that the mic wasn’t pushed toward Miss Nevada Randi Sundquist in these filler moments. Blizzard did ask the contestants about the “603” signs in the crowd, and Miss New Hampshire Megan Lyman said they were for her. “It’s our area code,” Lyman said, explaining that the signs were to support the entire state, which uses just that one area code.
“Oh, I get it, I get it,” Blizzard said. “But it’s still dumb.”
Later, she recalled a tweet sent by the daughter of Lee Meriwether. “She said, ‘My mom thinks you’re so funny, she just peed herself laughing. Or maybe it’s the wine.” Blizzard, who hosted the preliminary rounds, then produced a flask she said that she bought for $4.99 and was bedazzled with “Las Vegas” on one side and a photo of Harrison, with whom Meriwether said she was having an affair, taped to the other. Harrison took the flask from Blizzard and presented the flask to Meriwether in the audience from a bended knee, “Bachelor”-style. Meriwether is a great sport, which is why she is one of the more popular Miss Americas ever.
• Wardrobe malfunction of the night: As she finished playing her piano piece during the talent competition, Miss Wyoming Lexie Madden ended by throwing her right arm skyward -- and knocking her earring to the stage. Tink! But she came close to winning the first Miss America title for her state, finishing as third runner-up.
• The representation of the five finalists spanned the country: New York, South Carolina, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Iowa. From sea to shining sea, pageant fans, and that’s a wrap. Or, rather, a sash.