Outside on the Hawaiian Tropic Zone patio, the evening wind is messing up the pageant contestants' hair, and fluttering their white silk sashes and dresses.
A white-haired man with rhinestones spelling "Rock On" across the back of his shirt is trying to get all the onlookers out of his way so he can get his shot. He is frustrated, like a man with a frosted cake trying to push away all the flies that are hovering and settling. He lines the girls up in two rows of smooth, youthful feminine beauty. A crowd gathers like another Bellagio water fountain show is about to start, except that everyone is much more transfixed.
Lots of men have their camera phones out. They watch the girls with appraising eyes and crossed arms, not like they are analyzing art, but more like they are admiring a gleaming display Harley that man, they'd like to ride.
Naturally, when they are all side-by-side it’s hard not to compare the contestants for Miss Nevada 2009. I ask a couple men for their selection. "At first glance, South Las Vegas," says Kevin Polce, without hesitation. His friend Jason Polly – the pair hail from Detroit - isn't quite as decided. "Personally, I like them all. I don't have a problem with any of them. But personality is what counts, right?"
In beauty pageants – not so much. I doubt that the gorgeous Veronica Grabowski earned last year's crown and Criss Angel's (fleeting) attentions because of her personality. This year’s winner will be crowned tonight, November 15, before moving onto the Miss USA pageant.
One of the girls knows me and calls out my name. It's Miss Silverado, a life-size Barbie Doll, Robyn van Dyke, a girl I palled around with in high school. The tall beauty hugs me and beams, asks about our mutual friends. For 2008 year she won fourth runner up.
The queens, each wearing regionally specific sashes, move inside Planet Hollywood for more group pictures, and the crowd follows along dutifully. Men stop Robyn and ask for pictures, and she obliges. Her pageant coach – a perennial beauty in a crisp blazer - comes over to smooth Robyn's hair back into perfection. I get a picture of Robyn with Miss Sparks, another killer blonde. Miss Sparks is competing for Miss Nevada Teen 2009, and Robyn (an aspiring model and actress) for Miss Nevada.
Miss Sparks, Amber Harper, is only 16, and her plump, slightly bedraggled mom is by her side. They tell me laughingly of how they were chased on the way to Las Vegas by a bus full of high school football players, who were leaning out of the windows trying to get Amber's number while speeding down the freeway.
"Why do you want to be a pageant queen?" I ask her, mesmerized by her big sapphire eyes and rose petal-pink lips. "To make a difference," she answers predictably. "And you get a swimsuit wardrobe and a clothes wardrobe and a shoe wardrobe and a car and you share a NYC apartment with Miss USA and Miss Universe! And you get to fly to the Bahamas or something. You get everything!"
Everything a beauty queen could ask for. As for world peace, maybe next year.