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Peculiar Pageant Queens

As beauty queens across the country primp for the Miss USA pageant this Friday, pageant princesses of other sorts have their own contests to prepare for — and that can mean anything from dressing up like a famous alien to not dressing up in much of anything at all.

From Miss Klingon Empire in Atlanta to Miss Exotic World in Las Vegas, these atypical tiara-wearers have what it takes to be a different kind of beauty queen, and they’re not afraid to strut their stuff — whatever that stuff may be — to be crowned the best around.

The Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant, held every year at the Star Trek Convention at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, aims to discover beauties who are out of this world.

But this pageant's definition of beauty might seem alien to most of us — these ladies get glammed up to assume the persona of any female Klingon character, official or created, from "Star Trek."

"[The pageant features] the most beautiful women the Klingon Empire has to offer, to be judged in Beauty, Talent and Personality categories," it says on the Miss Klingon Web site.

Other beauty queens gobble up their crowns. At the annual Turkey Trot in Yellville, Ark., where drumstick fans gather every October to celebrate all things fowl, the drumsticks aren’t just yummy — they’re pretty easy on the eyes, too. That’s because the best drumsticks at the Turkey Trot happen to be attached to good-looking women in swimsuits.

The Miss Drumsticks pageant picks the best pair of legs on ladies ages 16-24 in the Yellville area. In keeping with the theme of the festival, these contestants take to the catwalk with their bodies hidden behind a picture of a turkey, where gam-gauging judges carefully pick the best drumsticks of the bunch.

But these long-legged ladies are in it for more than just a crown — former Miss Drumsticks have been rewarded with trips from L.A. to New York to show a little leg on national TV.

“This year the winner got a trip to L.A. to be on a game show. And another winner got a trip to New York to be on 'David Letterman.' It’s an unusual pageant so people like to enter,” said Carolyn Vigna, office manager at the Yellville Chamber of Commerce.

And if aliens and turkeys don’t necessarily float your boat when it comes to pageantry, the Miss Exotic World pageant just might do the trick. The annual burlesque event, held in Las Vegas, crowns the queen of the striptease.

And this year’s competition has a new category for the immodest man in your life: boy-lesque.

“[The pageant] is something that’s so fun. It’s not like if you’re not a classically trained dancer or a size 2, you can’t win,” said Laura Herbert of the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. “We live in heavy times, everything’s dramatic and serious. To see people get up and prance around in their false eyelashes and take off their clothes — it’s refreshing.”

Every year in Fall River, Mass., more seasoned ladies get their chance to shine in the Ms. Senior Sweetheart pageant. As far as pageants go, Ms. Senior Sweetheart, open to women over 58, stays with the tried and true: The contestants participate in two production numbers, an evening gown competition and an interview process, with the top ten showcasing a talent of their choice.

“We don’t call it a beauty pageant. It’s beauty of the age, not beauty of the face and figure — though some are gorgeous to look at, at believe me,” said Len Kaplan, president and founder of the pageant.

In recent years, Senior Sweethearts' talents have included anything from dancing on stilts, opera, comedy routines and tap dancing.

“Our participants are women with wisdom, charisma, talent … they have a lot to offer. If you saw them on the stage, you would say ‘My God, I wish they were my grandmother,’” Kaplan said.

Even manly men have a shot at pageant stardom. In Fairbanks, Ala., the dudes gather each July to compete in the Hairy Chest Contest at the Fairbanks’ Golden Days festival. But that’s not all. This festival covers all manner of burly body hair with a Hairy Legs Contest, a Best Beard Contest and a Best Moustache event.

And guys who might be manly but lack a little in the hair department can knock themselves out pageant-style at the Bald is Beautiful convention in Morehead, N.C.

Every year, chrome-domes congregate to compete in contests to find the Sexiest Bald Head, the Most Improved Bald Head and the Most Distinguished Bald Head.

In the wild world of weird beauty pageants, it seems there’s a title for anyone who wants to compete for a crown.

“I think the American culture right now is in a state where we have an unlimited appetite for irony. The great thing about a weird pageant is, if you don’t win, is that really a bad thing?” said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.

“Let’s face it, (the traditional beauty pageant) is an idea that's getting kind of long in the tooth. Once upon a time, Miss America was considered one of the great events of the year. The fact that it’s been relegated to cable really shows how far beauty contests have fallen in the American consciousness over the past two generations," he continued.

They might seem alien to many, but Thompson says unusual contests like Miss Klingon Empire mean more to the participants than just a tiara and a bouquet.

"From the outside you look at these contestants and think 'get a life,' but within certain subcultures — and we’re all in one that looks strange to the outside — if you're a part of that rabid fan community, this is one of the ways you express it and rise to the top of that subculture," Thompson said.

So while you watch the toned, tanned and tearfully tiara-ed go for the glory at the Miss USA pageant Friday night, remember that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder … and that beholder just might have a thing for Klingons.