Behind the Scenes at Miss America

Dear Viewers,

I can tell you after my first two days -- Miss America (search) is not just a beauty pageant. Yes, the women are gorgeous but that is only part of it -- frankly, for the first two days, it is no part of it but the pageant week of competition has just begun.

Day one -– Saturday -- was our judges orientation beginning at 3:30 p.m. This was the first time all seven of us had ever met and as you might guess, we are a diverse group.

We were told the history of the pageant. It began in 1921 as a means to market Atlantic City. Over the years, the pageant remained largely the same but the contestants changed and they have changed a great deal. To give you an idea -- this year's roster includes more than one Harvard graduate and all with career aspirations. Of course, years ago the women had no expectation of a career. Each of these 51 contestants is very accomplished at a very young age.

The pageant is described as a "scholarship" program and pays a $50,000 scholarship. I wondered if that were a "cover" for a beauty pageant since, in these expensive days, that pays only two years of school. However, I learned that an ambitious Miss America can earn $100,000-$250,000 in her year as Miss America. Where does the money come from to pay the $50,000? Proceeds from ticket sales and for broadcast rights for the final night when the new Miss America is crowned. The remainder of the money to the Miss America winner is paid by organizations who want Miss America to speak over the course of her year as Miss America. The more often she speaks, the more she makes. Of course there is also a profound sense of duty to make appearances around the country since the Miss America is the ambassador for this almost one hundred year old program.

Day two -- Sunday -- started at 7:45 a.m. I don't mean we awakened at 7:45, but rather the seven of us judges were in our seats to start judging. That's early for a Sunday. I suddenly realized that this pageant process is very hard work - early hours and long days. We interviewed -- maybe even grilled - the first 17 on day one.

While the entire process is at this point confidential, I assure you no one was asked about designer clothes or hairstyles. The questions were about current events, politics, social issues, problems in their home states, platforms, etc.

Each interview is timed and is 12 minutes -- not one second longer. The first 45 seconds are introductory words from the contestant and then the grilling begins. The contestant gets immediately cut off at 45 seconds so she better be short and to the point. The judges randomly ask questions for 10 minutes, 45 seconds, and then the contestant has thirty seconds to close. Since time is important, the contestant gets cut off immediately by the judges at the conclusion of 12 minutes. All the contestants got cut off mid sentence. It seemed rude but the contestants know this is the way it is done and none was offended.

I can give you some behind the scenes -- the room was so cold that my teeth were practically chattering by the time we got through the first. My women co-judges admitted at the first break that they could not feel their hands or feet. I was not able to get a temperature read out from the three male judges since the conversation among the four women judges -- quite predictably -- was in the women's restroom.

The judging is done fairly -- we each give a number from one to 10 on a computer touch pad after each interview and we have no idea how each other votes. At the end of the interview competition, the professional auditors will add up the numbers and, of course, the woman with the highest score wins that competition. The judges do not discuss any of the contestants or their answers with each contestant. When we leave the interview room the judges do not discuss anything that has gone on in the room. Incidentally we have professional auditors in the room with us at all times and our voting keyboards are linked to their computer equipment in the room.

We have two more days of individual interviews before we move onto the other competitions. The other competitions are done in the convention center and the public can buy tickets to attend. The grand finale, of course is Saturday and will be broadcast by ABC.

We have not yet decided if we will do any segments about Miss America on On the Record but we will be doing the show from Atlantic City.


Watch On the Record with Greta Van Susteren weeknights at 10 p.m. ET