CHAPTER 2 Why the Camera Changes Everything

Dateline: Summer 1991

Location: Altoona, Pennsylvania (specifically, Jaffa Shrine)

Event: Final night of competition at the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Pageant

I was the season shocker. How could I, Miss Butler County, a pageant neophyte who only entered on a lark, be in prime position to represent the Keystone State in the Miss America pageant?

Talent Competition: I nailed it thanks to a decade of voice training.

Judge's Panel Interview: I aced that, too.

The vast majority of my fellow contestants had been priming themselves for this moment for years, sharpening their skills on the lower-level pageant circuit. Me? I was a total newbie and on no one's radar as a potential threat. But after chalking up two preliminary competition wins earlier in the week, the dark horse had become the front-runner and likely winner . . . save for a slight miscalculation by my team.

You see, along with the tiara from the county win, I had acquired a cadre of pageant professionals who were in charge of coaching me for the state pageant. They taught me how to strut, wobble-free, across the stage in a bathing suit and four-inch heels made of Lucite. They explained the importance of displaying off-the-charts enthusiasm when I introduced myself at the top of the show. We even ran through my song from Phantom of the Opera ad nauseam just in case.

What we didn't work on was my on-stage interview question. Why would we? After all, I was a top student and had ...

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