In 'WTTP&R' , I prepared for, and won, the Miss Tall Los Angeles 1997 pageant. One of my 'duties' was to represent the California Tip Toppers Club at the Miss Tall International pageant, held that year in Clearwater Beach FL.
I had ten weeks to prepare for the Miss TI pageant. Prepare? Prepare for what? I had *no* clue what to expect, other than more questions, more smiling, more walking. I picked a new song, bought a suit for interviews, read and re-read all the questions on the list of pageant questions someone gave me and had a ball gown made. I was going to Florida for free for a week's vacation with a night at a pageant tucked in.
I arrived in time to meet the other contestants at our first rehearsal. There were 13 of us, total. The pageant 'mother' had everything planned out - where to stand, how to walk, how long to stand in one place, blah blah blah. We were arranged so that the tallest of us was in the middle; at 6'10" Ellen was smack dab in the middle. Guess where I fell in line? Yep, right next to her. I was in her armpit! We rehearsed for hours.
As I watched the other women, I tried to pick a winner. We were different shapes and sizes, ages and heights. I always came back to Lori from Houston. She epitomized - to me - the perfect pageant contestant: tall, thin and beautiful. And, of course, she was so effing nice! But because this was the tall club, I figured Ellen was a shoo-in. Winning never crossed my mind. Ever. Again, I was a girl on a free vacation in Florida with a night at a pageant tucked in.
The day of the pageant: the interviews with the judges went fairly well. All of the girls were so confident in how well they'd done. I was pretty sure all my little 'interview tricks' made an impression more so than my actual answers (Trick #1: when the timer goes off say 'Has it been 5 minutes already?' all surprised and whatnot; Trick #2: sign 'thank you' at the end of the interview; Trick #3: shake hands and grasp the clasped hands with your other hand - apparently it shows sincerity; there were others...).
I was Contestant #6, so there was a few minutes of not rushing to get into my talent costume (which really wasn't a costume as I wore shorts, a t-shirt and white Keds). My number was called - I was on deck. I stood there, poised and ready, listening to the audience's collective roar of laughter at Ellen's very clever stand-up routine. She walked off stage to wild applause, whistles and cheers. "Well," I thought, "at least the beginning of my song will have 'em clapping a bit." All of a sudden, I had to pee.
I heard my introduction, waited for my musical cue, then burst through the curtains. It was all bright lights, shadowy outlines of people and loud music. 'Celebration' by Kool and the Gang is one of those songs that gets you moving, without realizing it. Why do you think I chose it to sign to! The audience was already clapping as I made my rounds on the stage. I signed the song, taking great care to engage the judges ("It's up to you, what's your pleasure?") and the audience ("We're gonna have a good time tonight, let's celebrate, it's alright!"). At the end, on the advice of Brandy, I blew a kiss and waved the 'I Love You' sign at my mom. Aww...
We did our evening gown 'walk' and, again, I waved the 'ILY' sign at my mom a couple of times. Aww...
It was time to announce the 5 finalists. We're standing on stage, lights glaring, camera flashes flashing, each of us muttering something about paparazzi through our practiced smiles.
Andrea from San Francisco, Lynelle from Silicon Valley, Laura from Chicago, Janey from St. Louis and...Rissa from Los Angeles! Huh? Wha? I wasn't paying any attention, just looking at Ellen, waiting for her to step out of line. One of our escorts backstage had to push me forward.
The 5 of us stood there, smiling for more pictures. We were then escorted backstage while the reigning Miss Tall International took her final 'walk' around the stage. The girls were so nervous. I was so hungry. I was picking at the leftover fruit and cheese platter, looking around for bottled water, grabbing handfuls of M&Ms. I really was not comprehending WTH was going on. Janice, the woman who made my dress, was fixing my makeup and hair, squealing and chatting. The escorts came to get us and we lined up on stage again.
"Fourth runner-up: Andrea!" Clap clap clap.
"Third runner-up: Lynelle!" Clap clap clap.
"Second runner-up: Laura!" Clap clap clap.
"First runner-up: Janey!" Clap clap clap. Screams.
That's the last thing I recall. I don't remember the emcee saying my name. There was a flurry of activity around me - the crown, the robe, the sash, the people, the cameras. Most of my memories of that night I recall only because I've seen the video.
I was Miss Tall International 1997!
I was up most of the night, dancing, celebrating, talking to press. People were congratulating me, wishing me well. I had no idea most of them were liars.