The American beauty pageant as we know it is dead. The Ramseys first turned it into an ugly thing in the mid-1990s, followed by a rash of evening news reports and cover stories on the “dark side” of beauty contests. After 2001, Americans started worrying about other things like freedom-hating Jihads, the “axis of evil” and which Olsen twin wasn’t getting enough protein.
As our country went to war, the President ran for re-election and the economy struggled, beauty pageants started to feel like something from the past—a pair of shoes that no longer fit our feet. And it shows: the Miss America pageant had to leave ABC this fall after 50 years on the network, because the ratings dropped exponentially over the last decade. Its new home: Country Music Television. Ouch.
Despite all this, Maui’s Ultimate Panache Pageant continues to thrive. Maybe it’s because of the location—almost anything goes on an island where the weather is always beautiful and people come to escape the pace of the mainland. Maybe it’s because the contestants in the Ultimate Panache Pageant are all men. Well, sort of.
The pageant, in which contestants vie for three titles, including “Jewel of the Galaxy,” “National Showgirl Goddess” and “Mr. Galaxy Pacific,” includes female illusionists (both with and without surgical enhancement) and men from Hawai’i, Oahu and Maui.
Pageant creator and producer Casey Carrington isn’t surprised by the event’s success.
“I honestly feel it brings us all together and brings people from all over Hawai’i and beyond to experience Hawai’i, Maui and the community we embody,” Carrington said. “Many people come yearly for this event ONLY so it is like a huge party of old and new friends coming together and being a part of the Maui ‘ohana.”
This year’s event will feature 13 contestants hand-picked by Carrington through a rigorous pre-screening process.
“Contestants are chosen on personality and attitude and over-all personal look,” said Carrington. “They must be able to work with me, contestants and other aspects of a pageant without attitude and drama. Other pageants are different; they will allow anyone to enter regardless. But to me that can cause [chaos] and drama with much unwanted [and unnecessary] attitudes flying around.”
Seven volunteer judges (three male, three female and one tie-breaker) rate the contestants. Each competition has four different categories, which include themes (this year’s are Moulin Rouge and Las Vegas), talent and a formal wear portion. Most intriguing is the “Hairdo Odyssey” category in the “Jewel of the Galaxy” competition.
“This is a division which allows the contestant to create a hairdo creation that looks like hair,” said Carrington. “The sky’s the limit.”
Literally. Past creations have included hairstyles the size of Kilauea that look like something straight out of Hairspray. For each category, a 25-point system rates each contestant’s creativity, style, charisma, on stage personality, charm, construction of costume, overall look and the all-important ability to move in costume.
Besides the hair, the costumes are the most elaborate element of the four-hour event. Most contestants make the costumes themselves, often spending hundreds of hours and up to $5,000 on each outfit. While participating in an Oahu pageant, Carrington remembers, “To create my showgirl costume my feathers cost me roughly $3,500, if not more, JUST FOR FEATHERS ALONE!”
In case you’re worried that the Ultimate Panache Pageant is just too much fun, Carrington wants you to remember that this event has a serious aim.
“It [is] designed as an event for the people of Maui to have an event on their island,” said Carrington, “because most BIG events happen on Oahu so I wanted to have something BIG here and to give back to Maui through charitable contributions to different non-profit organizations. This year we are doing a minor fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
With all the support that Carrington and the Ultimate Panache Pageant have received from the community and the government of Hawai’i—yes, they’ve actually received congratulatory letters from the state legislature—Carrington is confident the event won’t suffer the same fate as Miss America.
“We are the ONLY pageant that has been born, rejuvenated and continue to grow and get better year after year,” Carrington said. “That is all [due] in part to the contestants, sponsors, support, friends, families and of course ALL the people of MAUI. [They allowed] us to grow to this magnitude.” MTW