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You’ve come a long way, baby

2012 Miss Sullivan County AnnaRose Mongiello opened the pageant with the National Anthem.
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox


April 3, 2013

Preconceived notions are a funny thing—rarely true and often misleading. So, I was not prepared for the reality of how beauty pageants have actually changed over the years. Since Easter and Passover were taking center stage, my schedule was not as full as usual, so I took advantage of the opportunity to immerse myself in the Sullivan County Pageant held in Callicoon, NY (www.villaroma.com) last weekend. Given the current onslaught of negative press and (somewhat frightening) reality shows, I was nervous that a “Toddlers and Tiaras” atmosphere would prevail and that the place would be filled with scary moms and overly tanned brats (can you say Honey Boo Boo?) teetering about in high heels, flashing impossibly white teeth while shoving competitors aside for their moment in the limelight.

To be honest, while the cutthroat world of pageantry appears to be thriving elsewhere in the country, here at home, not so much. Discovering a Facebook page devoted to the yearly event, I checked it out and made note that the local pageant site states that it is “far from a beauty contest” and that “we encourage ladies of Sullivan County to ‘go mad or go out’ and make a difference in the community.” That looked good on the screen, but I had my doubts. But I reserved judgment and strode into the theatre, canine beauty queen in tow, with a (somewhat) open mind.

As usual, there were many familiar faces packing the house, which was standing room only by the time I arrived. Yes, there was a cloud of hairspray hanging over the room and yes, there were ladies ranging in age from five to 40 excitedly preparing for the big show (wearing sequins and crowns), but the overall impression was one of genuine camaraderie among the contestants milling about in the makeshift backstage area, primping and soothing each others’ nerves as the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the crowd. Already impressed with the set and lighting, I whipped out my trusty camera and focused on the reigning Miss Sullivan County, AnnaRose Mangiello, as she took center stage and belted out the national anthem in a stunning gown, looking every inch a beauty queen.