Archived Story

Pageant brings wave of nostalgia

Published 10:43am Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Outlook Calendar Girl Pageant has been an establishment in Alexander City for as long as I can remember.

Though the pageant was begun by my grandfather, Billy McGhee, in 1973 – 15 years before I was born – I never once participated in the event.

But nevertheless, the Outlook Pageant was always a family affair.

My grandmother, Ginny McGhee, ran a dance studio called Ginny’s School of Dance for years in town and usually taught an opening dance number for participants to do at the beginning of the pageant. There were several rehearsals throughout the week, and girls of all ages learned simple dance steps and stage blocking to open the production with pizzazz.

My mom, Barbara Anne Spears, would help with organization leading up to the pageant and backstage while it was going on.

She and my grandfather used to make all of the sashes – strips of wide red ribbon with the names (such as “Miss Congeniality 1992”) written in my grandfather’s near-perfect Palmer handwriting in glue and then sprinkled with glitter.

Though I don’t remember it firsthand, it doesn’t surprise me that he had near-perfect handwriting – as most who knew him would probably recall, my grandfather paid great attention to detail, which made him perfect as a pageant director. He double- and triple-checked to ensure every aspect of the pageant was immaculate.

I loved peeking into the hustle and bustle of the dressing room, watching in awe as frantic mothers transformed what looked like normal girls into angels in front of my eyes – all in a flurry of hairspray, bobby pins and duct tape.

Funny how at the time, those in the Miss Outlook category were grown women in my mind – wearing shimmering, perfect-fitting gowns, gliding across the stage with a grace I couldn’t comprehend.

(Now when I see the contestants, I can’t help but think how they look much too young to be in high school, and I wonder when I got old enough for teenagers to consistently call me “ma’am.”)

The backstage area was swirling with activity as well – not to mention dust long since trapped between the wooden slats of the stage floor or in the heavy curtains that once again decided to make its presence known. Glitter floated amidst the dust, mixing in with the heavy perfume coming from the single long-stemmed red roses stacked in boxes.

I would always trace my fingers over the bases of the rows and rows of trophies, which soon would stand proudly in young girls’ bedrooms and curio cabinets throughout the Lake Martin region.

I remember peeking around the center curtain at the stage at Central Alabama Community College (where the pageant was held in the 1990s, though it was held at Benjamin Russell High School for a majority of its existence), listening to Robert Gunn announce each contestant’s name, interests and sponsor.

Following the presentation of all the months, category winners, and Miss Outlook winners in each age category, there was happy chaos. Parents and friends formed their own paparazzi, with flashes popping all around as everyone tried to capture the excitement of the moment.

My grandfather died in 1997 when I was 9 years old, and since then the scholarship earned by Miss Outlook has borne his name.

I’m sure when I attend the pageant this weekend, I’ll be swept up in the nostalgia – I can’t imagine much has changed. The palpable excitement of the families and the equally present nervousness of the girls has culminated into a community tradition all its own.

Tickets for this weekend’s 40th Outlook Calendar Girl Pageant are $8 and will be available at the door. If you’d like to buy tickets ahead of time, stop by The Outlook office anytime during regular business hours.

The pageant will begin on Saturday at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 3 p.m.

For any of you who haven’t experienced the pageant in the past, I highly encourage you to attend – the spirit of the event is contagious, and the support for the girls from friends and family is always appreciated.

I’ll see you there.

Spears is general manager and managing editor of The Record.