It’s Thursday evening in beautiful downtown Mississauga and I’m sweating in a basement conference room of the local Novotel hotel, preparing to take in the splendour of the Miss Canada International swimsuit competition. Thirty or so naive young women from across the country have taken the journey to the land of sprawl with the hopes of securing this most prestigious of titles. Tonight, they are gathering to flaunt their nubile bodies to the assembled media horde and a panel of three judges: two horrid old bags with overly made-up plastic faces and the male executive responsible for marketing the remarkably unflattering “one-size fits all” swamp green and bright orange swimwear the contestants will be sporting.
The swarm of media in attendance for this most important of events is, by the way, me. Well, to be honest, not just me. There’s also an Iranian couple with their adult son who is taking pictures for their Web page, and some other guy with a used digicam who, ostensibly, is recording the competition for some obscure Web channel but whose motivations, I suspect, are of a more prurient nature. Having my own unwholesome interest in beauty queens, I can spot a fellow enthusiast from a mile off.
The chicks arrive late and immediately start prancing awkwardly before the judges to a loop of Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot”–a hip little number that the pageant’s head of security/DJ is pumping from his PA system, a ghetto blaster. Under the nasty fluorescent lights you can see every pimple, vein, and hint of cellulite that these earnest young babes have to offer and, if you station yourself at the right angle to the rear, you notice that the ill-fitting bathing suits offer a nice–and sometimes not-so-nice–cheeky view on a couple of the contestants. I position myself accordingly.
For absolutely no good reason at all, the snap-happy son of the Iranian couple decides he wants to make friends with me and comes over to speculate on why this media friendly event seems to be void of anything resembling media. I suggest that perhaps since the pageant hasn’t been televised in over five years it is essentially a non-event and he responds by saying he thinks he knows me from another life. “That’s nice,” I tell him.
I saunter over to the pageant’s sleazeball PR guy, Larry, to inquire why the room is so unmercifully hot. He tells me they turn off the air conditioning for the swimsuit competition in an effort to keep the nipple action to a minimum. “We forgot one year and, let me tell you, you could see everything, heh, heh, heh. We wouldn’t want that to happen again, now would we? Heh, heh, heh.” I suggest that we would but he isn’t listening and wouldn’t care what I have to say anyway.
Larry doesn’t like me and I don’t like him. He’s a fat middle-aged turd in a bad expensive suit and bowtie. He won’t give me a media package.
Welcome to the Miss Canada International pageant–a decidedly low-rent affair. The contestants have been here for almost a week now doing fun, fun things like dining at the Keg and posing at Canada’s Wonderland with some of the pageant’s sponsors. They’ve been bunking upstairs in the Novotel together and the girls all say they’ve become like a big happy family–a team actually. Everywhere they go they are obligated to wear their sashes and sometimes people point and make fun of them. The winners of the swimsuit competition will be announced at the big gala scheduled for Saturday. I am beside myself with anticipation.
Cash bar and eager teens
Tonight is the big wingding where all the parents who have accompanied their daughters to Mississauga can get together and mingle at the hotel dining room over a $30 buffet-style pasta dinner and cash bar. It’s a happening event to be sure and everyone is there, including most of the contestants from the Miss Teen Canada International pageant that is running alongside the main event. Also scheduled for tonight is a silent auction for some charity that nobody is quite sure of. All of the beauty queens, in an effort to demonstrate their Miss-Canada-worthy benevolence, have dutifully gone out and bought consumer goods that will be auctioned off at a no-doubt inflated price to their families in attendance. Later, I’m told that the charity auction is for the benefit of the pageant itself. Nice.
I am introduced to Tiffany Dawson, a 14-year-old Greenfield Park girl who is running as Miss Teen Quebec. She’s a Mormon and has been sponsored by her church to come here and kick some teen pageant ass. She’s excited to finally be talking to a big important media person like myself and asks if I have any interest in the teen competition. I tell her I have a very keen interest in teens and spend a lot of time researching them on the Internet but that, no, for all intents and purposes, I was planning on writing my story on the older girls. She seems disappointed. She is cute as a button and refreshingly un-beauty-queen like, almost like a normal kid. She’ll make some polygamist very happy someday, but she also hasn’t got a prayer of winning. I want to put my arms around her in a disturbingly paternal way and shield her from the sickness that is the pageant but decide I had better not, all things considered.
My Iranian friend is in attendance taking pictures of Miss Ontario, who also happens to be of Iranian heritage, hence his website’s interest in the pageant. He spots me in the crowd and excitedly rushes over to tell me that he’s finally figured out where he knows me from.
“You’re the guy from the movie! The journalist in that documentary I saw who wants to get in to the porn industry, that’s you, right? That fucked up guy!” I tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about, because I don’t, but he’s sure he’s got me pegged and can’t understand why I don’t want to cop to my true identity as an aspiring pornographer. He thinks I’m pretty cool. Several times that night I see him pointing me out to parents and people from the pageant as the guy from the porno industry. I decide to discreetly ditch my new Persian pal and go hunting for Dahlia, this year’s Miss Montreal and my excuse for being here. I find her at a table with her family, daintily slurping up pasta.
Here she is: Miss Montreal!
Like the majority of Miss Canada International contestants–or “delegates” as the pageant’s organizers insist they be called–Dahlia Mills was recruited over the Internet and pronounced queen of our city in exchange for a $2,600 entrance fee. No need to stage a costly local beauty pageant that nobody cares about, $2,600 will buy pretty well anyone a title. There are a few other girls from Montreal registered in the pageant as well, but they’ve been reclassified as Miss Quebec’s or Miss St-Tite’s so as not to confuse things. Come up with 2,600 bucks and MCI will find a town or province for you to represent. Don’t worry about the logistics.
A 19-year-old retail clerk with vague aspirations to a modelling career, Dahlia stands out from the other delegates in that she is actually kind of hot. Given the primary entrance requirement, it comes as no big surprise that many of the delegates leave something to be desired by way of physical beauty. Most of the girls come from small towns and are, to say the least, neither the most stunning nor sophisticated group of chicks one could ever hope to meet. They all, of course, possess an exceptional inner beauty that is difficult to quantify.
Dahlia, on the other hand, is poised, graceful, and, God forbid, even exudes a hint of sexuality–something which I fear may hurt her chances of becoming the next Miss Canada International.
Dahlia also comes off as being a little brighter than most of the contestants, another thing which I’m concerned might work to her detriment. Last year’s Miss Canada, Connie Cho, apparently has an IQ over 70 and is rumoured to have been none-too-pleased with her treatment at the hands of the MCI establishment over the course of her reign. Rumours stemming from a recent Toronto Sun story about her displeasure with the organization have people speculating on whether she will even show up on Saturday to crown her successor. None of this bodes well for Dahlia. The last thing the MCI brass need is yet another ornery and remotely intelligent Miss Canada to bitch about them in the media.
Despite Dahlia’s well-rehearsed rhetoric about just entering the competition to have a swell time with a bunch of swell gals from “all over Canada,” our Miss Montreal has clearly come here to win. Plus, she has an ass that won’t quit. I decide I like her and plan on rooting for her at the big showdown tomorrow night.
Larry the PR clown comes by our table and I overhear him talking enthusiastically to some aspiring beauty queens about one of the celebrities he’s just landed to appear at Saturday’s event. Some kid from some Canadian reality TV show called The Lofters. I expect to hear laughter but everyone is suitably impressed. I’m told I will probably get a chance to meet the kid tomorrow.
Wacky dancing and shameless advertising
The atmosphere in the gloriously generic Mississauga Living Arts Centre is electric. Approximately 500 people, all no doubt friends and family members of the contestants, have forked over $30 each to bear witness to this momentous occasion, the crowning of Miss Canada International. Nobody seems to be all that sure exactly what tonight’s winner will actually win, other than the opportunity to represent Canadian womanhood at next year’s Miss World pageant, but no one seems to be all that concerned. One of the contestants told me earlier that Miss Canada 2001 got a lot of free shoes from Payless, one of the pageant’s major sponsors. Lucky girl.
The lights go down and the chicks stumble out to do one of two wacky dance numbers they’ve been rehearsing all week with Bob, the pageant’s temperamental artiste/choreographer–a man whom I’ve been instructed to treat with kid gloves should I decide to interview him. Bob takes his art very seriously and doesn’t take kindly to jokes about his dancers’ limited abilities or the deeper, more spiritual side of himself so eloquently expressed in his presentations. If you’ve seen the movie Waiting for Guffman, you’ve seen Bob represented as the Corky St-Clair character. He’s overweight and sweats a lot. The girls are all afraid of him. So am I.
No girls fall down during the dance number or do anything else particularly embarrassing outside of simply participating in this foolishness to begin with. The June Taylor dancers they’re not, but the girls do their best. Dahlia looks good in her ballgown, which we are told repeatedly has been provided to the contestants courtesy of Aldo.
When they introduce my hometown gal I yell, “Yahoo!” very loudly and get snotty looks from the people around me. A few rows over I hear somebody mumbling something about “a goddamned pornographer.” I get intimidated and quiet down for awhile.
The pageant itself is spectacularly dull and seems to go on forever. Twenty minutes of the gala, count ’em 20, are taken up with a PowerPoint display celebrating MCI’s many proud sponsors, like Dave and Buster’s Restaurant/Arcade at 120 Interchange Way, S.E. Corner Highways 400 and 7, “great food and a big fun time!”
After close to three hours of shameless advertising, nutty dance numbers and heart-to-heart interviews with the contestants, Sylvia Stark, a 250-pound horse of a woman and the convicted criminal who owns the Miss Canada International pageant(she was brought up on a couple of fraud-related charges back in 1995 when she was head honcho of the Miss Huronia pageant) waddles on to the stage and informs us that Connie Cho, last year’s beaten-down and sullen winner, is in the house. Everybody cheers, relieved, I assume. The divine Miss Cho takes the mic and, not missing a beat, gives a polite and tearful thanks to, among others, Payless Shoes for all the top quality footwear they’ve donated to her over the course of the year. Everybody cheers. Yay Payless!
Finally, and mercifully, the moment of truth arrives when we learn which lucky girl will be crowned Miss Canada International. Dahlia has performed well. Her heart-to-heart interview with witty co-host Ken Atkinson has revealed her to be a thoughtful, altruistic young woman with an intense desire to help the poor people of Little Burgundy. She is glowing, charismatic, alive! Her spectacular ass has been well represented in all of the silly costumes the pageant’s clothing sponsors have decked her out in. She has made Montreal proud.
But it is not to be. Our heroine makes it to the final 10 contestants but ultimately loses out to Tara Hall, Miss Thornhill, Ontario, a 21-year-old traffic announcer for the Skywards Traffic Network. Dahlia politely applauds the announcement but I suspect inside she is crushed. She is conspicuously absent from the post-gala festivities back at the Mississauga Novotel, where I proceed to get good and drunk at $5 a beer. I start asking around if anybody has seen the kid from The Lofters anywhere but nobody has. More disappointment. I cozy up to the new Miss Canada International and ask her what incredible prizes she has won. She tells me she’s not really sure just yet. She seems to be somewhat wary of me. I’m not sure if it’s because of my rep as a pornographer or just as a result of my general disposition, but along with most of the people in attendance, I get the feeling that she thinks I’m kind of sleazy. Normally this sort of thing wouldn’t bother me, but under the circumstances, I find myself deeply offended. Go figure.
Originally published in the Montreal Mirror, 2002
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