I’m experiencing aspects of the competition that I never knew existed and meeting remarkable people of accomplishment and talent. Among them are Kira Kazantsev. She is the third consecutive Miss New York to have become Miss America. During her reign, she has been working with and championing organizations like United States Military overseas and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Kylene’s Canadian husband, Ian McNeill — President of Combat Batteries in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, specialists in industrial batteries and chargers. Given how impressed I’ve been with Kylene, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Ian is an extremely savvy and personable executive, who’s also a genial and down-to-earth guy.
One of the things I experienced on the wet Saturday afternoon of this weekend was the “Show Us Your Shoes” Parade down Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. I’d always been dimly aware that there was, indeed, “a parade” … but I hadn’t imagined the enormous scale of it all.
With over 4,000 participants, including 15 floats, 15 marching bands, nearly 50 dance troupes, 16 choirs and dozens of special units, the event was more than two hours long.
To share the background with you, I’ll quote a story by Robert Rosiello on casinoconnectionac.com.
Ed McMaster, who served as president of the Miss America Organization for several years before the pageant moved to Las Vegas, told us back in 2004 about its origins.
“Our contestants used to dress in gowns for the parade, but since they were riding in cars and their feet were hidden, they’d wear something comfortable—flip flops, sneakers and slippers,” McMaster said. “People got wind of this in the early 1970s and one year tried to sneak a peak at the shoes. They even got up on a balcony but still couldn’t see them. Finally they began shouting, ‘Show us your shoes!’ The contestants thought it was hilarious and decided to give them something to look at. It’s been a great tradition ever since ….
The 53 contestants this year had artistic freedom to design their own shoes in whatever manner they felt best represented themselves and their respective states.
As I observed yesterday from the Judges’ Balcony, Miss District of Columbia honored the U.S. Marine Corps, Miss Florida had the Gators logo on her shoes, Miss Idaho featured a potato, and Miss Kansas displayed wheat on hers.
New Jersey proceeded down the Atlantic City Boardwalk with a Monopoly Board.
(“Boardwalk” – get it?)
Miss Virginia honored the equestrian excellence of her state with horse-riding boots and horses on her umbrella, etc.
It’s all tremendous fun while boosting the diversity and richness of each contestant’s home.
What I’m realizing more and more, though, is the magnitude of the effort, talent and discipline that goes into all this. Even more important: how much good the Miss America Organization does by empowering its contestants with life-changing, career-advancing opportunities that help these young women become valuable contributors to our country and to the world after all the pomp and pageantry is done.
Last night, I was invited to the Forever Lounge … an amazing chance to meet and chat with former Miss Americas I had watched as a child and then steadily as an adult over the years. Even some Miss Americas who got their crowns before I was born. All of it giving me a much heightened respect for what the Miss America competition symbolizes … and achieves.
The Tux is fresh out of the cleaner’s, and I’m excited for the privilege of attending the Miss America Pageant in person this year, after watching it intently for so much of my life.
I’ll be a guest of former Miss Virginia (1978) and Miss America (1979) Kylene Barker McNeill. This is the result of my having written Virginia’s new anthem, “Our Great Virginia.”
For now, I’m forbidden from any contact with Kylene, since she’s a Preliminary Judge this year – helping to choose the contestants who’ll compete in the national ABC broadcast this Sunday night. Here she is with the reigning Miss America, Kira Kazantsev from the San Francisco Bay Area.
In getting to know Kylene, I’ve gained a heightened sense of respect for every contestant, and for the program itself. that it offers the largest scholarship program for women in the United States … boosting careers and achievements.
The Miss America Program has allowed many young women to graduate debt-free – tremendously important, given the high cost of education. Ms. Dierdre Downs wanted to be a doctor and was in the Miss Alabama Pageant 4 times before winning but won scholarship money every year. After finally winning the State Title she went on to win Miss America (2005.) She is now DOCTOR Deirdre Downs and debt-free.
This is a back-stage video clip of Kylene being “challenged” this week by comedienne, Dana Blizzard. Kylene’s winning talent for was an astonishing acrobatic dance act. Here, tough, you’ll see what a game gal she is … with the kind of “ready for it” spirit that helps to define a champion. Can’t wait to meet her – I admire and enjoy her already.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve watched the Miss America Pageant with awe and fascination. This year – astoundingly – I’ve been invited to attend in person. That’s a result of my having written the lyrics to Virginia’s official new anthem, “Our Great Virginia.”
The song was broadcast throughout the state in June as part of the competition to select the Miss Virginia who will represent the Commonwealth in Atlantic City. Just that was a thrill for me: hearing my words performed by previous Miss Virginia winners to the entire state.
At the national televised Pageant, I will be the guest of Kylene Barker McNeill … Miss America (1979.)
Kylene is one of the Preliminary Judges this year, with the huge responsibility of helping to select the top 15 finalists from an initial 52 contestants convening in Atlantic City. She and her fellow Judges will determine who will be featured in the Pageant broadcast (Sunday night, Sept. 13, LIVE on ABC, 9:00 pm EST.)
Even though I’ll be Kylene’s guest, through mutual friends, I’m forbidden from having any contact with her during the week leading up to the Pageant. Strict rules protect the impartiality and integrity of judges from outside influences.
Actually, I’ve not even met Kylene in person. But she has already enriched my knowledge of what a “beauty queen” really is. For one thing, take a look at the kind of Acrobatic Dance skill she developed. This talent was among the many reasons she became Miss America.
Obviously – aside from the beauty, poise and intelligence required to be a winner — the ability to perform in this way takes tremendous discipline and commitment … surely a reflection of character.
In addition, however, as I’ve come to know Kylene through emails and phone conversations, I realized that she’s a person of tremendous accomplishment. (Getting to know her, firsthand, has raised my respect for all successful Pageant competitors.)
Kylene is a successful entrepreneur. At only 23, she was running her own retail clothing store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, FL. (That’s the ritzy equivalent of posh Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.) She’s a published author, has done network TV fashion reporting and — having majored in fashion at Virginia Tech — produces fashion shows today to benefit charities including the Cancer Alliance in Naples, FL. She has also been a corporate spokesperson for Clairol and other organizations. She is also a rather serious competitor on the golf course.
Already I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the Miss America Organization (MAO) is the single largest scholarship program for women in the United States. It has helped many young women graduate debt-free, despite the tremendous cost of a college education these days.
I was impressed to learn, as well, that MAO partners with the U.S. Department of Education to encourage women to excel in areas that are currently under-represented by female participants: science, technology, engineering and math.
Bottom line: I’ve been learning a lot! I’ve begun to see more clearly how the entire competition rewards its participants for their hard work and drive, with remarkable educational and career opportunities that result.
I’m looking forward to attending the Pageant in person, and to sharing some of my on-site impressions with you right here!
After almost twenty years without a state song, the Commonwealth of Virginia now officially has two … one of which, astoundingly enough, is mine!
As of July 1, 2015, “Our Great Virginia” became the official anthem of the Commonwealth … the Traditional State Song of Virginia. (“Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Robbin Thompson became the official Popular Song.) Governor Terry McAuliffe signed both songs into law on March 26.
In mid-August, 2015, my two Virginia champions of the song … Historian, Prof. James (“Bud”) Robertson and his dynamic wife Betty … visited New York City from their beloved state to join me, DJ Tony Smith, and Jim and Sophia Papoulis for a celebration of what we had accomplished together.
Crucial to making this happen was Virginian, Truman Ross. When Bud was looking for a lyricist, Truman helped by turning to my best-in-class professional song plugger in Nashville, Chris Keaton (originally a Virginian, himself) who recommended me.
The assignment was to write lyrics to the classic American folksong, “Oh, Shenandoah,” long associated with Virginia. (One of these days, I hope to visit the Shenandoah Valley and see the Shenandoah River in person.)
Composer/Conductor Jim Papoulis – my partner in composing three of the four Dance Club songs I’ve written that became Billboard-charted hits – did the beautiful arrangement of the folk song with my words.
Sophia Papoulis – in addition to her gorgeous vocals in one of its performances – helped manage the project with grace and professionalism.
And DJ Tony Smith – a bona fide legend from the Disco Days, who’s still at the top of his game – helps me pursue my passion for songwriting and makes my life happy in countless ways. (If you want to hear his work, he has a regular Disco Classics program on Sirius XM Radio, Channel 54, every Thursday night @ 9pm Eastern … repeated Mondays at 1pm Eastern. The sounds and focus vary from week to week.)
So the six of us had a wonderful dinner at Gallagher’s Steakhouse. The next night, the Robertsons, Tony and I saw “Hamilton” … one of the most impressive and influential Broadway musicals I will ever have seen in my decades of avid theater-going.
So … let it be known … Happy Workaholic I may be … but we did take time to celebrate in style. I’m immensely honored (and still amazed) actually to have written a real state song. And I’m grateful to my parents, Sam and Lucille Greenly, who gave me the strong work ethic that still powers me today as I use the few real aptitudes I have – as a writer … whether of speeches, video scripts or songs. I’m a happy and lucky guy.
I cannot be objective about this movie, “Begin Again.” It has too many personal connections for me … too many levels on which I, in particular, would inevitably enjoy and be touched by it. I was so affected by it, in fact, that I don’t trust myself to recommend it in a blanket way to others.
BUT … Hypothetically speaking …
If you happen to relate to the power of a song – not just “music” but an actual SONG — to reach into people’s hearts … and if you like tapping your feet and swaying gently to a beat even as you’re being moved … and/or if you have any reason to relate to the actual inspiration, creation and production of a song …
If you have experienced, as I have, the feeling that everything you thought you could count on in your life has disappeared beneath your feet – suddenly dropping you into an abyss and leaving you in doubt as to if and how you could possibly carry on, let alone imagine yourself actually happy again some day …
If you enjoy smart, contemporary screenwriting that can make you laugh AND feel pangs of poignant emotion, both in recognition of what’s true …
If you admire clever, insightful direction … wonderfully thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive acting … and savvy set and costume design …
And if, perhaps, you remember and enjoyed the movie “Once” and/or the Broadway Musical (winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical” – written and directed by John Carney who created “Begin Again”) …
Then, maybe … that’s all I’m saying … maybe you will consider this movie as wonderfully special as I did. But given who I am, given the person I’ve become, I simply couldn’t help myself.
So I surrender. I love this movie. (And I’m listening to the sound track as I write this … even as I’m thinking of the next song I will write — immediately following the speech I’m working on right now for a major exec I very much enjoy supporting.)
Mike Greenly Lyricist
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