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Etiquette Rules That Every Pageant Judge Must Know

17, March 2018

Judging a pageant is no easy task. You are presented with a number of contestants who you see for a total of fewer than 30 minutes each and expected to choose who will be a role model and leader within the surrounding community for the next year. In addition, to best choose that representative, judges have to prepare just as much as contestants. There are just as many nights of researching the community, contestants and the system in which they are judging. Staying on top of all that information can be hard.

Luckily, Pageant Planet's daily newsletter streamlines everything pageants in an easy-to-follow format to aide in your pageant judging preparation! Despite the pressure, judging a pageant can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences. Choosing someone who will go on to make a positive impact on the community is a fantastic feeling. Judges are held in a high regard and there are standards of etiquette to accompany it. But, what are the standards on the other side of the podium? 

Miss USA 2019 pageant judges

Etiquette for Pageant Judges

No cell phones

Judging a pageant makes for an exciting and eventful day, but it is only a part-time gig. You have a life outside of pageants filled with work and family that you need to have access to should an emergency arise. However, while you are actively judging the pageant, your cell phone should be off. Period. As a judge, you need to have all your attention on the contestants while they are competing. If you are distracted by a buzz in your pocket, you cannot fully assess a contestant's ability to fill the role of a titleholder. Imagine walking into a job interview only to find your potential employer awkwardly fidgeting at the phone in their pocket instead of listening to an answer you took hours to research and craft. It would admittedly feel disrespectful and like a waste of time.

Judging a pageant is no different. You should respect the time you have with the contestants, and that means putting your cell phone completely away while you are judging. A cell phone distraction can also result in unfair judging. As a judge, you have to be critical of everything since the smallest details can decide the winner. While looking down at your phone, you could miss a trip or torn hemline from one contestant that would drop their score. However, every other contestant receives your full attention, meaning you catch these details. This could result in a girl winning the title who otherwise would not have had you caught the mistake. 

Interacting with contestants

Suppose you just finished off the interview portion of the competition and the last contestant blew you away with her closing statement. Your first reaction is to go to her and tell her about the impression she left. Stop right there. Interacting with contestants during the pageant is a huge nope. While you may just want to give her a sincere compliment, it will automatically appear biased and leave a negative impression on the rest of the contestants. Once a judge has a reputation for being biased, the invitations from directors to judge drop. To ensure contestants and judges do not interact with each other, the two are normally kept away from each other during the competition.

Likewise, interacting with contestants before the pageant is another no-no. To prevent this, some pageants do not announce the judges ahead of time and instead reveal them the day of the competition in the program book. There are pageants who do announce judges ahead of time, especially on the national level. This is done for public relations reasons to garner interest in the national pageant. For example, USA National Miss 2017, Kendra Hale, announced through a video posted on the national pageant's Facebook page last November that Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, would be the head judge at the national pageant even though the pageant is not scheduled to take place until July.

If the pageant you are judging announces the judges ahead of time, you need to be cautious of contestants contacting you through social media. If scrolling through Facebook a message from a contestant pops up on your screen, do not respond and immediately notify the director. It is not appropriate behavior and should be handled accordingly. After the pageant can be a bit tricky. There are some pageants that do not allow interaction with the contestants after the pageant as well. For example, the Miss America Outstanding Teen Organization has judges sign a "Judges’ Affidavit" that prevents them from discussing anything about the judging process with anyone. Always be sure to clarify the policy about interacting with contestants after the pageant with the director ahead of time. Your director should already know this etiquette rule. (Read: What Directors Need to Know About Pageant Etiquette)

If you find you are allowed to interact with contestants after the pageant, once the winner is crowned and photos have been taken, you are welcome to professionally interact with contestants. Keep in mind you should only talk about your opinions about that contestant's performance only. Allow the other judges to explain their own if they choose. In general, keep any discussion following the pageant to a minimum, if any. Here all the etiquette rules that contestants should be following at every pageant. (Read: Etiquette Tips That No One Tells You as a Pageant Contestant)

Pageant Judge and Miss America 2018 Cara Mund taking a photo with a contestant. Photo: Cara Mund Instagram

Discussing scores

You have a checklist of everything needed in a contestant to best fulfill the duties of the title. As you watch her performance, you observe every detail so you can best justify your reasons for your score. However, these are all reasons you should keep to yourself. Discussing your scores with other judges is another no. The point of having a panel of judges is to have a diverse set of opinions to help prevent bias. If you discuss your scores with other judges, you could swing their opinions for or against a contestant, creating bias. Discussing scores with contestants is not quite as clear-cut. If you are allowed to interact with contestants after the pageant, do not tell a contestant the actual number you wrote down. Automatically presenting a number can be off-putting and a blow to a contestants self-confidence. Instead, offered constructive criticism while focusing on what they did well. (

If you are not allowed to interact with contestants after the pageant, many score sheets have a comments section for the judges.  Utilize this area to quickly jot down what worked and what could be improved. If contestants are allowed to receive their scores, many times they are just photocopies of the original so they will be able to see your notes!

Dress code

How you present yourself to the contestants is just as important as how they present themselves to you. That first impression begins with what you are wearing. Judges are expected to dress in a professional and tasteful manner. For women, a nice suit or interview dress is perfect for judging local and state pageants. The goal is to look professional and classy. As a judge, you want to blend into the audience. Since judges tend to be close to the stage, wearing something bright will draw attention away from the contestants to you. Sticking to dark or neutral colors is your best option. For a national or international pageant, there is more room to dress up on the final night of the competition. A nice cocktail dress or simple evening gown in a dark color without too much sparkle is perfect for crowning a national or international titleholder. For example, Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach, slayed in a deep red gown as a judge for the 2017 Miss Universe Pageant. The gown was simple but tailored impeccably to create a clean and elegant look.

Men have it much easier. A crisp suit is always professional and classy. Again, keep it neutral, and when in doubt, choose darker colors. Bonus, the jacket will keep you warm in a chilly auditorium.

Wearing your crown and sash

If you are already a titleholder, you may be asked to judge a pageant during your reign. The age-old question is if it is appropriate to wear your crown and sash as a judge.

In this situation, it is best to stick to just wearing the sash and leave the crown at home. Since you are supposed to blend in as a judge, a sparkly crown is not the way to go. Also, you are attending another queen's crowning, and wearing your crown could take away from her moment.

Facial expressions

Judges facial expressions, or lack thereof, have generated some amazing memes in recent years. Remember Nina Davuluri at Miss America 2018?

As a judge, it is important to keep your expressions as neutral as possible. While a contestant may be entertaining, remember you are judging the performance not watching it. You want the contestant to feed off the energy of the crowd, not you. Few facial expressions will keep you neutral and not influence a contestant's performance. If you smile for one contestant, make sure to keep that smile for the next. If you keep a straight/neutral face for one contestant, be sure to keep your face neutral for the next. Contestants notice these facial expressions and read into them more than you may think.

Also, contestants talk backstage. If one contestant raves about how one judge was smiling at her the whole time she was on stage, it could be disheartening for another contestant who received a straight face from that same judge during her performance.

Gif: Giphy

Judging a pageant is an exciting and rewarding experience. You get the chance to make a contestant's dream come true while helping choose a positive role model for the community. With such an important role, it is important to follow the highest standards of etiquette to ensure the best contestant is chosen. As a judge, you also want to stay on top of everything pageants. Pageant Planet has created a daily newsletter tailored just for you! Click here to subscribe. Are you also a pageant parent? Have you ever judged a pageant? What was your experience? Comment below!


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