Kara Knudsen (bottom left) and Shalyn Kernop (bottom right) pose with the newly crowned titleholders after the 2017 Miss California Collegiate America Pageant. Photo: Rod Aberegg
Directors have a passion for pageantry that is just as strong as any contestants with some being former titleholders themselves! The passion to see a pageant succeed means each director wants the contestants to do their very bests. This means directors do assist with preparing contestants with rehearsals, paperwork, and the occasional stage or wardrobe tip. (Read: Top 10 National Pageant Directors of 2017) But what happens when directors start to offer their contestants more? It is a hot button topic in pageants and with good reason. Directors want what is best for their pageants. But where should they draw the line on how much they help coach their contestants?
Answering this question is a bit more complicated than you may think. The relationship between a director and a contestant is one of the most important. A director serves as a contestant's guide and mentor throughout the pageant. But where does a director draw the line?
"It's not fair for someone who instructs the judges on what to look for to be coaching girls on how to perform," said 2017 Miss Maryland USA Ambassador, Allison Kratz. "It's kinda like insider trading in my opinion."
Kratz hit the nail on the head. Directors know the duties of the titleholder better than anyone, so they are looking for a girl who can fulfill those duties. The judges are the ones who will determine which girl best fills the role of the titleholder. Since directors do have an open dialogue with the judges on to duties of the titleholder, by providing coaching to certain contestants, directors are essentially grooming them for the judges. (Read: How Pageant Directors Choose and Instruct Judges)
While the director and judges do share this dialogue, a director does not have to necessarily talk directly about a contestant to show favoritism, either. If the judges see a director is favoring certain contestants, it may weigh on their decision even if the director does not mention any interaction with the contestant.
Director of Ultimate Dream Queen and Ultimate Dream Face, Edie Klein. Photo: Facebook
"If it is the director of the pageant they are competing at, I think it is wrong and should not be allowed," said Royalty International Miss Canada 2018, Samantha Sewell. "Of course, the director will then show favoritism to that contestant, which, even if the judges are not told, will notice and will affect scores subconsciously. I personally hate it."
This is absolutely true. When a director is offering coaching opportunities to certain contestants, regardless of the intention, it looks like favoritism to nearly everyone. This is a spot a director does not want on the reputation of their pageant. Nothing will kill a system faster than the appearance of rigging. (Read: 5 Tips for Directors to Expand Your Pageant System)
Now, while it may seem great to have a titleholder the director gets along with, showing favoritism to other contestants is quickly noticed by contestants who may not be receiving the same opportunities. Those contestants are not likely to return the next year, especially if a contestant wins who received opportunities they did not. In turn, word will spread of the favoritism, causing a drop in contestants. Eventually, there will not be enough contestants to continue the pageant in a reasonable fashion.
Director of Ireland Pageants, Jennie Lynch (third from the right), pictured with various Ireland titleholders. Photo: Facebook
So, based on these responses, the short answer is no, directors should not coach contestants. But, up to this point, we have only discussed instances where certain contestants are given opportunities others are not. However, what about instances where directors offer coaching opportunities to all contestants? (Read: Top 10 State Pageant Directors of 2017)
The best way I can explain this comes from a personal experience I had about three years into my pageant career. I won a local pageant in a smaller system. The director was actually the state director and had only been there a couple of years. She owned her own business and was a professional makeup artist.
While she had directors for areas closer to where she was located, she was slowly growing the system out through the rest of the state. She had one titleholder from my area in a different division the year before, so she worked with the titleholder's mom to have an actual local pageant. This was the case for many other areas that year. As a result, the year I won was a year with a lot of new girls both to the system and pageants.
The state director recognized that many of us did not have a local director to prepare us as a titleholder for the state competition. She wanted to make sure we all understood what being a titleholder in the system meant. To ensure we were all prepared for the state competition, she offered every contestant a one-on-one coaching session at her house with interview preparation, walking critique, wardrobe review, and she showed us each how to do our makeup for interview and evening gown based on our wardrobe. (Read: 5 Strategies to Succeed as a State Pageant Director)
Directors of Miss Minnesota United States, Bill and Vicki Randall. Photo: Facebook
In a situation like this where the director offers every contestant the same opportunity, I would say the answer is yes. Granted, this was a bit of a unique situation in that nearly every girl had never done a pageant before the local. The director did this to ensure her pageant was successful and to ensure every girl got the most out of her experience. Every titleholder that year was prepared for the state competition.
In fact, I still use the skills she taught me during my session when I apply makeup today.
Another important factor here is that there was no unreasonable barrier between the titleholders and the opportunity presented by the director. The session was free, her house was not a terrible distance away, and she was more than willing to work with each titleholder's schedule to ensure we would have enough time at our session. (Read: 3 Misconceptions Contestants Have of Pageant Directors)
Jackie Watson with USA National Princess 2017, Reagan Rhodes. Photo: Facebook
The relationship between a director and contestant is an important one. Finding a balance between having the most successful pageant possible and involvement with contestants can be tricky. Generally, it is best for directors not to coach their contestants. However, there are situations where if every contestant is offered the same opportunity, the director can be in the clear.
How do you feel about directors coaching their contestants? Is the answer a simple yes or no? Is there a grey area? Comment below!
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