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Book reviews

"The Confident Speaker: Beat Your Nerves and Communicate at Your Best in Any Situation." (McGraw-Hill)

Reviewed by Gerdeen Dyer

The "verbal meltdown" of South Carolina's Lauren Caitlin Upton was the major story at the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant. It even overshadowed the results of the pageant.

Millions watched as Ms. Upton began her response to a judge's question and then visibly lost her concentration. She became increasingly confused and jittery, stopping and restarting sentences and wandering from subject to subject until she was eventually talking a kind of smooth gibberish.

It was hilarious to watch, as she later admitted, but millions of pageant veteran recognized something of themselves. They knew that under the right circumstances, it could have happened to them.

The fact is that you don't have to be dumb to sound dumb, and sounding dumb can be downright easy when you're speaking in public. "Brain-lock" happens not only to beauty queens, but to politicians, lawyers, professors and (most sadly) concerned citizens who stand up to speak their minds. All of us at some point need to make our voices heard, but for most it is a struggle.

Fortunately for beauty queens (and all the rest), a comprehensive course for the would-be speaker is available between the covers of a book. "The Confident Speaker," by two well-known experts in the field, covers a lot of ground. There are more opportunities out there to express yourself (or make a fool of yourself) than I had ever realized.

The big surprise here is how much specialized knowledge is involved. Most of us tend to believe that talking, like walking, is something that comes naturally if you have the basic ability and enough practice. But there were things in this book that I would never have guessed. Some seem counterintuitive, but very logical upon reflection.

After you read this book, you'll be eager to try your verbal skills on perfect strangers. They won't be strangers for long.



by Cherie Bennett

A series written between 1997 and 1998 and published by Berkley Books. Each volume retails for $4.50.

Reviewed by Geoff Tucker

The "Pageant" series of six young adult novels, written by Cherie Bennett, is a wonderful series of books, dealing with the inaugural competition for the Miss Teen Spirit crown. The characters are believable, the narrative is well written, and the events are realistic. Ms. Bennett did her homework well, consulting with pageant titleholders extensively before putting text to page, and it shows.

The books may be summarized as follows Books 1 through 4 (titled, respectively, "The Southern Girls," "The Midwest Girls," "The Northeast Girls" and "The West Coast Girls," deal with the four regional competitions held to select finalists for the national Miss Teen Spirit title. Book 5, "The National Pageant," brings the regional winners together to compete for the national crown, and Book 6, "The Winners on the Road," follows the winner and first runner-up during their reign. Ms. Bennett manages to guide these multiple story lines with admirable dexterity, causing us to see these well-drawn characters with sympathy, and in some cases, disdain.

Of particular note is Alison Gaylord, Miss Teen Southern Star of Louisiana (introduced in the first book and followed throughout the entire series). Alison, nicknamed "The Virus," is one of the main antagonists, and is, quite frankly, as evil as they come, using psychological warfare and other dirty tricks in her quest to win the crown. "The Virus" will, literally, do ANYTHING to win.

Other characters of note are Elizabeth Cromwell-Stevens (the pageant director); Elizabeth's son Justin, who choreographs the pageants beginning in the second book (when he isn't trying to seduce the contestants); Dean Paisley, the music director, who is conducting a secret (and forbidden) romance with pageant contestant Katie Laramie, a poor girl from Virginia whose father is institutionalized; Christy Hwang, a tell-all journalist who enters the pageant under false pretenses in order to write an expose, then rediscovers her sense of ethics; Southern pageant contestant (and archenemy of "The Virus") Scarlett-Caress Latham; Pepper Pierce of Oklahoma, an advocate of abstinence from sex before marriage (who happens to be pregnant by her boyfriend); and Fawn Hanson, adopted out of the foster care system by parents who wanted a trophy child.

In Books 5 and 6, Ms. Bennett meshes her story lines together for a successful, satisfying end to the series, bringing in characters from her "Trash" series of books about a tacky TV talk show that makes Jerry Springer look like "Masterpiece Theatre." Ms. Bennett manages, in this book and Book 6 ("The Winners on the Road," about the reign of the Miss Teen Spirit winner) to wrap up both series at one stroke, yet do so in a manner that seems natural, not forced or contrived.

Copyright 2002 by Starshiners! Productions. First right of publication granted to the Pageant News Bureau ( Other rights reserved.


Book coverA taste of the pageant world

"Just for You"
by Jamie M. Swenson

Published in 2000 by Creating a Winner, Phoenix, Ariz. Available through

Jamie Swenson's new cookbook is charmingly unpretentious, right down to its perky-greeting-card title. The focus is on lowfat recipes, with homespun philosophy folded in.

Judging from her photos, Ms. Swenson is no waif. She was Miss South Dakota USA 1997, and she seems made for swimsuit competition. She's voluptuous but fit, a Marilyn Monroe type in a good way.

Did her recipes make her that way? Certainly not altogether. She clearly has the discipline to eat and live sensibly, which makes her extraordinary. But there are plenty of casual culinary treats in these pages.

And Ms. Swenson's pinches of philosophy are impossible to dislike. She's sensible in the small things, but almost naively optimistic in her view of the big issues of life. Not surprisingly, she's a pageant coach, probably a very inspiring one.

This will never be the only cookbook in your kitchen, but it's very pleasant to have at your elbow.


Book cover - Catching the CrownJust the facts, Miss

"Catching the Crown: The Source for Pageant Competition"
by Lu Parker

Published in 2000 by Burke Publishing Co., San Antonio. $19.95. ORDER NOW

Reviewed by Cilla Rokni

OK, so the PNB guidelines say a reviewer is supposed to judge a book "strictly on its merits." She's not supposed to care about who wrote it. But the fact that the author of this book is Lu Parker -- not Roseanne or Richard Simmons or Newt Gingrich -- made a big difference to me. Ms. Parker is a former Miss USA, a former finalist at Miss Universe. If I were going to take anybody's advice about pageant competition, it would be hers.

She imparts her advice very ably. This is a straightforward, well-organized, practical manual, written in the style of a sympathetic big sister. The material is presented chronologically, with sections about becoming a beauty queen, being a beauty queen and adjusting to life as a former beauty queen.

For handy reference, there are scores of individual topics, marked with prominent headings. And there is an excellent table of contents, so you can quickly find out such things as how to fill out an application, how to organize your time and how to cover your rear end (literally).

The only thing missing from "Catching the Crown" is some really nasty pageant gossip. Surely a woman who has been where Ms. Parker has been could tell some riveting stories, and I would die to hear every one of them. Who was the hottest guy she met? Who was the most treacherous woman? But throughout the book, Ms. Parker advises girls to act prudently and speak carefully, and she follows her own advice. She's a lady, and ladies don't write catty books.

If I were an aspiring beauty queen, this book would be in my bag, or maybe under my pillow. Actually, I have no interest in competing, but "Catching the Crown" gave me new insight into what makes pageant women tick. And now that I've read her book, I can't help liking Lu Parker. As beautiful as she is, I like her!

Cilla Rokni is a free-lance writer and sometime PNB staffer. She has promised to review Newt Gingrich's pageant book, if he ever writes one.  



"Justin Rudd's 1,001 Pageant Questions"
by Justin Rudd

Booklet form, $24.95
Send check or money order to:
Justin Rudd
5209 E. The Toledo #1
Long Beach, CA 90803

Or visit to order

Reviewed by Suzanne Burger

I've never met Justin Rudd, but I think I would find him good company. I like a person who gets to the point, and that is what he does in this very useful manual. It contains no fluff, no pep talks, no anecdotes about Rudd or the beauty queens he has trained. There is just some concise, straightforward advice, followed by an exhaustive list of questions.

The point is, of course, that Rudd doesn't have all the answers. The answers are ultimately up to you. But he has enough questions to let you drill for hours, to let you test your mind and your nerves. There are questions on all sorts of subjects, questions of fact, questions of opinion, questions that have no single right answer.

All this assumes a certain maturity. This booklet really isn't for very young girls, or for women who are reluctant to be in competition. They could be scared off by the sheer quantity of questions. But for girls and women who really want to win a crown, mastering this material will be an education and a confidence-builder.

No publication alone can replace professional pageant coaching, as Rudd himself makes clear. But this guide is highly recommended for those who don't have access to a good coach, and it's a bargain compared to a bad coach. I suspect that use of this work will help many girls evaluate how good their own coaches are. I also suspect that plenty of coaches will be reading it.

Suzanne Burger is a beauty queen, model, law officer and security consultant.


Book cover - Listening With My Heart

"Listening With My Heart"
by Heather Whitestone, Angela Elwell Hunt

224 pages
Hardcover  ORDER NOW
Paperback ORDER NOW

Reviewed by Candice Carley

If you don't like reading about God, don't pick up Heather Whitestone's autobiography. Heather is a Christian, and that means more to her than the fact that she was once Miss America. Her faith is the theme of this book.

I admit a certain bias in Heather's favor (like her, I'm an Alabamian and a Christian), but I find her willingness to share her beliefs very admirable. The Bible-thumping Southern beauty queen is a cliche, and maybe there was a time when a lot of insincere sermonettes were heard from the pageant stage. But nowadays, talking openly about religion is not an advantage in major competitions. Some very devout women learn to hold their tongues. For Heather, however, keeping quiet about this most important part of her life would not be honest.

And this is an honest book. It's not all preaching, and Heather doesn't look at the world as perfect. She doesn't look at herself as perfect. She talks openly about the controversy surrounding her approach to deafness, about the frustrations of being a public figure, and even about loneliness and longing for the love of a man (a longing that was happily fulfilled by her marriage to John McCallum). It's touchingly sincere, and if you don't accept the message, you can't say Heather didn't try.

And whatever else you may feel about Heather Whitestone, when you see the cover of this book, you have to admit that she looks like an angel. And so little makeup! If she weren't so adorable, I believe I'd be jealous.

Candice Carley, who was Miss Alabama USA 1991, is a writer and broadcaster who now lives in Atlanta.


Book cover - Beauty Queens on the Global Stage

"Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests, and Power"

edited by Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, Beverly Stoeltje

250 pages


As one can guess from the slightly unwieldy title, this is a scholarly book, examining beauty contests from an anthropological point of view. It may be the first of many such offerings, since these contests are widespread and have a vast following, and have never gotten a very serious treatment in the mass media.

Fortunately, the tone of the book is not too academic. Many ordinary people with an interest in the subject will find it fascinating, though it's not for readers whose tastes run strictly to light entertainment. The diversity of the material is a big help: There are essays on a wide array of beauty contests, from Minnesota to the Philippines, from Nicaragua to Tibet. And the issues that are discussed include religion, politics, sexuality and ethnic identity.

Of course, the downside of diversity is unevenness. Some writers are better than others, and some subjects are more interesting than others. In a couple of the essays, I occasionally lost track of what the writer was trying to say. But that may be because they were talking about cultures foreign to my own. "Beauty Queens on the Global Stage" may never become a best seller, but it deserves attention. If you have a friend who is scornful of your interest in beauty contests, recommend this book.


Book cover - Lost in the System

"Lost in the System"

by Charlotte Lopez with Susan Dworkin

Paperback ORDER NOW

Reviewed by Gerdeen Dyer


When Charlotte Lopez was crowned Miss Teen USA 1993, she made waves far outside the pageant world. Her moving story of growing up in foster care shattered the stereotype of beauty queens as plastic personalities from perfect homes. Nobody, even people who normally scoffed at pageants, could deny that this girl was real.

In this book, Ms. Lopez, now a fledgling actress, recounts her life in detail. And she is writing not just to entertain, but to argue eloquently for reforms in the foster care system, with a greater emphasis on adoption. There may be other views just as compelling (and this reviewer is no expert), but she makes her case convincingly.

By the standards of beauty queen autobiographies, this is a very frank book. Ms. Lopez doesn't sugarcoat her life as an American teenager: She talks about having "enemies" in high school and about her disagreements with her foster parents. And she is fairly forthright in recounting the language that many teenagers use. (Some of it is the kind that parents might not want younger children to read.)

But ultimately, "Lost in the System" is inspirational. Ms. Lopez emerges from these pages as a warm, forgiving and tolerant person, with a deep faith in God and a willingness to admit her own mistakes. And she's proud of her career in pageantry. Millions of girls could do much worse than to emulate this remarkable young woman.


Book cover - Better Bodies for Beauties

"Better Bodies for Beauties"

by Mike Fifrick

Reviewed by Lauren Mather

Judging from his photo, Mike Fifrick is what we women call a cute guy. Of course, that's no reason to read his book.

But I'll give you a reason. Fifrick knows what he's talking about. Reading "Better Bodies for Beauties," I was impressed by his common-sense approach to women's fitness. It's his job to train some of the most beautiful women in the world, but he doesn't chatter on and on about finding the perfect shape. Instead he talks, like a friendly big brother, about the importance of good health and a sound attitude.

And like a big brother, Fifrick minces no words in telling you what not to do. He clearly has contempt for people who sell "miracle" weight loss programs and exercise devices. Building a beautiful body doesn't have to be drudgery, he says, but it will never be effortless. His advice is detailed, but it's not intimidating, because he laces it with a healthy dose of humor.

The women who train personally with Fifrick are mostly actresses, models and beauty queens. (Maybe there are a few who just can't resist his photo.) Many of us will never have to make our living by looking good, but anyone who wants to look and feel better should benefit from what he has to say.

(PNB contributor Lauren Mather is on the staff of the The Austin American-Statesman.)


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