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PNB interview:

Kate Shindle talks
to Patrick Nathaniel Bartholomew III

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Portraits and volunteer-work photos courtesy of Kate Shindle
Kate Shindle

Kate Shindle -- Look good, do good, speak your mind

In late 1999, Kate Shindle briefly became the most famous waitress in the United States. A reporter spotted the tall 22-year-old brunette, who had been Miss America 1998, serving customers at a New York eatery. A media "feeding frenzy" ensued. But the real story of Ms. Shindle is much more interesting than one temporary job. She's an actress, a singer, a world-famous AIDS activist, a community volunteer and a truly unique voice in the world of pageantry.

Patrick Nathaniel Bartholomew III talked with her at length during the recent uproar, and while they never discussed anything about the restaurant business, they did touch on almost everything else, from drag queen pageants to tabloid journalism. "I made it a point to be frank in my questions, and she was equally frank in her answers," Bartholomew said. "I'm very impressed." But did he really order the chili dog? He's not telling.


VolunteeringPNB: You have been an outspoken voice for people with AIDS. In the 1980s, that was a controversial issue, but some people now feel that AIDS is a "politically correct" cause, with many Hollywood celebrities wearing red ribbons. Has anyone ever questioned your sincerity on this issue? Why is AIDS such an important cause for you? Does it seem unusual to you that a young adult with little or no education in medicine is probably the best known proponent for the prevention of this disease rather than one of the doctors who heads up the research into the prevention or cure of AIDS?
Shindle: It's interesting that you should mention red ribbons. I agree that in some circles, AIDS activism has become almost a trend. I personally never wear a red ribbon because I believe that actions speak louder than words or fashion accessories. As for my sincerity on the issue, I have always tried to demonstrate that I find meaning in the title of Miss America purely through the lives one can affect. I think it's pretty easy to tell if someone is sincere in their commitment to their platform issue, and mine has rarely been challenged, that I know of, anyway. But even if it were, I hope that I would be able to look beyond my own pride and see what's really important.
Quite honestly, I place much more importance on my interaction with a person living with AIDS than I do on an outsider's skewed interpretation of that interaction. My work with AIDS started after a professor in our theater department died right after I got to college, and subsequently a family friend discovered he was living with AIDS. Like most people, I didn't begin my activism until I learned the hard way that this epidemic could penetrate even my white, middle-class, suburban comfort zone. I always say that growing up, I knew that AIDS was killing people, but I didn't know whom or where. It's not that I was apathetic. It's just that I was uneducated. Getting her hands dirty
These days, I value the Miss America title to an extraordinary extent because it gives me access to communities where most AIDS activists can't get in the door. People are afraid to talk about AIDS, but they aren't afraid of Miss America. The credibility of the Miss America Organization is a tremendous asset in my work and has enabled me to become a respected activist. That's what Miss America really is these days. No, she's not a doctor or a scientist, but she can be a peer educator. With respect to AIDS and a lot of other problems facing teens, peer education is tremendously underrated. It's worked for me.
Working with kids

PNB: Speaking of political correctness, you appeared on the TV show "Politically Incorrect." Was it what you expected? How were you treated by Bill Maher? What issues were discussed during your appearance? On what other TV talk shows have you appeared?

Shindle: "Politically Incorrect" was a blast. It was challenging, but I love a challenge. It was fine with me that we spent a lot more time talking about pageants than had been planned. Bill Maher is a terrific host for that program, because he has an uncanny ability to antagonize his guests just enough to spark great conversation but not so much that he offends them like crazy.

 He certainly gave me a hard time along the way, but when I made a good point, he congratulated me. In the end, he invited me to come back any time. I would love to go back on the show. We'll see.

As for other talk shows, I did "Regis and Kathie Lee," "The View," "Rosie O'Donnell," "Charles Grodin," "The Tonight Show," "The O'Reilly Factor" and lots of programs on CNN and local network affiliates. It's always fun when the interview turns into a conversation. I would love to be interviewed by Larry King.

More talk with Kate Shindle ...

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