Late on a Sunday afternoon in November, as the rest of the Metroplex grimaces through what will turn out to be the final game of Wade Phillips’s calamitous season with the Cowboys, a modest crowd of eighty is gathering to watch as the new Miss Irving and Miss Teen Irving are crowned. The stakes are high: The victorious queens will secure a spot in the statewide Miss Texas and Miss Teen Texas competitions, which are held each summer. The winner of Miss Texas then goes on to the Miss America pageant, which takes place the following January in Las Vegas. From there, who knows what heights can be reached? Since 1935 the vaunted tradition known as the Texas beauty pageant has launched scores of young women to glamorous careers, from Phyllis George (Miss Texas 1970 and Miss America 1971) to Eva Longoria (Miss Corpus Christi USA 1998). This is where it all begins, where a small-town ingenue can take the first high-heeled step in her journey to big-time icon.
Yet as the attendees of the Miss Irving pageant take their seats, the air is not exactly crackling with tension. We’re in a dimly lit, mustily decorated auditorium on the second floor of an old schoolhouse in Bedford (about fifteen miles from Irving), a space that would perhaps be better suited for a sleepy PTA meeting than the razzly-dazzly beauty pageant we’ve been promised. Even more dispiriting is the fact that the competition has lost three of its would-be queens in the past 24 hours: One injured a knee; another dropped out because her grandmother had a stroke; and the third was crowned Miss Teen Southlake the previous night, rendering her ineligible. Presently there are more judges (seven) and pageant representatives (five) in attendance than contestants (six for Miss Irving,