Just the Beginning: Broadway Dreams Pageant

Whose never been to a beauty pageant before?

In my recent foray into the world of gliding gowns and shining crowns, I made the observation that if you, your sister/brother, or other immediate family member was not into pageants, then you probably aren’t either.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story

On March 9th, I attended the Broadway Dreams Pageant. Some of you may remember my mentioning this in my pageants-to-see list. It was my first time, and like any newbie I was shaking in my boots. The venue was the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The hotel was large, occupying a huge footprint in such a compact city as New Brunswick, so you’d think my GPS would be able to pick it out from the tiny abandoned church two blocks over. No such luck. After giving up on finding the Hyatt in the car, I paid for parking, grabbed my bag, and spent twenty minutes wandering around with my nose glued to my phone screen, trying to zero in on the GPS dot. I looked up, nearly smacking myself with the sign that read “Hyatt Regency parking in rear” and realized I was standing on the sidewalk out front.

Clearly I was off to a great start! I had hoped to keep the burn of embarrassment out of my cheeks until check in, at least, but I figured there was no where to go but up. I walked in and took in the lobby, expecting to find a sign or arrows point me to the ballroom where the pageant was to be held. It took two scans to note the long, cloth covered table hidden off to the right. It screamed, “Must get past us to enter,” so I walked over with an unsure swagger. Three bored-looking women sat behind the table. All were middle-aged, two African-American and one White, and each had false nails longer than the last. I stepped up and squeaked out a hello.

“Ticket?” One asked. Her bright purple eye-shadow stood out on her dark skin. I handed her my pre-printed receipt and she pulled out papers with lists of names, one impossibly long fingernail (seriously, how could they maneuver with those things?) trailed down until she hit my name. It took her a few tries to find it, which gave me a good look at how many non-participants were attending. With only three sheets of paper and surprisingly large print, not many. I was one of maybe thirty or forty names. After marking me off, the check-in woman wrapped a paper wristband around my right wrist, like I was marked as 21 at a bar. With no other instructions, all three turned their heads. It was a dismissal if I’d ever seen one.

I wandered. It seemed that was going to be my modus operandi. A temporary wall had been set up, separating the larger lobby from the raise floor that lead to the ballroom. Against it, on the ballroom side, were three little tables. One had a rack of colorful tutus and sequined dresses beside it. Another had a green screen used by photographers. The last displayed hand-made jewelry. These were the vendors. The three tables didn’t take up much space, so the “room” felt empty and echoing. I could hear music playing over speakers and I turned to face my next dilemma.

Six doors in a line, all under the larger ballroom sign. The music was coming from farther right, so I picked a door.

I picked the wrong door. Is there a pattern to my luck? Happily, a very kind woman was behind the door, which opened to a corridor between the stage and the dressing rooms. She pointed me in the right direction and rushed off before I could take advantage of her good humor to ask questions.

I found the room, the stage, the people. I took a seat.

Why do I go into so much detail about this journey from car to chair? The main reason is that I expected more direction. I thought there would be signs, people pointing the way, or a gosh darn arrow or two. There were none of these things, and this lack of organization turned out to be a theme far more than “Broadway Show” was.

So I’m there, I’m ready, it’s five minutes to showtime.

Denise Hilliard was the founder and director of the show. She says her interest in pageantry comes from her daughter, who paced the stage and is now performing on Broadway. Hence, the name. The March 9th pageant was the first annual Broadway Dreams Pageant, which may explain some of the snafus of the night; not enough experience on the part of the staff.

While the announcement was made that the show would be starting a half hour late, I took a moment to examine the crowd. My seat was three rows back from the stage, on the far left side of the room. There were a total of 192 seats. About 20 were filled when I arrived.

The crowed was middle-aged or elderly, with a smattering of young children hanging of a mother’s hand. It was clear from the conversations and the look that most, if not all, were immediate or extended family of the contestants. There were also more men than I had expected, fathers of contestants, husbands who were invested or had been dragged along. Some were in full suits, others in jeans. All of the women had made an effort to dress well. Regardless, there was an air of well-to-do around the crowd, and it occurred to me that pageants are expensive. I’d taken a peak at the price tags on the vendor dresses and whooo there were too many numbers for my comfort.

The atmosphere was subdued, everyone speaking in murmurs to their neighbors. Time went by and more families trickled in, until it was twenty minutes to showtime. By then, about one third of the seats had been filled and one thing was abundantly clear, as a young, white girl all on her own, I was in the minority. I was an oddball, and stuck out like a sore thumb with my clearly alone status, young age, and race. Even though I was occupying the end of an ideal-seating row, I was given a wide berth.

Two minutes to show, and two-thirds of the seat were taken. No one else walked in. It was everyone that was coming. Flashing from beneath sleeves, I caught a glimpse of a few wristbands, but most didn’t have them. The energy picked up and the music, blaring classic Broadway Show Tunes, cut out mid word.

Denise Hilliard steps up to the mic. Hilliard’s voice is bright, full of excitement, but I can tell she’s not 100% used to public speaking. Her introduction to the show is mostly praise for her daughter, and it’s a while before she introduces the MC for the night. Miss Tiffany Williams takes the mic, a former pageant star, she is now a reverend, and a NJ administrative law judge. That caught my attention. A judge? Doesn’t that sort of blow the whole “shallow, idiot pageant woman” stereotype out of the water?

Miss Williams ends up being the saving grace of the night. Her voice is smooth, confident, and she surprises me by noting that her confidence at the mic stems from her pageant days. She said that often, in her work life, she is complimented on her poise and assurance. “It comes from pageants,” she said. Williams points out it was women’s history month, and she could think of no better way to celebrate that than to come out and encourage these girls (the contestants) to dream big, to support them, and  to give them the confidence that would help them in all other aspects of their lives.

This was not the body-image centered pageantry I’d heard about. My hopes rose. The night was shaping up to be a stereotype snapper!

The Facts

Once the introductions were made, the judges were brought in (but not introduced), the rules were read:

1. No Solicitation

2. 2 minute time limits for performances

3. Don’t leave in the middle of a performance (it’s rude and hurtful to the girls)

4. No photos or video (the show was conveniently  providing those from an outside vendor…for a price, of course)

5. Don’t heckle ( or assault, verbally berate, or in any way interact with) the judges

And then we began the show!

The age groups were:  3-4 year olds, 5-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, and 16-19.

As each group slowly spun and strutted, it was like watching puberty in fast forward. The 3-4 group wandered around on the large, matted dais as though they’d begun a game they weren’t quite sure the rules of. It was adorable and earned lots of clapping. With each group, the dresses got longer, more ornate, more adult, until one 19 year old stepped out in an Oscar-worthy black gown that hugged her tight, but flared at the bottom, giving her the hourglass figure people literally die for. It was like whiplash, as once the cycle reached the eldest girls, it began again.

Each contestant had filled out answers to six questions about themselves that the MC read off as they presented themselves on stage for the first time. They were:

– The girl’s interests

– Her favorite color

– Her favorite subject in school

– Her hobbies

– Her favorite art form

– Her role models: the only ones mentioned were “mom,” “grandma,” and “Demi Lovato”

Once introductions and presentation was finished, the girls set up for the next category. There were four sections: Introduction, theme wear, talent, talent, and outfit of choice. Yes, you read that correctly. Each girl had to have TWO talents, as Hilliard wanted them to show they are “well rounded” as that was “what was necessary for Broadway.” She called it the “triple threat.” This was interesting, as the only talents performed (over and over) were dancing and monologues.

I mentioned earlier that there were issues throughout the night. I’ll list them now, so you understand Miss Williams’ comments.


– Incorrect last names for some contestants

– Incorrect ages announced

– Too little time between performances for the girls’ to get changed

– Repetition of acts

– Music was so loud, that the MC had to shout to be heard, even with a microphone

– Some performances were almost skipped because they’d been accidentally left out of the program

All these little things added up to the entire show seeming sort of…shoddy. The MC was clearly embarrassed after the first handful of mistakes, and neither Hilliard or any of the other workers were coming to her aid. As a result, the audience began to lose interest. Sure, it was their daughter or niece or grandbaby up there every so often, but the show was falling apart.

When the 5-6 year olds staggered up to present their theme wear, only a smattering of applause was heard. Miss Williams had an edge to her voice when she told the crowd to give the girls the encouragement they deserved. “These are our future CEOs up there!” she called, and the clapping ratcheted up a few levels.

“Please, help me in encouraging these bold, beautiful young ladies,” Williams said after each group walked off, her goal seemingly to be to get the crowd back in the game.

The pageant finally wound down almost six hours after it had started. The winners were announced, crowns handed out, and the girls’ beamed as they accepted their prizes. Of course, there were a few fallen faces, but everyone seemed glad it was just over.


(Photo credit http://www.braodwaydreamspageant.com, click to follow source)

As everyone packed up and I headed out, my thoughts turned to the experience itself. While I didn’t get much of a chance to speak to anyone (no one was welcoming), it was incredibly happy to have delved into the hands on research. I now have the notion that a pageant is only as good as its directors, and I’m curious to see how larger, more established pageants compare in organization and quality.

I am always open to suggestions! Please let me know if you know of any pageants I should look into, what facts or practices I may not be getting right, or hints on how to expand my understanding! Also, check out my contact page for more private communication!


6 thoughts on “Just the Beginning: Broadway Dreams Pageant

  1. It’s definitely interesting to hear how low-scale this was compared to expectations. My only experience with beauty pageants has been what I’ve seen on TV and in movies like Miss Congeniality. Those are, obviously, hyped up a lot more to be exciting on screen. What you’re describing here, on the other hand, reminds me of a school play: much lower production value and mostly limited only to family members.

    It’ll be interesting to see if this pageant turns out to be representative of the norm, or if it’s an exception.

    • I’d never connected it to the feeling of a school play, but you’re right on the money. While it did not have a high production value, it certainly had a lot of energy and heart. I’ll definitely be comparing the experience with what happens at larger and more established pageants. Stay tuned!

  2. I was at that pageant, and while Denise was very nice, the pageant was long and exhausting…the following year it was more organized but hardly any contestants or audience…and the judges awarded one litltle girl most of the prizes…her mom told me she took a lot of lessons in NYC…where some of the judges were from..we were done after that…again Denise is very nice n she really tried to put together a nice pageant…3rd one is cancelled, she is getting rid of pageant title n changing to talent competition…hope it works!

    • I hope it works out for them! While the pageant was not an event I would rave about, there were a lot of positive aspects. I wish the best to Denise and those trying to make a positive impact on today’s young women.

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