Miss USA: Working woman
(CNN) -- "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, going into that newsroom. My news director prepared me by saying, 'We're a big dysfunctional family, we love each other one minute and hate each other the next. It's the news business.'
"But I also heard, 'Oh, she's Miss USA and she's never had any experience. How dare she?'"
Lu Parker wasn't discouraged. The former Miss USA (1994) remembers what she endured after accepting a position as a television reporter for WCSC-TV Channel 5, the CBS affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina, a few years after her reign. It was Parker's first on-air job as a reporter and she'd been hired because she was a former Miss USA.
"Looking back," she says, "I would have never have gotten my job in TV. Miss USA obviously helped open that door." Parker had taught high school English literature before the pageant.
"The news director took a huge chance by hiring me because I wasn't really good right at first. At least he took that chance. I put my foot down and worked really hard. I can't imagine doing anything else now."
And Friday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS, 51 ladies representing their home states will probably be hoping that by competing in the Miss USA pageant, they can make doors open for them as one did for Parker.
There she is
For years, pageants like Miss USA have been vehicles in which women pursued career-related aspirations. Parker knew wearing the crown would bring instant fame, trips across the country and invitations to premiere social events. She knew winning meant giving speeches to thousands of people across the nation -- including heads of major corporations -- and raising awareness for charities.
More importantly, vying for the title of Miss USA helps women in the workplace by enhancing their communication skills, teaching poise under pressure, encouraging them to set goals and achieve them.
John Kitson of the Employment Management Association describes this as "the development of interpersonal skills and (an awareness of) the nature of competition they'll use in the business world." Kitson's association is a professional group with the Society for Human Resources Management.
"Leadership, interviewing, networking, any form of presentation skills," Kitson says, "-- I think any job that involves putting a person in front of somebody else, whether it's for sales or public relations, those are the types of skills contestants develop through these pageants."
Contestants should also think about how serving as Miss USA will help them prepare for the work force, according to Theresa Beyer, vice president of marketing for Miss USA. She says delegates in the early stages of pageant preparation tend to stress their interest in fine tuning their public speaking skills.
"They're making three, four, five appearances a day, logging a lot of miles talking to different business and civic organizations, working on behalf of our charitable alliances," says Beyer.
"With that comes self-confidence and self-assurance. And as somebody who's been in business for many, many years and who's been up against the big boys, the sense of self-confidence is major. Just because you have a beautiful exterior doesn't necessarily give you the self-confidence you need."
But having outer beauty obviously isn't a bad thing. In part because Miss USA is televised,, contestants use immediate on-air exposure to their advantage to build careers in modeling, acting and reporting, common career choices among titleholders.
"When you're in a pageant you have to do a lot of public-relations work," says Parker. "You're dealing with the public in general, which is sometimes challenging. And it teaches you to focus and be able to interact and look people in the eye."
Parker now is the chief news anchor with KABB-TV Channel 29 in San Antonio, Texas, and author of "Catching The Crown: The Source For Pageant Competition" (Burke Publishing, 2000). "No one's ever called me shy," she says. "I've always been outgoing. But for shy girls, it helps you realize there are some other things you can do."
In the past 10 years, several former Miss USAs have gone on to land on-air jobs, thanks to the "launch" provided by the 50-year-old pageant program. The last decade has seen a quick expansion cable outlets, thus of on-air opportunities.
"Stations want somebody who's going to have a very positive appearance and is able to communicate clearly and concisely," says Kitson. "There's no question that having been involved with -- or winning -- in a state pageant can help participants out pretty much in anywhere they want to go."
The Miss Universe Organization, owned by Donald Trump and responsible for Miss USA, Miss Universe, and Miss Teen USA, provides a platform for each winner by offering them training in their areas of interest. Other perks include a $40,000 salary, a rent-free luxury, a riverside apartment in Manhattan, and a living allowance for one year.
"If they want to act, we set them up with acting coaches. If they want to sing, we set them up with singing coaches, even help them get record deals," says Beyer. "We work very hard to make their dreams come true."
And not all titleholders desire a job in front of the camera. Others pursue careers in politics, environmental issues, electrical engineering and writing. Lynnette Cole, Miss USA 2000 plans to work for the Congressional Committee for Adoption as a bipartisan lobbyist, after she relinquishes her crown.
"These are all cream-of-the-crop women, they're all top of the class and they're highly competitive. If you weren't competitive, you wouldn't be in the pageant. These are women who are willing to take risks. They are very dynamic, forward thinking, and energetic women," says Beyer.
"They're going to make things happen in the future."
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