Does anyone even watch the Miss USA pageant anymore? Ogling perfectly turned-out girls in identical swimsuits can seem a little démodé, especially when you can watch girls with bigger hair, saying more entertaining things, on Rock of Love Bus. Miss Oregon USA 2009, Eugene-born Sylvie Tarpinian—a tap-dancing psych grad from Western Oregon University—explains that "celebrities get attention for negative behavior," while pageant girls are role models. One way you can be a role model, WW learned from Tarpinian, 24, who asked Macy's to sponsor her because her retail job didn't earn her enough money to buy her own pageant dress, is to avoid alcohol like the devil that it is.
WW got ahold of Miss Oregon USA before she left for Vegas to compete in the Miss USA pageant on April 19. After finding out she'd never been in an arcade before ("What should I wear?" she asked on the phone), we made plans to meet at indie arcade/lounge Ground Kontrol—but soon retreated to Backspace (it was probably a bad idea to wait for her at the GK bar). At Backspace, WW explained where to put the quarters and what the flippers were for, and she let me try on her crown.
WW: Did you just say you haven't even tried your bathing suit on yet?
Miss Oregon: Yup. All the swimsuits (it's Jessica Simpson swimwear) are being delivered to the pageant. All 51 contestants are going to show up without ever trying on their swimsuit. There's fashion tape, and we use Elmer's glue on our backsides. So when you see us on TV, we'll be all taped and glued together.
What other tricks are there?
I don't put Vaseline on my teeth. I know that a girl did that and she had it on about five seconds and she about threw up. So that's not true. There's other little tricks. I always get my shoes a half size big and put grips on the bottom so I don't fall on my booty.
How did you start competing in pageants?
I started in the Miss America program, in a local program, because they had a talent [segment], and I was a performer. And secondly, for scholarship money. I was actually talked into it by my college roommate. I never did pageants as a child.
We're playing pinball on side-by-side machines. I check the scores.
Man, I'm beating you by 3 million to 14,000.
I'm not good at this!
So, the Miss USA pageant winner is going to go on reality TV?
Yes. Whoever wins Miss USA will go on to a show called Pageant Place that airs on MTV, so if you win, you go live in Trump Towers for a year. Your roommates are Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA. This year, when it airs, it will be Crystle Stewart, who is last year's [Miss USA] winner.
You said you were trying to keep a low profile. How do you think you'll do on reality TV if you win?
I think I could handle it. If your life is being filmed, you just have to watch what you say and do at all times. I'm the kind of personality who could control that situation. I think I'd do well having my life filmed, because I don't have any trouble sacrificing things.
Like not being able to go to Ground Kontrol or drink?
Well, in my position, you have to be careful about what your behavior is like. It's not like, "Oh, poor me," but you have to be careful. That doesn't just go for where I am or how I'm being photographed. If I'm screaming at someone or have a bad attitude, people are going to remember that.
Do you actually think the Miss USA pageant is relevant? Are any teenagers actually looking up to Miss USA?
Actually, my dad and I used to make fun of it. We said, "Big hair, big teeth, no brains." But in our day, it's more relevant than ever. It's a program to create role models—especially for women, but for people in general. They see celebrities on TV who get attention for negative behavior. That's what teenagers see, and that's who they follow. The great thing about pageants today is that these pageant winners are people that young kids and teenagers can look up to. And they're real girls.
Do people think you're dumb?
There's definitely a stigma attached to the program. But that's the great thing about meeting people in person—they can discover for themselves. I say, "Well, talk to me. Do you think I'm dumb?"
The Miss USA Pageant airs on NBC at 7 pm Sunday, April 19. Visit missusa.com for info.