She wears a Size 9 1/2 shoe, keeps a journal, can do the hula, plays church piano and says her most embarrassing moment was when she walked into the ladies' room after a local beauty pageant, still wearing her crown, and a woman stared at her as if "she wasn't supposed to be human and using a bathroom."
She isn't. She's Kellye Cash, Miss America 1987. A Southern Baptist who doesn't believe in premarital sex, she waltzed off with the title in Tennessee style, thanking God and her mamma, not necessarily in that order.
KellyeCash. Say it fast, like her friends do, all in one breath. It sounds like an automatic teller. The KellyeCash Machine. Her mother, Billie Cash, 42-year-old former Miss Baton Rouge Junior High, says, "I felt that God wanted her to win." But it wasn't divine intervention that allowed her to walk with God down that celestial runway. It was hard work. She spent months being groomed at the Jackson home of a professional beauty pageant trainer. Most of the pros do the same -- aerobics, weight lifting, mock interviews, tedious weeks of turning and walking and munching Diet Figurines and learning a few beauty queen secrets, like dabbing Preparation H under the eyes to tauten the bags.
But above all, her mother says, "we built her from within."
She has the face of Miss America. The body of Miss America. "And now, she's ready to communicate to America," according to her mamma.
She won because she has "it" -- that elusive quality that combines cornball looks and hardball competitiveness, that beauty pageant savvy that is genetically inherent in probably 90 percent of the female population below the Mason-Dixon Line. She also won because: (a) she looks like last year's Miss America, (b) the last picture she posed in the nude for was probably taken in her crib and (c) she is the grandniece of country singer Johnny Cash.
Attention pageant officials: Before the Kellyecash machine gets cranked up, it would be wise to tell Miss America's mother to soft-pedal the fact that the family only sees the famous singer once a year. Better to have them shrug and say, "We don't get together nearly as often as we'd like."
After her talent win, she was asked if she had heard from the singer. She seemed surprised by the question. Did she know his daughter, singer Rosanne Cash? "Well, she probably doesn't remember me," Kellye Cash said. "I did go to her graduation, though."
The next day she told reporters she had received a letter from Johnny Cash. Kellye and her mother acknowledged that the famous name certainly didn't hurt her chances. "I think the Cash name might have gotten her the publicity, but she won on her own," said Billie Cash, surrounded by reporters after the close of the show. She was wearing a Kellye green Perry Ellis suit and is blond, like her daughter. "Did she say, 'I love you, Dad?' She was supposed to say, 'I love you, Dad' into the camera."
Her father, Capt. Roy Cash Jr., is on the USS El Paso in a NATO exercise off the coast of Norway. He last saw his daughter in mid-August. "The last thing he said to her was, 'Kellye, you're gonna win,' " Billie Cash recalled. "She said, 'I will, Dad, just for you.' "
Of course, while the estimated 60 million viewers of Saturday's televised pageant might have been kept in suspense until the bitter end, everyone down to the hot dog vendor in the cavernous Convention Hall (where they used to have dog races) knew Cash would carry off the crown. She had won the talent preliminary Thursday night and the swimsuit competition Friday night. (The last contestant to do that was Vanessa Williams in 1983.) Not only was she well rounded, she was well funded. Tennessee spent an estimated $ 30,000 on her wardrobe, in contrast to Wyoming, which spent only $ 2,000 on its contestant.
No one at home knows this. They think everyone has an equal shot at the title. Watching the last night of the Miss America pageant is like seeing only the last set of the U.S. Open, the last quarter of the Super Bowl, the last hundred yards of the Kentucky Derby.
No wonder they all burst into tears at the end. They're exhausted. They've been getting three hours of sleep a night, rehearsing all day, lugging their makeup around in tackle boxes, signing autographs, posing for pictures with strangers on the Boardwalk, wrapping themselves in plastic sheets to sweat off those last few pounds and defending their decision to walk down a runway in front of millions of people in what is essentially high heels and a girdle.
They give interviews about their pet pigs, pet peeves, hobbies ("shopping for bargains," "juggling butcher knives," "collecting Donald Ducks") and most embarrassing moments. For Miss Nebraska, it was one time in her doctor's office when the nurse asked her to autograph her urine cup.
Miss Wyoming, the one who only got $ 2,000, had the misfortune to step on her gown and rip the entire back off. The dress designer received special permission to go backstage and sew it back together. It took three hours.
Miss Pennsylvania didn't eat one morsel of food the entire day of her swimsuit preliminary. She lost anyway.
After her victory, Cash told reporters, "The pageant is about being an all-around girl. You just can't be good in talent. I worked hard in all areas and I think it paid off."
Dream big, she said. "You can reach your dreams."
Cash is a junior at Memphis State University, majoring in communications and public relations. She wants to be a talk show host.
How times have changed. It wasn't that long ago they all wanted to be Sargent Shriver. Now they want to be Maria Shriver.
"Kellye's a cool girl," said Tennessee pageant official Larry Ray, who already had begun celebrating before the Miss America Ball began. "I believe in women's rights. I don't believe in beauty pageants. I think they're degrading to women."
"Larry," a beautiful blond woman with a thick southern accent implores.
"Just a minute," Ray says. "I think this is all a bunch of bull -- "
"Larry, let's go."
"I have to tell you, she came from nothing. Nothing. That is what this whole thing is about. It's a real Horatio Alger story."
"Larry, we're lay-ving yoo."
If you happened to notice a bearded man with glasses taking notes near the runway, you may be interested to know he was James Donald Smith, an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where they tend to take beauty pageantry seriously. He has been doing a study of the pageant world for the past two years. At the Mississippi state pageant, he discovered that 85 percent of the contestants said that God had ordained their crowning.
There were 20,000 people in the Convention Hall Saturday night. Men in tails and tuxedos, women in sequins and beads and fibers not found in nature. There were signs and cowbells and it was just like a political convention, only you got to see the winners' legs.
You also got to see the Miss America Orchestra, a loose band of local musicians hired to accompany the "girls," although nearly one-third of the music was taped.
Pageant officials changed the rules this year to give talent more weight than shapely thighs, but everyone knows it's still a beauty contest.
At least that's what Joe Lanza and his son Joe Jr. think. They should know. They play in the orchestra. It's 30 minutes to show time and they are grabbing cigarettes by the stage door.
"They all seem to have a very sincere nature about them," says Lanza Sr., who also plays in the Philadelphia Orchestra. "I don't know whether that's skin deep or all the way."
"I just wonder how much emphasis is placed on the talent," Lanza Jr. says. "Amongst ourselves in the orchestra, we talk about who was talented and who wasn't and we're always wrong. Two out of the three people they picked we thought were not talented, and actually not good ...
"We didn't like either one of the singers that won the first two nights. We thought the fiddle player was talented," he added. "The more sophisticated performers were not the winners."
"I thought Miss Texas was horrible," says Lanza Sr., referring to Stephany Samone, who sang a jazz version of "Stand by Your Man."
"She couldn't sing a tune," his son says.
"What the hell was this?" Lanza Sr. says, looking at the program notes on Julie Russell, Miss Arkansas. "This was ridiculous," he says of her vocal and piano selection of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
"Maybe she made it on her swimsuit and nightgown," Lanza Jr. says.
"Whatta they call it? Evening gown."
They gave Miss Tennessee high marks.
"I'll tell you one thing, Kellye Cash rehearsed her number very carefully, in great detail. More than anybody else. She went over all the problem spots in detail, until they were right," Lanza Jr. says. "She was more demanding in what she wanted to hear. She was particular. She was sensitive to what wasn't exactly precise."
Both men say they're not impressed with the show.
"This seems to be more a hyped media event than it is anything else," Lanza Jr. says. "The thing is, a large segment of America has definitely bought it, hook, line and sinker. I'm not impressed with what is required to win. I've never been as close to it as I am now, and it's disappointing to see that it's as superficial as it is.
"I turned to one of the people in the band and said, 'How can Gary Collins keep a straight face for four nights?' I was wondering if that's what happened to Bert Parks. He finally couldn't keep a straight face anymore. They said to him, 'If you can't stop laughing we're gonna have to replace you.' "
Outgoing Miss America Susan Akin was the winner in the waterworks department. She cried in rehearsals. She cried on preliminary nights. She cried every time she walked down the runway. She cried when she placed the crown on Kellye Cash's blond tresses. She can cry and wave at the same time. She is going to Los Angeles to become an actress. Maybe they'll remake "I'll Cry Tomorrow."
Which brings up the importance of The Wave. To be Miss America, you must have strong arm muscles. But waving is a very personal talent. There is the Light Bulb: short, staccato turns with an upward motion. The Scrubbing Bubble: upturned fist, clenched and unclenched several times a minute. The Window Washer Wave: flat palm, circular motion. The Vanessa Williams: wave bye-bye.
It was 1:30 in the morning yesterday. Kellye Cash was dancing upstairs at the Convention Center at the Miss America Ball. Down in the lobby, 10-year-old Denise Cole of Doylestown, Ohio, was slumped on a sofa, wearing a crinoline dress, fox stole, rhinestone tiara, mascara, Mary Janes and a sash that said, LITTLE MISS HEMISPHERE.
She was with her parents, waiting for tickets to go to the ball. She has won more than $ 50,000 in prizes from beauty pageants, including two Chevettes and seven diamond wristwatches.
"She was always one of those little kids with a hairbrush in her hand," said her mother Debbie. Denise started entering pageants five years ago, has a whole wall of crowns and just made a movie, "Video Wars." It was shot in the Poconos. It hasn't been released.
Debbie Cole doesn't see anything wrong with dressing up her daughter and parading her at pageants. "It's competition," she explains. "It's like Pee Wee baseball. What difference is dressing her up and walking down a runway from putting her in a soap box and sending her down a hill in Akron, Ohio?"
She wants to be a cosmetologist. Her hobby is collecting unicorns. She says she will be back in 11 years.