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How to Judge a Beauty Pageant

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Being a Good Pagent Judge

I’ve had a lot of experience with pageants. I’ve served as a judge and a coordinator. I've been a pageant mom, too. My grandchildren and my niece have been active in beauty pageants as well, and I’ve helped coach and prepare them. I’ve been in the audience, so I’ve done my share of “seat judging.”

I've been involved in many types of pageants: glitz, natural, charity, scholarship, face, semi-glitz, and low-glitz. I’ve also had a hand in choosing and designing outfits and stoning (adding rhinestones to) winning dresses.

Early on, I learned the importance of how to judge a pageant fairly. If you’ve been asked to judge, consider these tips.

Judging beauty pageants is a serious task.

Judging beauty pageants is a serious task.

How Important Are Beauty Pagent Judges?

First of all, you need to realize how important your job is as judge. Even small pageants should be taken seriously. The event might not seem like a big deal to you, but I assure you that it is, indeed, a big deal for most of the contestants and their parents. These people put a lot of time, money, and practice into competing, and they expect to be judged fairly. In view of the circumstances, they deserve to be judged fairly.

Of course, no matter how fairly the competition is judged, there will be some hurt feelings and some disappointed contestants. There’s no way around this, as everyone can’t win the crown. Just do the best job you can possibly do in your capacity as judge.

Contestants and their parents invest time and money into competing, so it's important to take your role seriously.

Contestants and their parents invest time and money into competing, so it's important to take your role seriously.

Criteria for Judging a Beauty Pageant

Before agreeing to be a judge, ask the director for a scoresheet that lists the judging criteria and guidelines of the pageant. Make sure you understand all of the information. Know what’s allowed and what isn’t allowed, and stick to it. For example, if the rules state that the girls aren’t allowed to wear flippers, makeup, wigs, or falls, you’ll have to deduct some major points for any contestant breaking the rules.

It’s a good idea to talk to the director before the event. Ask her what she’s looking for. Some directors are pretty specific in what they want. For example, she might tell you she is looking for a natural-looking contestant in a simple dress. On the other hand, she might tell you she wants a winner who’s polished and high-glitz, and that makeup, glitz dresses and gowns, flippers, and "pageant" hair is encouraged. If that’s the case, don’t give high scores to contestants who don’t fit the criteria.

Pageant gowns and dresses should fit well.

Pageant gowns and dresses should fit well.

Beauty Pageant Dresses and Pageant Gowns

Pageant dresses and gowns usually make up a hefty portion of the overall score, so judge them accordingly. You can’t judge the dress on its own, however. You have to judge the dress on the girl. You might see a gorgeous dress on stage, but if the color and style don’t match the girl well, points should be deducted.

Dresses and gowns also have to fit the contestant well. Consider whether the dress is too short, too long, too tight, or too loose. Also, ask yourself if the dress is age-appropriate. Dresses for little girls should have a “sweet look” and not look sexy. Gowns for older girls shouldn’t be too revealing, either.

Baby beauty pageants can be difficult to judge.

Baby beauty pageants can be difficult to judge.

Baby Beauty Pageants

Baby beauty pageants are tough to judge. You’ll probably be required to award points for stage presence, personality, and maybe even for poise. How much stage presence and poise can a baby have? Before agreeing to be a judge, ask the director for guidance. She’ll probably tell you that you can lump stage presence and poise in with personality. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to judge a baby’s personality, too. I usually tried to determine whether or not the baby was happy on stage. In some cases, that’s really the best you can do.

Beauty Pageants for Toddlers

Beauty pageants for toddlers are fun to judge! They don’t yet understand the concept of winning and losing, so they’re usually not under any pressure. In most cases, personality should play a big part here. Most judges will award more points to a toddler who’s happy and having fun on stage, as opposed to a toddler who’s too “stiff.” I never liked to see little “robots” on stage.

It’s fairly easy to tell if a toddler is enjoying herself by her smile and level of animation. A lively, smiling, giggling contestant should get a good score on stage presence and personality. In my opinion, these things are more important for toddlers than missing a cue or not making a proper turn.

My oldest granddaughter loved competing!

My oldest granddaughter loved competing!

Child Beauty Pageants

Most of my experience has been with child beauty pageants. For me, it is harder to judge children than toddlers. Some of these girls are serious and the competition can be fierce. Even at an early age, many contestants are polished and seasoned, so poise really begins to count, although personality should still be a major factor.

You’ll see kids who “own the stage.” This is hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it. Such kids have the “wow factor”—not just for their dress and physical appearance, but also for their confidence and ease on stage. Such a girl should definitely be awarded major points.

My niece represents the total package.

My niece represents the total package.

The “Total Package”

Some directors will tell you that they are looking for the “total package.” What does that mean? From my experience with glitz pageants, most directors looking for a total-package girl want her to have a great dress or gown, a tan, perfect teeth and smile, appropriate shoes, the right earrings, and a perfect hairdo. Even their nails should be neat and manicured. Younger girls should have some sort of bow or other hair adornment, and it should be in keeping with the dress. The package also includes natural beauty, poise, confidence, stage presence, and personality.

Pageant Swimwear

There is often a swimwear category. If you are a judge, there are several points to ponder. How does the suit fit? How does the color and style go with the contestant? Is the swimwear unique and attractive? In addition to the outfit, you’ll need to judge how the contestant presents herself. In other words, how well does she do modeling? It’s also important to keep in mind that swimwear should be age-appropriate.

Casual wear, costume, and outfit of choice can include almost anything.

Casual wear, costume, and outfit of choice can include almost anything.

Casual Wear, Costume, or Outfit of Choice

Many pageants include competitions for casual wear and/or an outfit of choice. Some might include costumes as a separate competition or as part of outfit of choice. Some of these outfits can be amazingly elaborate, and they might even include some serious props. Consider creativity and originality here.

Once again, age appropriateness should be considered, along with how the girl models her outfit. In other words, you’ll need to judge her routine in addition to the outfit, in most cases. Don't get too hung up on the prop though. It should certainly be considered in the score if it helps the theme of the outfit, but it shouldn't get more of your attention than the outfit itself.

Some pageants might have a holiday wear category.

Some pageants might have a holiday wear category.

Write Helpful Comments

I think it’s extremely important for judges to make written comments on score sheets. You’ll have only a minute or two to judge the girls, so your comments will need to be short and to the point. Even so, such comments can provide great feedback for contestants as a way to improve for the next pageant.

Be Constructive But Positive

I always used this opportunity to provide constructive criticism and tried to include at least one positive comment along with the criticism. Most parents don’t like their children to be criticized, so I think a positive comment helps to soften the blow, so to speak. For example, if a girl’s dress is too long, you might say, “dress too long,” and add “great smile” or “beautiful girl” to it. The parents will know that they need to alter the dress before the next round of beauty pageants.

Questions & Answers

Question: how should I dress as a pageant judge?

Answer: Business casual is the norm for most pageants.

Question: Can I wear a dinner gown as a judge?

Answer: It depends on the pageant. Ask the director.

Question: What are the requirements for being a child beauty pageant judge?

Answer: That depends on the specific pageant and/or the pageant system. Check with the directors.


habee on July 14, 2019:

Yves, thanks for reading!

savvydating on July 12, 2019:

Very interesting. I did have to laugh at the idea of judging babies for poise. Lol. That would be a tough call, no doubt. At any rate, you're obviously good at judging. I must say that your niece is quite the lovely pageant queen. She obviously has a big personality!

I enjoyed reading this piece and was glad to discover that judges try their best to take the feelings of contestants into account. That being said, one has to learn how to lose as graciously as we learn how to win. In so doing, we're always a winner in the long run!

Emelia on June 21, 2018:

Very informative and right on point.... The emotional aspects well noted

habee on September 04, 2017:

Aseal, just try to be constructive without being critical. Point out the good, along with pointing out the areas that need improvement. Good luck!

Asael Gacosta on September 03, 2017:

Your article is very informative.. this will help me a lot because i've been invited as a judge for the upcoming pageant.. but can i ask for more suggestions when it comes in giving comments to the contestants? Could you give some other examples that would help to improve their performance on stage.

sally tritton on June 09, 2017:

Its a minefield for a judge for sure this is only my second time judging (pre teen and teen pageants) and I've seen how it can elate or destroy a young girl's confidence there are so many beautiful girls with extreme intelligence or out there doing wonderful things in there community I have found this page extremely helpful and informative

thank you :)

vibesites from United States on December 12, 2013:

You have definitely beauty running in your blood... Lovely children. The swimsuit shown above is proper.

Thank you for your tips. Who knows, I could be invited to a beauty contest as judge (if not as a contestant lol just kidding). :)

Katie6875 on October 21, 2013:

I am going to be in a pageant and i was wondering where you can get that holiday wear outfit. I love it!!!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Marcy, you're right - beauty pageants can be very emotional. Thanks for reading!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Felina, beauty pageants are a lot of work for everyone involved. This especially true for glitz pageants!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Thanks, Rox!

Doc, the oldest girl (Asian) is my niece. She still competes. Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Leros, it was for me, too, at first. Thanks for visiting!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Thanks, wetnose!

Teaches, judging a beauty pageant is tough! I want to give the crown to everyone. lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 11, 2012:

Margie, I always took judging beauty pageants very seriously!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on April 09, 2012:

Super interesting! It's a whole other world and culture - truly unique. I like your point on the importance participants place on competitions; people need to remember the emotional effort that goes into them as well as the time and money!

Felina Margetty from New York, New York on April 08, 2012:

Wow I am flabbergasted, a lot of work goes into one of these pageants. I had no idea. This is an insightful hub. Thank you

drbj and sherry from south Florida on April 05, 2012:

Easy to tell from all this well-written inside information. Holle, that you have been a pageant judge many times. Your oldest granddaughter is gorgeous, BTW. Does she still compete in pageants? Just wonderin'.

Roxanne Lewis from Washington on April 05, 2012:

Very informative! Thanks

leros003 from Orlando, FL on April 05, 2012:

This is definitely eye opening to me!

Dianna Mendez on April 04, 2012:

It would so hard for me to judge a pageant as I find all the contestants to be beautiful and talented. Loved the photos posted and the article.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on April 04, 2012:

Wonderful pictures.

Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on April 04, 2012:

I had no idea how much goes into judging pageants! Fun read, thanks!