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* * * The following Saturday, at a.m., Slemmer woke up, showered and ironed his tuxedo shirt at the Sheraton in Salt Lake City.
He went out into the cold, blustery day, admired the gorgeous mountains, and, along with pageant director Jen Klem and photographer Tyler Ross, loaded photo equipment and pageant paraphernalia—programs, certificates, ribbons—into the car.
In the blasé “Girls” era and the feminist “Lean In” moment of high-powered female CEOs like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, here is a 29-year-old Gen Y-er who not only works in a throwback industry that enjoyed its greatest heyday more than half a century ago, but loves it, and, like a true believer, openly proselytizes about it.
“Every beauty pageant says something like, ‘We promote inner beauty as opposed to outer beauty,’” says Slemmer.
And when she was getting her trophy and crown and banner, I said it again, just for fun, and she looked at me as if to say, ‘You don’t have to keep saying my name! Inside, all the furniture turns the apartment’s empty spaces into a human Tetris-like obstacle course stocked with corners, legs and edges to avoid.
The bed is covered with laundry, and dirty dishes rest in the sink. At one point, he mentions that one of them is called a clivia, “which,” he gamely admits, “makes me uncomfortable to say.” A Cincinnati native, Slemmer was born to an actress and a stockbroker who divorced when he was mere months old.
The stage had an extra lip that extended out into the audience; this meant he could put the girls’ masking tape “marks” there, essentially directing the contestants to do their spins in the middle of the audience.“The truth is that I enjoy having fun with them, and I want them to know that if they trip on stage—no, that’s too cliché—if they don’t do the full turn on the third X in their modeling routine, they can be embarrassed if they want to, but we don’t care. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, ashamed about, frustrated about, regretful about.” Younger contestants often ask Slemmer how old he is and if he’s married.That day in Salt Lake City, one of youngest girls asked him, “Zak, if you had to date any of the girls here, who would it be?After the stage setup and a tech run-through, the doors opened and 107 contestants and their families took their seats.Slemmer led them through everything they’d need to know for the day: where to go and when, how they would move on stage, how the top ten round (for finalists) works, and more.