QUEEN FOR A DAY
Teresa Hailey, state director of the Miss Colorado Metroplex pageant, would have done well to commit her organization's mawkish creed to heart. "Be too large for worry," it reads, "too noble for anger, too strong for fear, too happy to admit the presence of trouble." On June 12, however, nearly five years after she founded the scandal-plagued pageant, Hailey not only admitted the presence of trouble, but once she started talking no one could shut her up.
"I'm tired of trying to help these little whores and sluts make something of their lives," Hailey reportedly raged to stunned listeners of KDKO radio's Inner City Visions show. "Those ungrateful bitches don't realize how much time and effort I put into making them look good," she continued, ignoring talk-show host Jon Bowman's attempts to interrupt. "I give them modeling training, I give them fur coats and money for school, and what do they give me in return? Nothing but grief."
But just who's been getting grief--and who's been giving it--is a matter of debate. Hailey has run through (some might say "run off") nine queens since 1990. One pageant winner was stripped of her title after it was learned she had a criminal record and a husband. Another former titleholder sued Hailey, claiming she'd been cheated out of her title and her prize package. Yet another charged that not only had she never received any prizes, she'd even had to buy her own crown and sash.
Hailey herself sued one winner. And the irate boyfriend of one former queen spent his anger at the pageant director by throwing a flowerpot through Hailey's car window.
Less public, Hailey claims, were the facts of one contestant's pregnancy, another's affair with a married member of the Denver Broncos football team (neither of which she'll discuss in detail), and what she cites as boardmembers' racial intolerance for anyone other than blacks.
Through the years, Hailey has tried to slap a happy face over the rapid comings and goings of her queens. "She will always remain part of our family of royalty," she said in a press release announcing the dismissal of yet another unfortunate titleholder. But when Katrina Sims--the second young woman to be crowned Miss Black Colorado Metroplex 1993-94 (and the eighth in the long list of state queens)--announced in June that she'd resigned because of problems with the pageant and its director, Hailey gave up all pretense of patience and civility and let loose on Bowman's show.
Hailey's tirade led to calls for her resignation from various quarters of the black community. Now, just two weeks shy of the fifth-anniversary pageant, it seems as though they may get their wish: Hailey claims she's stepping down and that the September 3 event will be her swan song. "The pageant is taking a different direction," she says. "And I'm going to announce that it's time for me to take off in a different direction."
When the Miss Colorado pageant was introduced in 1938, black women weren't allowed to enter. Although that restriction was removed decades ago, black sponsors continued to offer separate contests for their community. Denver city councilman Hiawatha Davis directed a Miss Black Colorado pageant for several years in the Seventies when he headed a local community action group. After he moved on, the contest continued for a year or two. Concert promoter Lu Vasson entered the pageant picture in 1980 with Miss Black World/Colorado, but that contest, too, soon disappeared.
In 1990 Teresa Hailey stepped into the void when she founded the Miss Black Colorado USA Pageant and Scholarship Foundation and was appointed state director. Hailey brought to the post a passion for pageants and what she claims is more than a decade's worth of experience as a contestant, volunteer and judge of more contests than she can recall.
Hailey's obsession, she says, is the result of an accident of birth. "My tongue was attached to the bottom of my mouth, and my parents were told I'd never be able to speak. So it started as a self-esteem thing. I wanted to stand in front of people and talk."
Pageants provided the perfect venue for her soliloquies. Hailey claims to have competed as a youngster in the Miss Buckingham Square pageants "back when they used to have them." She says she also strutted her stuff in department-store charm-school contests and in the Miss Hemisphere pageant.
According to the rather unorthodox bio Hailey includes in press kits for her own pageant, she did well in those long-ago competitions. "She has won eleven trophies, five ribbons and four award pins for tap dancing and ballet," she says, adopting a third-person tone for the resume. "The list is too numerous to mention everything."
But for a person who claims to be practiced at public speaking, Hailey comes across as unpolished and unsophisticated.
Hailey's bio also states that she earned an Associate of Arts degree in fashion merchandising and fashion design, and that she received a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. But when pressed for the names of her alma maters, Hailey testily refuses. "I'd rather not say," she replies. "I don't want somebody calling my old schools and looking me up and trying to find my grade-point average, especially when I'm staring right now at my associate degree and pictures of my graduation. I don't think my education has anything to do with my state directorship."
Later, Hailey adds a caveat. "I attended college under another name," she says. "I was in an abusive relationship. So those schools wouldn't even know I was there."
Hailey's first pageant as state director, the 1990 Miss Black Colorado USA contest, was a rush job. "I organized it in six weeks' time," she says. "The world's biggest mistake."
At the time, however, it appeared as though the pageant was off to a good start. The 1990-91 queen was one that any state would be proud to call its own. Valorie Burton, then seventeen, was a senior and student government leader at Smokey Hill High School when she was crowned the first Miss Black Colorado USA. She was a cheerleader and varsity gymnast. She participated in track. She'd been the president of her debutante group. And she'd been offered scholarships by the University of Colorado and Florida State.
In her "personal expression" speech (one aspect of the pageant competition), Burton mentioned that, just two days earlier, she'd also received a presidential appointment to the Air Force Academy. She says one of the judges later told her that she'd been selected queen because the panel was so impressed with the appointment.
Burton was crowned May 5, 1990. She started at the Academy June 9. Real-istically, that's when her reign ended. Air Force cadets don't have the luxury of extra time; they can't be available at a moment's notice to appear at supermarket openings and Shriners' parades, and that's what the pageant needed. "I couldn't do appointments during the week," Burton says from Tallahassee, where she is enrolled in a master's degree program at Florida A&M. "I just wasn't going to be freely available."
For a while, first runner-up Carol Boles acted as a willing stand-in, making the majority of Burton's scheduled appearances. By fall, however, Hailey decided the title should go to the woman who was doing all the work, and Boles was named queen. She would rule for six tumultuous months.
At first, Hailey says, Boles was "so happy to be Miss Colorado that she did everything I asked of her and more." But then, she adds, Boles fell under the influence of family and friends, who said the pageant should be doing more for her.
According to a letter Hailey wrote years later to the mother of another queen, she'd told Boles that all of the prizes meant for Miss Black Colorado had already gone to Burton, and that she'd work diligently to see that Boles received some booty as well.
Burton, however, says she got very few of the promised prizes. Her complaint would become a familiar one in the years to follow.
Boles grew more demanding as she continued to work without compensation or the prizes she'd been promised, Hailey says. "Carol told her mother and her boyfriend that I owed her money and all sorts of foolish things," she wrote in that letter. For example, Hailey says, Boles received a ticket to an M.C. Hammer concert and became upset when Hailey declined to give Boles's boyfriend, Patrick Powell, a second ticket.
Hailey recalls that Powell was a little hot under the collar, too. He "came over to my apartment calling me all kinds of names and telling me how he was going to break the door down and kill me," she says. Although Powell didn't hurt her, he did throw a flowerpot through the rear window of Hailey's borrowed van. (He later was found guilty of criminal mischief.)
Two months after that incident, Boles was out and Burton was back in. Hailey says Boles was "relieved of her duties for a variety of reasons," but Boles later told reporters she'd resigned because she'd never received any prizes or any pay for her appearances. And, she noted, she'd had to buy her own crown and sash. (Boles could not be reached for comment. Hailey says the former queen left the state with Powell.)
Hailey then asked Burton to reassume the throne, which she did. "I didn't want them to keep passing it down," Burton explains. She says she has only good things, "nothing bad," to say about Hailey's pageant, and that she plans to return to Colorado next month to host the fifth annual contest. Burton herself continues to compete in pageants; from Florida, she serves as Colorado's reigning Miss Aurora.
Burton's last official duty as Miss Black Colorado USA 1990-91 was to crown Cameo Diggs as Miss Black Colorado USA 1991-92. Even though Burton served only part of her official term, her reign would prove longer than her successor's. Diggs lasted only five months.
"There were problems from the first day of Cameo's reign," Hailey says. She repeatedly cited Diggs for missing appointments and for being late. She reprimanded her for wearing "inappropriate clothing" at an official function, i.e., a cocktail dress Hailey considered a tad risque.
"The bottom line," says Hailey, "is that Cameo was in violation of her contract." She claims that Diggs lost all interest in being Miss Black Colorado when she learned the national pageant would not be held that year and she would have no chance to compete for a countrywide title. Hailey took Diggs's emotional defection personally. "I went beyond the call of duty for Cameo," she wrote years later. "[I provided] scholarship, career, and a lot of great opportunities for her. I made sure that she attended a lot of the major events, not only in the Black community, but white as well."
Hailey placed Diggs on probation. When she failed to act in an appropriately contrite manner, Hailey says she decided to appoint a new queen. By rights, the crown should have gone to the first runner-up, Pam Bailey. But Bailey was passed over entirely in favor of the state's second runner-up, Lynn-Marie Kelley.
The problem, Hailey says, is that she couldn't find Bailey. "At one point I think she called and said she had a new job," she explains. "But I either lost the paper or erased her message. I desperately tried to get in touch with her by phone, and when I couldn't, I sent her a letter. I told her that we were going to have a meeting to decide whether or not to keep Cameo or terminate her services. After that, as far as I'm concerned, it was [Bailey's] responsibility to get in touch with me. When she didn't, I figured she had a change of heart."
Diggs was dethroned in late October, an action Hailey followed up by filing a suit in small-claims court: She was demanding the return of the pageant's crown and sash, which she estimated to be worth $400.
Diggs countersued for $13,000, claiming that Hailey had "irreparably" damaged her reputation and her ability to compete in other pageants. She sought an injunction barring the pageant from presenting anyone else as the "new" Miss Black Colorado and charged that Hailey had given her only $1,800 of the promised $10,000 prize package (including her sash and crown).
Bailey soon surfaced with charges of her own. She said Hailey had never tried to contact her about Diggs's ouster.
The dueling lawsuits were eventually dismissed or dropped. But the queens did get their day in court--in a manner of speaking. They took their grievances to the Maury Povich show.
"I think one of the disappointing things," Hailey says of her infamous appearance on the nationally syndicated show, "is that [the show's producers] flew out Cameo and her mother and her attorney, yet they were not willing to fly anyone out to speak in my behalf." And they deferred to Diggs in other ways, too, Hailey gripes. "They flew me and Lynn out on Sunday night. Cameo came out on Friday. Cameo and her entire entourage were put in a plush VIP suite, and Lynn and I were put in a dinky room that had tapes from past shows piled high on the wall."
The producers also brought in Bailey to round out the "Three Women, One Crown" cat fight. Kelley says she sat quietly. "I was not there to argue," she says. "I had nothing against Cameo or Pam." Cameo, she adds, "was especially mad."
Although Julia Davis, the current Miss Black Colorado, refers to the taping as "the Maury Povich trauma," Hailey has added Povich's name to a contestant handout listing the "many local and national celebrities" whom her queens have met.
Kelley was able to complete her reign without further incident, however. She received a fur coat, but says she was told that Diggs got everything else.
Sherry Villarreal, Miss Black Colorado USA 1992-93, was the first--and thus far only--queen to make it through from start to finish, reigning for an entire year without a public scandal. Not that there weren't problems, of course. Of black heritage, Villarreal had been adopted by a Hispanic couple from Greeley. Her siblings, also adopted, are of different races, and Villarreal's mother has been known to refer to her brood as "a beautiful bouquet of flowers." For Villarreal, having respect for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds came naturally.
Her attitude, however, apparently was not shared by others who sat on Hailey's executive board; the fact that Villarreal's boyfriend was white was a sore point for some. Hailey blames unnamed boardmembers for the prejudice. "They didn't care for Sherry because of the fact that her boyfriend was white." But, Hailey says, she elected to stand behind her queen "100 percent, regardless." That could be one reason why Villarreal did not take her complaints about Hailey to the press; another may be that Villarreal signed a contract promising not to discuss pageant business with anyone other than pageant officials.
Her reign, says a source, was "very hard." Hailey herself acknowledges that Villarreal saw fit to complain to the pageant's national director about her, and she reportedly told other contestants that the pageant hadn't done anything for her. Like all the queens before her, Villarreal claimed she hadn't received her full prize package. (Villarreal, who now works as a sales rep for a regional company, did not respond to requests for an interview.)
Villarreal would be the state's last Miss Black Colorado USA. Prior to last year's contest, Hailey switched pageant systems, affiliating herself with the Miss Black USA Metroplex system instead.
Hailey says she made the move because Metroplex offered more opportunities in terms of scholarship money and prizes for the contestants. But the truth is that Hailey jumped before she was pushed. Officials with the Miss Black USA pageant had been none too happy with their Colorado representative.
The Miss Black USA pageant is a nonprofit corporation. As such, donors' contributions are tax deductible. But according to Karen Arrington, vice president of marketing for the national organization, Hailey was using the national group's corporate number when soliciting donations for her local pageant. "If she uses the number locally, it's deceiving," Arrington explains, "because we don't see the money here. She did not have the [proper] tax status, and she was utilizing our number." As a result, she says, the national group was being credited with having received donations that actually went to Hailey's organization.
In Hailey's defense, Arrington says she doesn't think Hailey knew she was doing anything wrong, and "she did not have the guidance she needed." Nonetheless, the national pageant sent Hailey a cease-and-desist letter in regard to the donation situation. "We're essentially talking defrauding the public," Arrington says carefully. "That's what it would have been. If she didn't stop, we would have sued."
National headquarters also had been upset about Hailey's Maury Povich appearance. "I think she mentioned [on the show] that the national pageant approved of and was aware of everything she was doing as far as that situation was concerned," Arrington says. "And that was not the case. We were not guiding her in any way. It was not considered a subsidiary."
At about the same time the national office mailed out the cease-and-desist letter, Arrington says, Hailey was being courted by the national director of the Miss Black USA Metroplex pageant system. Hailey soon left for greener pastures, signing on to Metroplex in January 1993.
No matter what their official affiliation, Hailey's pageants have never reached the break-even stage. She still can't afford to quit her job with Continental Airlines, where she works as a reservations clerk. In fact, Hailey says, she regularly pours a hunk of her salary into keeping the pageant alive, "$3,000 to $5,000 of my own money...in an average year."
Although Hailey beats the bushes for sponsors, contestants must find some of their own. The young women are urged to identify individuals and companies willing to pony up donations and buy ads in the souvenir program. Locating sponsors, however, has become increasingly difficult as the pageant's problems mount. "With all this negative press, what companies want to give money right now?" asks Hailey.
As Hailey gained more experience--and notoriety--the pageants did become more professional. She offered the contestants modeling classes and workshops on hair, makeup and skin care. Local experts were called in to tutor the women on topics such as banking and the importance of maintaining a good credit history. "I try to find out what the contestants are interested in, and we address that," she says. "We teach them how to dress for an interview. Resume writing. Things like that."
As the pageant grew in sophistication, the organization grew, too. Hailey selected and appointed a succession of executive boardmembers, advisory boardmembers, chaperones and honorary chairmen. Her critics, however, charge that the board was as cosmetic as the contestants' makeup. Hailey remained state director and continued to make all the tough decisions. Councilman Davis, who sits on the pageant's advisory board, admits his position has amounted to window-dressing and that Hailey has neglected to keep him abreast of business developments.
Still, Hailey apparently chose her fellow boardmembers with more care than she did the contestants. All it took to enter the pageant was a $250 fee and a one-page official application form in which the young woman was asked her name, age, social security number and a few other pertinent bits of information. She also was asked to sign a contestant's contract and release attesting to the fact that she was single and female and, if selected as queen, that she understood that "well-groomed" meant submitting to regular pedicures.
The failure to closely screen contestants would become the subject of the pageant's next scandal.
The first Miss Black Colorado Metroplex was crowned August 28, 1993. The pageant was a triumph in every sense of the word for Doneva Carter, who'd entered the contest four years running. Although she'd always ended up near the top of the heap, she'd never managed to reach the throne. Until last year, that is.
But Carter's tenure would be the shortest of all the queens--a veritable Hailey's comet. Carter, it turned out, was a convicted felon. Even worse--in pageant terms, at least--she wasn't a Miss. She was a Mrs.
Carter was no stranger to the cops in Arapahoe County, where she'd racked up three arrests in a two-year period. The first, in 1989, was for larceny. She was popped twice in August 1991, once for forgery of a credit card and once for second-degree forgery. In one of those cases, Carter, who was working as a clerk at May D&F, helped a female friend select thirty items of clothing worth more than $600, then rang up one piece but bagged them all. Her cohort was nabbed by security guards before she could leave the store.
Hailey says she learned of Carter's decidely unregal past when a reporter confronted her. The next day, three weeks into Carter's reign, her background was big news.
Carolyn Pitts-Mason, director of the Miss Black USA Metroplex system, flew to Denver from her Houston-based headquarters to perform some much-needed damage control. Local pageant officials wavered briefly over whether to retain Carter: Some boardmembers felt she'd paid her debt to society, even though Carter was on court-ordered probation at the time.
Hailey herself still has doubts about how Carter's case was handled. "I think that if Doneva came to me and told me about her past, I would have discussed it with the board, and the board would have been supportive of her," she says. "The Reverend Acen Phillips is on the board. Leon Kelly is on the board. They believe in forgiving and forgetting."
What the board couldn't forgive was the fact that Carter had married in October 1992. "We could overcome that she had problems in the past with the law and that she had paid that debt to society," Phillips told reporters. "But when it came out that she was married, that's one thing we couldn't overcome."
Carter was allowed to resign. She put her signature to a press release announcing her departure "for personal reasons."
Pitts-Mason then fielded some tough questions about Hailey and whether she thought a change of leadership was in order for the Colorado pageant. Pitts-Mason said she had no plans to remove Hailey, and she praised her for doing a good job under difficult circumstances.
Katrina Sims, a svelte Denver college student, had been first runner-up to Carter's queen. She took over the title September 23, her twentieth birthday, in a special ceremony hastily put together at Phillips's church.
At her coronation, Sims adroitly dodged questions about Carter. She gave the kind of answers the public has come to expect from beauty queens--short, smooth and cheerfully optimistic. "Let's focus on the positive and on the future," she told reporters.
But Sims no longer thinks in those terms.
Just one day after Sims assumed her duties as queen, Hailey says she was ready to crown her--and not with a tiara. The two disagreed about how much makeup Sims should wear for her official photo, about whether she should wear her hair up or down. Sims balked at wearing her crown and sash while shopping for her J.C. Penney-provided wardrobe, and the two women clashed over Sims's choices.
By November Sims was in open revolt. She and Hailey took to communicating through the mail and through intermediary Pitts-Mason. In one letter, in which she complained of Sims's imperial attitude, Hailey told her queen, "I feel that you are very pretty, but on the inside I see a very ugly person. Since you were crowned Miss Black Colorado, the extent of your conversation with me has been `I want, I need' and `Give me.'"
Like previous queens, Sims complained that she hadn't received the awards she was due. She was particularly peeved by the lack of scholarship money. True, she could have accepted a $1,238 scholarship to the Community College of Aurora, but she was already attending Denver's Metropolitan State College and didn't want to change schools. And by February, Sims's college account still hadn't been credited with the $250 scholarship award she was told to expect from Anheuser-Busch, even though the beer moguls had given the money to Hailey months earlier.
Hailey says she told Sims that prizes would continue to be distributed throughout her reign. "A queen," she says, "must earn her prize package." But in January Hailey also told Sims she was in violation of her contract for, among other things, "insubordination" and missing scheduled appearances.
Sims wrote to Pitts-Mason and threatened to resign. The national director managed to smooth over the disagreements, and Sims stayed on. But by April things were again at an impasse. Sims refused to sign a new contract proffered by Hailey and Pitts-Mason in which she was asked to indemnify the pageant system from any liability or claims arising out of "any act or occurrence" connected with the pageant.
That same month, KDKO's Bowman met with Hailey over lunch. Hailey was seeking air time to promote the pageant; Bowman was seeking assurance that everything was running smoothly with it. He says Hailey persuaded him that everything was fine and that she'd learned from past mistakes. She got the go-ahead for a radio spot.
When Hailey showed up to promote the pageant, though, she brought with her Julia Davis, who had been second runner-up to the deposed Carter and was now serving as first runner-up to Sims. "That was a mystery," Bowman says. "When I asked Teresa about it, she said that Katrina was out of town." Sims, however, says she had never been told about the show. And by the end of April she resigned the pageant for good.
A few weeks after Davis and Hailey appeared on KDKO, Bowman received a call from Sims, who said she was concerned for future contestants. "She began talking about the inequities of the pageant," he recalls. "I put her on the air. In deference to fairness, it was 6:30 in the morning, and I said that if Teresa was listening, she should call in." Hailey didn't phone that morning, but she did call back several days later, during Bowman's Inner City Visions show. He played her the tape of Sims's accusations, then waited for Hailey's reaction.
It isn't often that Bowman is at a loss for words. But he was shocked by Hailey's profanity-laden response. The tape of the show has been erased, but Bowman's memory of the incident is clear. And, at Sims's request, he recently provided her with a notarized copy of what he hopes will serve as "a true and fair representation" of Hailey's comments. In it, he repeats the infamous "whores and sluts" line.
Sims has contacted an attorney to discuss her problems with Hailey and the pageant. "I think she might sue for defamation of character," says Bowman. "And I think she should."
Doug McNair, a columnist for the Denver Weekly News, was listening to Bowman's show the day that Hailey called up. He, too, clearly remembers Hailey's words. And he had the same reaction as Bowman: shock. In a piece written after Hailey's tirade, McNair noted: "Almost every year, something has gone wrong with [the pageant]. Instead of being a showcase for some of our best young Black women, [it] has become an annual embarrassment for them and the Black community." He ended his column with a challenge aimed at Hailey's board of directors. "Are you going to ask Ms. Hailey to resign and protect the reputations of the young Black women who she slandered by calling them sluts and whores? Or are you going to let Ms. Hailey continue to bring more embarrassment to the [pageant] and the Black community? It's time to make a move."
But McNair says he heard nothing, even after he wrote a second column addressing the issue. There was no response from the national office at all until ten days ago, shortly after Pitts-Mason claims to have first learned of the KDKO disaster. At first Pitts-Mason defended her state director. "Teresa does not curse," she said. After she was faxed a copy of McNair's column, however, Pitts-Mason quit talking. She did not return repeated phone calls from Westword.
Councilman Davis, too, was unaware of Hailey's radio gig until given a copy of McNair's column. After reading it and doing some checking, he says he thinks she should resign.
Hailey claims she didn't know she was on the air when speaking to Bowman. (He characterizes that statement as "ludicrous.") Even so, she admits, "I had no business using those two words in the first place. It was another learning experience."
Hailey says she'll resign her position as soon as the next pageant is over--not because of any complaints, but because she's "tired" and it's time to move on. She denies that Pitts-Mason demanded she give up the job. "She asked me to hang in there," Hailey says.
Thomie Allen, president of Hailey's board of directors, is expected to take over the Miss Black Colorado Metroplex pageant for the short term. "She wants to step down because of all the controversy," Allen says of Hailey. "She's been wanting to do this for months and months. But we kept trying to convince her to stay. She was doing such a good job.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.