1984’s Miss Alaska contestants. Maryline Blackburn in back row, third from left and Sarah Palin in front row, second from left.
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Monday, September 8, 2008
Oh, yes, indeed, Maryline Blackburn remembers Sarah Palin. From the time she first met her fellow contenders for the title of Miss Alaska 1984, the flute player from Wasilla was one who stood out from the crowd.
“You can feel who your competition is going to be, and she was in my top five,” Blackburn told us. “She had that look in her eye that we saw the other night when she gave her speech — that ‘I’m in it because I really want to win.’ ”
Back in 1984, it was Blackburn who won the crown and advanced to Atlantic City as Alaska’s first African American delegate to the Miss America pageant. Palin — then Sarah Heath– was second runner-up. Today, of course, Palin is John McCain ‘s running mate. Blackburn, not quite as famous, is an Atlanta gospel and R&B singer with three CDs to her name who sees their shared past on the tiara circuit as genesis for the different dreams they’re each chasing today.
“It’s been a wonderful whirlwind affair for me, and I owe this to my participation in the Miss America organization,” she said. “I’m sure if people sat down with Governor Palin, she would say the same thing.”
Blackburn grew up in Fairbanks, one of seven kids in an Army family. Like Palin, she was drawn to pageants for the scholarship money but got hooked on the spotlight. “I was like, ‘Hey, I really like this. I get to stand in front of people and speak and share my opinions.’ “
I’m so glad Ms. Blackburn pointed out that she grew up in Fairbanks. I get so sick and tired of some black folks saying that there are no black people in Alaska.
After Atlantic City, Blackburn went home for a while, but her career dreams led her away from Alaska. She had no idea that a former competitor had gone on to become governor — different names, remember — until her brother called last week and spelled out the connection.
“I was like, ‘Get out!’ ” she said. “And then I was like, ‘Wow, you go, girl.’ ”
Blackburn told us that, contrary to some reports, Palin was second runner-up, not the second-place finisher, and that Palin competed again in ’85 but didn’t place. Everyone of course now wants to hear the nasty, catty, behind-the-scenes stories; Blackburn says there aren’t any. Palin signed Blackburn’s pageant program like this: “Maryline, I do love you. You are more admired than you ever know. Please keep God Number One, he’s got great things for you, baby.”
How will she vote? “I’m on the Obama train,” Blackburn said. She was impressed by her former competitor’s speech (“the sarcastic lines, that’s Sarah”) but wonders if it’s enough.
“Most girls that are in pageants, we know how to turn it on,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”