Bill Wolfe: ‘I love meeting all of the various people’
January 29, 2009
by John Long
Wolfe lives with his beloved dogs in a beautiful old home in the Hyde Park area of Kansas City. The entire second floor is designed as a place where he and Kimberli Kircher can work with Miss America pageant contestants.
He grew up in Norfolk, Neb., which, he points out with a laugh, is also Johnny Carson’s hometown. He moved to Kansas City to pursue a master’s degree in vocal education at UMKC. “I completed everything but the dissertation. I got too involved in pageants and playing in various clubs.
He’s been playing piano since second grade, he said. While in Nebraska, he taught music to junior high and high school students for eight years.
Wolfe is a masterful pianist who accompanies Kircher when she sings but he has also worked with other performers and is a singer himself. He has performed solo and with many artists during his years in Kansas City. His work with the Miss America pageant contestants involves creating music tracks that are the backgrounds for their vocal performances in the pageant.
“I still do lots and lots of lessons, and it’s more of a coaching situation rather than a technical situation.” Wolfe explained that the Miss America pageant limits the contestants to songs that are only one and a half minutes.
“The arrangement has to be built trying to use the best sections of the song in a minute thirty, so that’s kind of turned into an art in itself. Once we decide what the girl is going to sing, then I hire the musicians and decide who is going to lay down the actual tracks.”
“It’s kind of shifted in that I’d say 90 percent of the business used to be that girls would bring their own tracks in and we would work to perfect them and get them ready for competition. Now it’s more girls come here and want arrangements done. So it’s turned into more of the building of the musical track rather than the coaching end of it.”
Wolfe and Kircher work as a team. Contestants come to him for assistance with their music, either singing or playing the piano (“I get lots and lots of piano players anymore”).
Wolfe brings Kircher in for the blocking or staging when he’s through with the vocals.
“It’s a fine line. She pretty much stays out of the vocal end of it unless she hears something that she feels that she can fix. And then I always get to hear it and offer my final opinion, and she’s good with that. And if I hate the blocking, I just say ‘I don’t like that at all,’ and she changes it. She gives me option B.
“Kim was 17 years old when she won the Miss Kansas City pageant and I was the director of the Miss Kansas City pageant at that time. We had a bumpy, bumpy road as director/contestant,” he laughed, “but we ended up becoming best friends.”
“They were scared to death of Kim Kircher in Mexico, Mo. (where the Miss Missouri pageant is held), just because they knew they had this blond bombshell (who) had definite opinions and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and (was) very unpageant. After the first year that she went in, Mexico, the contestants, the directors, they all absolutely fell in love with her.
“In fact, within the first 30 minutes the first year after I got her there, they called me and said they couldn’t find Miss Kansas City. So I got up to the dorm and there she is on the side of the building near the bushes, smoking. And she goes, ‘I told you I’m not like all these other pageant girls, I don’t know if I can do this all week.’ Well, by Wednesday of pageant week – and we go in on Sunday – they had made Kim’s room the smoking room for all the contestants, so I knew we were going to be all right.”
Wolfe is now working with 17 contestants. He was at the January Miss America pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, where they have held the contest for the last three years. Donald Trump also holds Miss USA, which Wolfe said is based on only beauty and no talent, unlike the Miss America pageant, which looks for both.
Wolfe estimated the typical budget for a contestant to be between $8,000 and $10,000, although some states may spend more.
“I think over the years Miss America has really tried to put the emphasis on scholarships, and that’s why they (the contestants) are doing it. They’re not doing it to have the most expensive gowns.”
He said the winner gets a $50,000 scholarship, and the runners up and even the top 10 get money. Furthermore, states award their own scholarships. Wolfe said that many of the contestants have used the pageant as a launching pad for careers in broadcast television, acting, singing and other roles.
Wolfe is ebullient about his role working with the pageant. His home and upstairs office are filled with memorabilia, including many signed photos from contestants he has worked with.
“I’m still hooked. I love meeting all of the various people. One of the biggest perks is that so many of the people I meet, even eight, nine years ago, they are still my best friends.”
Bill Wolfe can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, talentwolfe.com.