Cinema Hearts

An ex-pageant queen who makes power pop? Cue Cinema Hearts, the indie rock musical project of Washington, D.C.’s Caroline Weinroth.

Cinema Hearts’ Your Ideal EP chronicles the experience of competing in the world of Miss America pageants. A former Miss Virginia contender, Weinroth crafts songs about the loneliness, frustration and cut-throat drive it took to win, and then lose, on the glitzy pageant stage. Hear haunting harmonies soar over searing electric guitar and dreamy synthesizers produced by Bartees Strange, who also lent his hand in synths and guitar parts on the project.

Whereas the shoegaze-rock opener “Mirror” and grunge-inspired title track “Your Ideal” tackle the theme at hand most directly, love songs “Everyday is a Day Without You” and “Can I Tell You I Love You” deviate and lean into the 1960s Brill Building sound with girl group, surf and garage rock influences. Closing track “Sister” embraces an all-electronic production, programmed by Strange, as Weinroth sings about the melancholy bond with the women she met as they all fought to earn a crystal crown of approval.

As a former Miss America competitor who played electric guitar for her talent, Weinroth used her pageant title to advocate for music programming and inspire girls. Her pageant participation is documented in the new book There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America by Washington Post Style Editor Amy Argetsinger. As Argetsinger writes, “[Caroline] had no illusions about becoming Miss America. But she really wanted to be Miss Virginia, and not just to promote her music. She had experienced the strange power that came from walking into a room in a crown and sash. It spoke to people, especially children. Could this be the way she made a difference? A young woman who plays guitar and works as a sound engineer could prove to princess-besotted girls that they, too, could make it in a man’s world.”

“Being a part of Miss America was one of the most rewarding and stressful things I’ve ever done,” Weinroth admits. Title track “Your Ideal” came together immediately after competing in the Miss Virginia pageant. “I always pushed myself too hard to be perfect and to be what people wanted me to be.” She participated in her first pageant at age 18 because there wasn’t anywhere in her hometown to sing and play guitar, except at bars. Although she didn’t enjoy it, that first pageant experience always stuck with her.

“I loved the glamour and kitsch and the feeling of being a part of some bigger legacy,” she explains of the pageantry, which heavily inspired so much of Cinema Hearts’ style. Five years later she decided to give it another go and won. It felt life-changing. “Suddenly people were taking me seriously and listening to what I had to say.” At first glance, being a rock band front-woman and a beauty pageant queen seems disparate, but Weinroth sees a lot of commonality between the two worlds.

“Honestly, being a pageant girl and being in a DIY band is kind of the same thing. You post on Instagram and do appearances at different events,” she says. “You get dressed in crummy bathrooms and then greet the public like you’re at the most glamorous place in the world. You go on long tours and drive all over the country.” Unexpectedly, working in live audio for six years at concert venues actually helped her win a beauty pageant because she knew how to program the auditorium sound for her electric guitar talent.

It’s worth noting that Weinroth works as a music teacher and leads workshops with Girls Rock camps on guitar and audio, with many students who are girls in elementary and middle school. It’s a connection that feels magical.

“When I was their age, I didn’t know any women who performed with bands or wrote songs or produced music. I’m honored to be that mentor for them, to show them that they can be independent and glittery and expressive and unafraid of being loud. That’s what Cinema Hearts is about too.”


Cinema Hearts - Photo by Sammy Hearn (5)

Cinema Hearts - Photo by Sammy Hearn (7)

IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo credit to Sammy Hearn.