Monday, February 1, 2010

Field trimmed to 15 at Miss America Pageant


LAS VEGAS -- A group of 53 Miss America contestants who took the stage Saturday in Las Vegas to woo a panel of judges has been narrowed to 15 finalists.

The 53 young women - who are from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico - came out on stage at the beginning of the pageant and danced to "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas. Each then introduced themselves to the crowd at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino before the judges, the public and contestants themselves trimmed the field. The pageant caps a week of preliminary competition and will end with the crowning of a winner.

The public voted in Miss Oklahoma Taylor Treat, Miss Arkansas Sarah Slocum and Miss Kentucky Mallory Ervin.

The judges picked Miss Tennessee Stefanie Wittler, Miss Colorado Katie Layman, Miss California Kristy Cavinder, Miss Indiana Nicole Pollard, Miss Hawaii Raeceen Woolford, Miss Louisiana Katherine Putnam, Miss District of Columbia Jennifer Corey, Miss New Mexico Nicole Miner, Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron, Miss Texas Kristen Blair and Miss Nebraska Brittany Jeffers. The contestants themselves then voted in Miss Oregon CC Barber.

Actor and "Extra" host Mario Lopez is hosting the 89-year-old pageant with help from Clinton Kelly of TLC's "What Not to Wear." The pageant is being broadcast live on TLC.

The panel of judges include radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, actress Vivica Fox, musician Dave Koz, Miss America 2002 Katie Harman, gymnast Shawn Johnson and former "American Idol" finalist Brooke White. Comedian Paul Rodriguez was set to be a judge, but organizers said he pulled out because of a family emergency.

The winner, crowned by reigning Miss America Katie Stam, gets a $50,000 scholarship and embarks on a yearlong run with the title to represent the organization and raise awareness for her chosen platform.

Scores based on a week of preliminary competitions will be added to Saturday's swimsuit, talent, evening gown and interview competitions to determine a winner. Each judge will rank their five favorites in order, and their ballots will be used to pick the winner.

Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron, Miss California Kristy Cavinder and Miss Michigan Nicole Blaszczyk each won $2,000 this week for winning talent competitions among three split fields of contestants. Miss Oregon CC Barber, Miss New York Alyse Zwick and Miss Puerto Rico Mimi Pabon each won $1,000 in nightly swimsuit competitions.

Miss Oklahoma Taylor Treat won the $6,000 Quality of Life award, given to the contestant judged to excel most in volunteerism and community service.

In all, the Miss America Organization plans to award $340,000 in scholarships at the national level. The organization says its national, state and local chapters gave more than $45 million last year in cash and scholarships.

The pageant was preceded by a one-hour television special on TLC, "Miss America: Behind the Curtain." The contestants picked 12 women from their own ranks who faced a public vote for a spot among the 15 finalists. The result of that vote will be revealed Saturday night.

Stam, a Seymour, Ind., native, was one of four finalists chosen by viewers last year. This year, the public is choosing three finalists to move onto the swimsuit competition.

The crowning of a Miss America began in 1921 as a publicity stunt to persuade tourists on Atlantic City's Boardwalk to stick around after Labor Day. The bathing revue blossomed in the age of television into an American pop icon before fading in later years and losing it place on network TV in 2004. It moved to the Las Vegas Strip in 2006 in an attempt to reinvent itself and has found a home on cable television.