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Suspense time: New Miss America just hours away

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Miss Michigan Kirsten Haglund reacts as she is crowned Miss America 2008 by Miss America 2007 Lauren Nelson.
Miss America Organization

Memories of Bert Parks warbling, “There She Is, Miss America” might have faded, and the newly crowned Miss America now takes her first steps in her new sash and tiara on the Strip, but the tradition of Miss America remains powerful in the culture of beauty pageants. Tonight, a new Miss America – the 82nd -- will be crowned at the Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Current Miss America Kirsten Haglund, will performing the topping and the reliably poised Mario Lopez will host the event, which starts at 5 p.m. Pacific time and will air at 8 p.m. locally on TLC.

Getting to Know Miss Nevada

Seeking a boost in energy and exposure, Miss America moved from Atlantic City to Vegas before the 2006 pageant, which crowned Jennifer Berry (Miss Oklahoma) as its queen. Another Miss Oklahoma, Lauren Nelson, won in 2007, followed by Haglund last year. When it moved to Vegas, the pageant also parted ways with its longtime network partner, ABC, and was broadcast on CMT in 2006 and 2007. Last year it moved to TLC, and organizers say they are working on a deal that would keep the pageant on the network and in Vegas through 2015 (catch that story, and all of Robin Leach’s exhaustive coverage, on our sister site Vegas DeLuxe.

Miss America Judge Defines Beauty

“It’s become easier and easier in Vegas,” Sam Haskell, chairman of the Miss America Organization, said earlier this week. “Having been here in Vegas for a few years now, we know what we’re doing. But it’s tiring, putting all of this together.”

The pageant distances itself from the more saucy Miss USA pageant (which is more a modeling contest than beauty pageant) by offering scholarship money to its contestants. Tonight’s winner receives $50,000 in scholarship money, discounting the state and preliminary awards she has accrued. Miss America has also sought to balance its deep tradition, which dates to the crowning of Margaret Gorman (Miss Washington, D.C.) in Atlantic City in 1921, with contemporary interactive elements. The swimsuit and talent segments are intact, and the pageant last year resumed awarding the Miss Congeniality honor, but this year the pageant and TLC also teamed for a reality show, Countdown to the Crown to help pick the champ. The show’s final airing was last night. The four-episode series, hosted by Tyler Harcott, followed the 52 state reps (including D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands) as they lived aboard the Queen Mary ocean liner and competed in a series of contests to determine the 15 “Gold Sash” finalists were Miss South Dakota Alexandra Hoffman, Miss Alabama Amanda Tapley, Miss Wisconsin Briana Lipor, Miss Georgia Chasity Hardman, Miss Idaho Elise Davis, Miss Kansas Emily Deaver, Miss Delaware Galen Giaccone, Miss California Jackie Geist, Miss Ohio Karissa Martin, Miss Indiana Katie Stam, Miss Hawaii Nicole Fox, Miss Iowa Olivia Myers, Miss Texas Rebecca Robinson, Miss U.S. Virgin Islands Shamika Thomas and Miss Florida Sierra Minot. From there, fans voted either online at the TLC Miss America Web site or via text to determine their top four choices (voting ended early this morning). Judges will vote on the remaining top 11, and the top 15 women compete live for the crown tonight. Thus, it is still possible for Miss Nevada (Julianna Erdesz of Reno) to win the title, but it would be a first. Miss Nevada has never won the crown, but always draws a healthy roar as the pageant’s home-city representative.

Leach Blog Photo

2009 Miss Nevada Julianna Erdesz.

During its long run in Atlantic City, the Miss America pageant produced some memorable winners who are still active in the Miss America Organization, including Lee Meriwether (Miss California, 1955) and Phyllis George (Miss Texas, 1971). One of its more accomplished winners is also one of its most controversial: Vanessa Williams (Miss New York), who won the crown in 1984 but was swapped out for first runner-up Suzette Charles (Miss New Jersey) after nude photos of the new Miss A surfaced in Playboy magazine. Both are listed as Miss America 1984 in the pageant’s official program, and of course Williams has gone on to a successful singing and acting career but has not taken part in any official Miss America functions or projects since she resigned her crown. A more traditional winner is Haglund, who ended her page-long farewell letter in this year’s pageant program by saying, “And finally, thanks to my Heavenly Father. Thanks to His Son. Thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, comforter and friend. He has carried me on wings like the eagles, he has walked with me in the shadow."

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