Miss America pageant returning to Las Vegas | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Miss America pageant returning to Las Vegas

Kathleen Hennessey

LAS VEGAS (AP) – The annual Miss America pageant will return to the Las Vegas Strip for its 2007 contest, organizers told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The crowning will air live on Country Music Television from the Aladdin Resort & Casino on Jan. 29, organizers said.

The 85-year-old beauty contest jilted its hometown of Atlantic City, N.J., for Las Vegas last year in search of a younger audience, a fresh look and lower production costs.

“I can’t tell you how happy everyone is to be returning to Las Vegas,” said Art McMaster, chief executive of the Atlantic City-based Miss America Organization. “We got a tremendous amount of media coverage in Las Vegas and that is why we went there in the first place.”

McMaster said the pageant would stick with the back-to-basics makeover that producers delivered in 2006, scuttling a plan announced in April to incorporate elements of reality television into the pageant rules.

“Finding Miss America,” a seven-episode documentary series, was to follow the 52 contestants while competing in preliminary competition in Los Angeles and give viewers a chance to vote on which beauties would advance to the top 15.

Pageant organizers have introduced viewer call-in elements in past years, as the contest has struggled to stop bleeding viewers and revenue. Last year’s return to the basic elements of the show – a bathing suit, talent and evening gown competition – was welcomed by the army of loyal pageant fans, often called “pageant people.”

CMT executive producer Sarah Brock said plans for a reality TV element of the show were changed to maintain the integrity of the pageant, which began as a bathing beauty revue in 1921.

“A pageant has its own kind of air about it,” she said. “We did not want to take away from that.”

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CMT picked up the pageant in 2005, after ABC dropped it due to record-low ratings. The cable network moved the contest from Atlantic City’s Boardwalk to the Aladdin for the Jan. 21 pageant won by Miss Oklahoma Jennifer Berry.

The Saturday night show drew 3.1 million viewers – fewer that one-third the number that watched the previous pageant on ABC, but a CMT record. Brock said 22 million viewers watched the first seven replays, aired on CMT and sister network VH-1, and more have watched since.

“The fact that people are still tuning in eight months later, I think, that speaks to the iconic nature of Miss America,” Brock said.

Some pageant fans looked askance at last year’s move, worrying that America’s model woman didn’t belong in America’s playground.

The deal completed Thursday calls for a Monday broadcast and ensures one more year in Sin City. It offers the Aladdin, now being rebranded as a Planet Hollywood hotel-casino, the right of first refusal for the 2008 contest.

Planet Hollywood president Mike Mecca said he hoped the skeptics were quieted.

“I think last year proved that coming to Las Vegas was exactly right for Miss America. The ladies that were here had chaperones attending to them, they were kept very busy with rehearsals, as well as the final event,” he said. “We think Miss America is a fabulous event that belongs in the city of fabulous events.”

Still others wish Miss America could have remained fabulous – in New Jersey.

“I think that our society has different priorities,” Sally Romonowski said of the pageant’s slipping popularity. “This is very difficult for me.”

Romonowski, who directed the Miss America parade on the Atlantic City Boardwalk for 18 years before volunteering in Las Vegas last year, said she holds out hope the pageant will come home. She knows “it all depends on the ratings.”

“Either way, you’ve got to keep Miss America in your heart. I don’t care if it’s in Alaska, it will still be Miss America,” she said.

On the Net:

Miss America Organization: http://www.missamerica.com

Country Music Television: http://www.cmt.com

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