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Wendy N. McDougal

Deidre Downs, former Miss Alabama and reigning Miss America, will give up her crown Jan. 21 when Miss America 2006 is crowned in a new location  Las Vegas.
Photo Courtesy of Miss America Organization
Deidre Downs, former Miss Alabama and reigning Miss America, will give up her crown Jan. 21 when Miss America 2006 is crowned in a new location Las Vegas.

Miss America pageant moving to Las Vegas

From Staff, AP Reports

LAS VEGAS — The Miss America pageant is taking the show on the road after 84 years in Atlantic City and heading for Las Vegas — a change of venue organizers hope will renew interest in the contest.

"What we wanted to do is find a new host city that has all the glitz and glamour Miss America is known for," said Art McMaster, chief executive of the Miss America Organization, the nonprofit charitable group that runs the event. "Obviously Las Vegas is right at the top of this list."

To some, however, the choice was an odd one for an organization that leans more toward country hokum than "What happens here, stays here" revelry.

The Aladdin hotel-casino will host the event, scheduled to air Jan. 21 on the cable channel Country Music Television. It will be the first time the pageant has been staged outside Atlantic City, N.J., organizers announced Wednesday.

"There's a lot of excitement in the city, and we hope to infuse that into the pageant," said Paul Villadolid, vice president of programming for Nashville-based CMT. "Las Vegas echoes our vision to attract a broader and younger audience."

In recent years, the pageant has been dogged by financial troubles and slipping viewership. ABC dropped the show last year, leaving Miss America without a network TV contract for the first time since 1954.

McMaster pulled the event from Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in August, citing high production costs, and said it would be held in January instead of its traditional September date.

Then pageant officials went looking for a host city that would pay for the right to hold the annual competition. Organizers would not discuss terms of the deal, which was completed this week, but said it was for one year only.

McMaster said it was too soon to tell if Miss America would settle permanently in Las Vegas. "We're not ruling anything out," he said.

Since 1921, the pageant has been a proud product of Atlantic City, which used the parade of polite, earnest beauties to keep tourists in the seaside town past Labor Day.

Wrong image?

Up until 1997, Miss America contestants weren't allowed to enter a casino while they were in Atlantic City because Miss America organizers worried how it might look.

"When I think of Vegas, I think of the showgirl image, and I don't think it's necessarily the environment that Miss America has always touted being," said Miss America 1993 Leanza Cornett.

Former Miss Alabama Wendy McDougal, a Decatur resident, said she isn't thrilled about the move to Las Vegas.

"I was hopeful that when CMT took it over that the pageant would be in a location like Nashville or in another community that would rally behind it and lift up the ideals it stands for," she said.

"Pageantry is strong in the South and I think that in order for the pageant to rebuild its image, it needs to be in a place where there's a strong volunteer base. I think that will be difficult in a city like Las Vegas."

McDougal added that she is disappointed the pageant is moving to another casino town.

"It's almost like they're doing a copycat location," she said. "As a mother, they (pageant officials) are always so focused on the future of the program and trying to sell that aspect. Idon't think Las Vegas is a family-friendly environment and I don't think I'd want to take my 9-year-old there. Ijust don't think Las Vegas is a morally sound environment. I think of Las Vegas a risque environment and Idon't think that's the way Miss America needs to be portrayed."

Villadolid and McMaster insisted that the move to Sin City won't taint Miss America's image. McMaster said he plans to keep contestants too busy to spend time or money in casinos.

Villadolid said CMT's production intends to "preserve and celebrate" Miss America's values, but he and McMaster acknowledged the move will necessitate changes.

Fans have likely seen the last of the Miss America parade, in which all 52 contestants rode down the Boardwalk in convertibles before throngs of spectators.

And Miss America's victory dip in the ocean, when the winner frolicked in the surf for gawking photographers, would be impossible in landlocked Las Vegas.

"We're not going to have the same traditions as we had in Atlantic City," Villadolid said. "We're anxious to come up with some new exciting events."

Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955, called it a "heart tug" to see the pageant leave New Jersey. But she's optimistic a new venue will draw new fans and help launch new traditions.

Meriwether said she never liked the dip in the ocean much anyway.

"It was such a tease, I thought. That's really the only time Miss America appears in a swimsuit during her reign. You go out in the suit for the frolic, and that's the last time you wear it, honey," she said.

On the Net:
www.missamerica.org.

Copyright 2002 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

Wendy N. McDougal Wendy N. McDougal
DAILY Staff Writer

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