Miss America contest returns to New Jersey home

Reuters

By Victoria Cavaliere

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - Fifty-three women will showcase their beauty, poise and talent on Sunday as they compete for the crown in the 2014 Miss America Pageant.

The 93-year-old beauty pageant returns this year to its hometown of Atlantic City, New Jersey, after an eight-year stretch in Las Vegas.

Contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will be judged on their performance in events including a personal interview, talent demonstration, on-stage question, as well as their appearance in evening gowns and swimwear during the two-hour nationally televised event.

Last year's winner, Mallory Hagan from New York, will crown her successor.

Several contestants made headlines during preliminary competitions earlier this month. Miss Iowa, Nicole Kelly, was born without her left forearm and says the competition is helping her promote a platform of overcoming disabilities. Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, is a sergeant in the Kansas Army National Guard and will be the first contestant to show off tattoos in a pageant known for its more traditional presentation of female beauty.

The pageant's return to the New Jersey shore, where its founders in 1921 hoped the event would extend the summer tourist season, could be an economic boon for an area that was hard hit by last year's Superstorm Sandy. The Atlantic City Alliance, an economic development group, estimated that it would bring in about $30 million in business to area businesses.

Sam Haskell, chief executive of the Miss America Organization, said Governor Chris Christie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno were quick to welcome the pageant back to its birthplace and promised the seaside resort town would be ready for the massive event.

"The governor and lieutenant governor wanted to show the world that Atlantic City was still vibrant and vital after the storm," Haskell said. "They just said, 'We will be ready.'"

Atlantic City is located about 60 miles south of Seaside Park, New Jersey, the site of a massive boardwalk fire on Thursday night.

The pageant will be televised live on ABC starting at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT). The network picked up the contest again in 2011 after dropping it in 2004 because of a steep ratings decline. Miss America has seen its popularity ebb and flow over its nearly 100-year history and it has been the target of critics who say the pageant format objectifies women.

Judges for the competition will be 2004 Miss America winner Deidre Downs Gunn, the New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire, pop singer Lance Bass from the boy band ‘N Sync, comedian Mario Cantone, violinist Joshua Bell and television chef Carla Hall.

While the New Jersey setting will be familiar to viewers, one well-known element of the pageant will be absent this year. Contest organizers have dropped the "There She Is, Miss America" song that has accompanied winner's victory walks since 1955, due to a legal dispute with the song's composer.

In its place, viewers will hear "Look at Her," which was played while most Miss Americas were crowned in the 1980s, Haskell said.

(Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)

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