Viewers, judges trim Miss America hopefuls to 10

Posted January 24, 2009

— In ball gowns, blue jeans and bikinis, 52 young women took to the stage to compete for the Miss America 2009 title Saturday, capping a mini-reality series on pageant prep work and a week of preliminary competition.

After an opening dance number and the traditional parade of states, judges and fans trimmed the field in the 88-year-old contest to 15 finalists.

Five more finalists were trimmed based on swimsuit and evening gown competitions, while the remaining 10 went on to showcase their dancing, singing and other skills during the talent portion of the pageant.

"This gown nearly blinds people," Miss Arkansas Ashlen Batson said in a video clip played as she walked onstage in a silver dress with beading. Batson was eliminated before she could play her flute in the talent competition.

Miss Hawaii Nicole Fox drew cheers as she performed a traditional Tahitian dance, wearing a huge white feathered headdress and skirt to match. After she exited, part of the 23-year-old's skirt remained on the stage.

In a new twist this year, viewers of a lead-in reality show, "Miss America: Countdown to the Crown" voted in four of the finalists to the top 15, while the judges announced the other 11 contestants moving on during a live TLC television broadcast from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The four finalists chosen by viewers were: Miss South Dakota Alexandra Hoffman, Miss Georgia Chasity Hardman, Miss Indiana Katie Stam and Miss Alabama Amanda Tapley. Hoffman and Tapley were later eliminated.

The other eight finalists remaining were: Fox, Miss Michigan Ashlee Baracy, Miss District of Columbia Kate Marie Grinold, Miss Iowa Olivia Myers, Miss New York Leigh-Taylor Smith, Miss California Jackie Geist, Miss Florida Sierra Minott and Miss Tennessee Ellen Carrington.

Two women from Garner were among the contestants that did not place. Amanda Watson is Miss North Carolina. Kendria Perry, who was Miss North Carolina in 2007, will represent Pennsylvania, where she attends graduate school.

The winner will be crowned by reigning Miss America Kirsten Haglund of Michigan and take home a $50,000 scholarship before embarking on a year of travel and public appearances.

The viewer interaction to name four contestants as "America's choice" was Discovery-owned TLC's attempt to stoke interest in this year's crop of well-groomed young women. Once an American icon, the shine on Miss America's crown has been dimmed by slipping ratings and the popularity of more salacious reality shows.

The pageant was dropped from network television after the 2004 pageant drew a record low viewership. It found a home in Las Vegas after moving from its longtime location in Atlantic City, N.J., but it has struggled to get its footing on cable.

In its second year on TLC, Mario Lopez, of "Extra," hosted with an assist from Clinton Kelly of TLC's "What Not to Wear." Judges include actress Laura Bell Bundy, Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson, hairstylist Ken Paves and Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones.

As always, the women competed in swimsuit, evening gown and talent competitions, as well as a short "interview," in which they were asked their thoughts on a current event or hot topic. TLC has tried to dash the days of answers that declared that "children are the future." Questions came from average people and are intended to put the contestants on the spot.

TLC also is having some fun with the cliches of pageants past. For example, in its scorecard for home viewers posted online, it asks viewers to count the number of mentions of world peace and to name the contestant with best spray tan.

Other contestants who won challenges on the reality TV show and earned golden sashes for the right to compete for "America's choice" included: Geist, Giaccone, Minott, Fox, Myers, Miss Idaho Elise Davis, Miss Kansas Emily Deaver, Miss Ohio Karissa Renee Martin, Miss Texas Rebecca Robinson, Miss Virgin Islands Shamika Thomas and Miss Wisconsin Briana Lipor.


Associated Press writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this story.



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