It was the reclaiming of a first love from the place that just can't fight that feeling. Atlantic City is proud to be standing by its woman, welcoming the anachronistic forebear of reality TV back home, even after the pain of abandonment. "It was never the same," said Nan Teninbaum, the executive director of the Miss Alabama pageant, who has attended 33 years of pageants. "This is where we belong."
Only Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno seemed slightly defensive about embracing the retro beauty pageant. "Why would a female lieutenant governor of the state of New Jersey ever be associated with the Miss America Pageant?" she asked awkwardly. "They earned it!"
Let the second honeymoon begin!
But first, a word from a fake photo op at the Atlantic City Airport.
Billed as an arrival photo, the contestants arrived by bus and tried to re-create that tradition of the airport arrival photograph. None actually flew into Atlantic City (Spirit Airlines would have made a killing as it charges by the bag), but whatever.
The TSA agents got to make jokes about really asking the contestants to show their shoes. And at least one fan, Debbie Armigen of Egg Harbor Township, showed up to cheer. "I"m thrilled," she said, though she was hoping for an airport crowd like the old days. "It's where it should be."
For its part, Miss America in all its corporate and contestant guises seemed relieved and giddy to be back in the arms of the people who love her best: the locals and Atlantic City boosters from ocean to statehouse.
Safe to say, there might never again be a group of people as grateful to be in Atlantic City as these 53 poised and put-together contestants, who got to walk a small runway, sign in on a United States map, and make little speeches in front of an appreciative Boardwalk crowd. A Miss America statue was unveiled.
"I can really feel the charm and the hospitality," said Miss California, one of two contestants named Crystal Lee (the other is Miss Hawaii).
Miss Connecticut, Kaitlyn Tarpey, called it an "epic homecoming."
Only one, Miss Massachusetts, Amanda Narciso, complained about the humid sea air.
Various state and local agencies are propping up the old girl with more than $7 million in subsidies over three years, which did a great deal toward luring her back home. In return, the pageant will air an 8-minute promotion about Atlantic City (to be filmed this week at various sites around town), and the new Miss America will be contractually obligated to promote Atlantic City at every opportunity.
Miss America 2014 - early scouting reports point to Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail (she of the Distinguished Honor Graduate at Army School of Ordnance;) or Miss Virginia, Desiree Williams, devoted to battling childhood obesity - will be crowned Sept. 15 on ABC beginning at 9 p.m.
Television ratings, the true mark of victory or defeat, will come later. (Beating the second episode of Season 4 of HBO's Atlantic City-set Boardwalk Empire would be a start.)
The ultimate goal of Miss America and its home: to save each other from oblivion. All around the Boardwalk, there were people struggling with having to play to diminishing audiences: Miss America, the tourism industry, the casinos, and the newspapers whose idea this was in the first place, back in 1921.
Back then, the goal was to extend the summer season. Now, the goal is nothing short of extending a life span.
The truth is, for all their talk of leaving Atlantic City behind, Las Vegas never really cared that much about Miss America, at least not in the way she had become accustomed to at the Jersey Shore, where Miss America is revered, lovingly mocked, and obsessed over. The loss of the parade, a favorite of locals, may have hurt the most. That returns Sept. 14.
Will it be the contestants themselves who expose the underbelly of a down-on-its-luck resort? They are all spread out among the different hotels. Atlantic Club proudly announced it has Miss Alabama, Miss Indiana, Miss Nevada, Miss Minnesota, Miss Oregon, and Miss South Dakota, on a sign in its lobby. No one is staying at struggling Trump Plaza. Surely, the casinos will put their best suites forward.
Unlike back in 2004, the contestants gave a fairly full accounting of their activities via Twitter, last minute eyelash extensions (Miss Connecticut, lashes by Gineann) and all.
Some seemed to know that not all casino hotels are considered equal. "Score! The Golden Nugget," tweeted Miss Washington, Reina Almon, posting a nice box of chocolates waiting for her in her room and giving a shout out to "the poor guy who got stuck loading my luggage."
Miss Virginia and Miss North Dakota - roommates, a practice of doubling up begun in the cash-strapped Vegas years - tweeted a picture of them in view of the Steel Pier on Monday night. Miss Virginia, wearing a royal blue sleeveless cocktail dress, looked especially buff, ready for fitness evaluation.
There was no faking a Tuesday airport arrival when so many tweeted photos of the views from their rooms Monday night.
They were already doing their part to create buzz about Atlantic City: "I'm here!! I'm giddy (and for those who know me, that is rare)!" tweeted Miss Virginia. She even tweeted from what looks like the Exit 2 ramp of the Atlantic City Expressway, her first view of the city's skyline.
The easily impressed Miss Vermont, Jeanelle Achee, tweeted about the cool vending machines at the rest stops on the Garden State Parkway. At this rate, by the time the newly crowned Miss America takes her dip in the ocean, there won't be anything left unpraised in the creaky seashore resort. Except, perhaps, the ocean water temperature.
Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan of Alabama, said Twitter has transformed the pageant's reach. "It's been a lot of fun to have been as open as I've been," she said.
And already message boards were heating up. Miss New Jersey posted a photo of herself outside a limo Tuesday morning wearing a short sparkly skirt and immediately was trashed in very impolite terms on the VOY.com board. "Very Jersey girl," was the nicest remark. Wait, wasn't New Jersey supposed to be a good thing? Stay tuned.
Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-576-1973 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the pageant on Twitter @amysrosenberg.