Atlantic City again proudly wears its crown

Miss West Virginia , Miranda Harrison, helps Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, with her swimsuit at the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Miss West Virginia , Miranda Harrison, helps Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, with her swimsuit at the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 17, 2013

Sunday night, in prime time, Atlantic City reclaimed its Miss America birthright.

The old seaside resort showed up glowing at the chapel of Live From Boardwalk Hall on ABC, doing its best to pitch in with the attempt at retro-yet-not-too-retro Miss America vibe with its own screwball charm.

And there she was, on the flat screen with her share of Misses: a very windy but lovely place to be, colorized but then drenched with sunset hues, with a sound track by Sinatra.

A town with a famous sub shop with orange booths, and a "Fisherman's Wharf" that host Chris Harrison did not identify by its more general tourist attraction name, Gardner's Basin.

The contestants gave their intros at a series of fetching local backdrops: The Steel Pier, Golden Nuggett (with the Farley State Marina in the background), White House Sub Shop, the beach, Absecon Lighthouse outside Boardwalk Hall itself.

The new Miss America? An asterisk on this historic year of return of the 92-year-old pageant to its home, a place still small and sentimental enough to want her, as opposed to Vegas, where Miss A was just another stage show.

There were really two Miss America 2014 winners: Atlantic City, portrayed on the telecast and praised for two weeks by twittering contestants grateful to be spared the Vegas debacle as the most welcoming place in the world, with awesome sunrises. (The contestants get up early for rehearsals.)

And the pageant itself, brought back from the dead by the home team, which cannot be held responsible for some of the rough vocals during talent.

As for relevancy, Miss New York Nina Davuluri surely captured her generation's style as she seemed never to be paying attention when they called her name, making her the first distracted Miss A contestant.

On location, the Miss America contestants were treated like royalty all week, from the jitneys that transported them, to the casinos that gave them rooms with gorgeous views.

By the second commercial break, #MissAmerica was trending on twitter, and the DO AC folks were already declaring the city the winner of the pageant.

Tethered again to its tradition, the pageant was freed to just, as the boosters say, Do Pageant: letting the kitschy, campy swirling baton twirling chips fall where they may.

Or, not fall, as in the case of Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones, who did not let an ACL tear stop her from flawless and stirring baton twirling.

Like Miss Florida, the Miss America Pageant itself seemed on sure footing Sunday night, shaky selfie-cam of Lara Spencer notwithstanding.

And why not? With a youth culture saturated with selfies and teens battling for instagram likes, Miss America hasn't been so in sync in decades. Look at me! Judge me! Like me! Send me to college on scholarship!

The televised pageant - and the revived Boardwalk Parade - were a needed one-two punch of adrenaline for A.C. and Miss A.

So what did the television audience see?

A tattoo! Yes, Miss Kansas Theresa Vail got to show off her celebrated Serenity Prayer tattoo in her red swimsuit, a move that caused a backlash in Miss A land, with some former Miss A contestants suggesting that covering, not revealing, tattoos is still the preferred Miss America way.

All of America's jaws dropped, but approvingly!

There were punch lines, and double takes. Two Crystal Lees. And a Miss North Carolina who was Johna Edmonds, and not the former since disgraced U.S. senator making some sort of weird comeback.

Miss Oklahoma called Miley Cyrus "not super tasteful." Miss Minnesota had no sympathy for sexting. Miss California had to yield to the Syria question, advocating the "ethical obligation" to try to stop chemical weapons. Miss New York didn't like plastic surgery to diminish ethnic features. Miss Florida got cut off.

The contestants freely chatted about butt glue and hair spray. Boardwalk Hall looked bathed in glamorous lights, the runway all shiny, the odd Oscar-like statuette providing a visual cue that this belongs in prime time. But what was that odd egg with the windows it sat on?

Not making the talent cut, sadly, was Miss Arkansas, who contemporary-clogged her way to Miss America preliminary greatness to the theme from Monday Night Football.

But the "Classical Bollywood Fusion" of Miss New York Nina Davuluri got airtime. Davuluri also gets the most edgy introduction award, dissing Anthony Weiner with her intro, "Be careful what pictures you tweet in my state."

And redheaded Miss Connecticut Kaitlyn Tarpey's Irish Dancing made it to prime time as well.

Two weeks in the bosom of the still-imperiled seaside casino resort after seven years of being ignored in the desert taught officials of the still-imperiled Miss America Pageant one sure thing: Atlantic City's got your back.

Let's hope America was paying attention.


Miss America Pageant Facts

Year the pageant was created: 1921

Original name of the pageant: Inner-City Beauty Pageant, originally part of Atlantic City's "Fall Frolic" celebration to help extend the summer season for merchants with the phrase: "Come for the Pageant and Stay Through September."

First Miss America: Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, D.C.

First Miss America to be crowned in historic Boardwalk Hall: Marian Bergeron, Miss America 1933.

Last Miss America crowned in Atlantic City before pageant moved to Las Vegas: Deidra Downs, Miss America 2005.

Number of women who participate in the pageant and its affiliates annually: 13,000

Last Miss America from New Jersey: Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles, Mays Landing, N.J. had the shortest reign in pageant history - only seven weeks - after Vanessa Williams was disqualified.

Last Miss America from Pennsylvania: Miss America 1954 Evelyn Margaret Ay, Ephrata, Pa.


Contact Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or arosenberg@phillynews.com. Follow on twitter @amysrosenberg.

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