Last year, the big news was the program's return to Atlantic City after an eight-year exile in the Nevada desert. But that aspect of the annual scholarship pageant has been muted. This year, most of the attention will likely return to the young women who have triumphed over thousands of hopefuls from Maine to Hawaii to earn their trips to Atlantic City and a chance to make the final round, set for 9 p.m. Sept. 14, on 6ABC. But the nationally broadcast extravaganza is just the tip of the iceberg that is Pageant Week.
The first real public glimpses of this year's field will be offered Tuesday through Thursday nights as the three preliminary rounds are conducted at Boardwalk Hall. These programs are where Miss America is really decided; if a contestant doesn't impress the judges here, she will not make the field of 10 that will vie for the top prize Sept. 14.
The preliminaries are conducted exactly as the final round, with production numbers, remarks from the co-hosts and judging in several categories. Preliminary scores are weighted like this: Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit (15 percent of the total); Evening Wear (20 percent); Talent (35 percent); On-Stage Question (5 percent). The only difference between the prelims and final is that the personal interviews, which account for 25 percent of the total score, are conducted privately.
One set of judges will work the preliminaries. Evaluating the contestants in the final round will be Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of social-media consultancy VaynerMedia; writer-producer Marc Cherry ("Desperate Housewives"); modeling titan Kathy Ireland; Miss America 1955 Lee Meriwether; retired Army Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald; and two past "Dancing With the Stars" champs, Shawn Johnson and Donald Driver.
This year's tristate representatives include two local women: Miss Delaware, Brittany Lewis, hails from Wilmington, while Miss New Jersey, Cierra Kaler-Jones, is from Galloway Township, just a tiara's throw from the Boardwalk.
On the other hand, representing Pennsylvania is Amanda Fallon Smith, a Dade City, Fla., native. She's repping the Keystone State as a student at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.
For many pageant fans, the best event of all is the Miss America Show Us Your Shoes Parade, set for Sept. 13 on the Boardwalk. Along with standard elements like floats and marching bands, this seaside march boasts a one-of-a-kind element as the contestants will acquiesce to the spectators' requests that they "Show us your shoes!"
Boardwalk Hall, Boardwalk at Florida Avenue, 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday (preliminaries), 9 p.m. Sept. 14 (final round), $100-$858, 800-736-1420, ticketmaster.com.
Boys will be girls
If the Miss America Pageant is too, um, straight for your tastes, there's always the Miss'd America Pageant, set for Sept. 28 at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City.
Miss'd America is the popular drag pageant that began in the 1990s as an underground spoof of Miss America but subsequently became a city-sanctioned event.
Harrah's, 777 Harrah's Blvd., 7 p.m., $35-$100, 800-736-1420, ticketmaster.com.