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Here she comes, the new Miss America

The Miss America pageant was something my family always made a point to watch on television while I was growing up. Tiaras, sashes, flowing gowns were all part of what made watching the contest so exciting on that Saturday night in September. My mom would always tell my sister and I about the year a girl from her high school was in the contest.
However, the pageant has moved around and changed so much that very few viewers tune in anymore. That could change, now that the pageant is working to make a comeback.
The Miss America pageant has been a part of this country for 87 years. Miss America has come from all corners of this land, but mostly from California, Ohio and Oklahoma, with those states having the winner six times each. Most Miss Americas have been blondes, with brown-eyed brunettes second. A few held the title for two years, including Mary Campbell of Ohio, who won in 1922 and 1923, and finished first runner-up in 1924.
Since the 1960s, when the Miss America pageant was the highest- rated program of the year, the program has lost some of its sparkle. It seems as though the contestants and winners have been exact replicas of the previous year’s winner. The waving, the answers, the singing ‘ all the same. It also didn’t help that other pageants were started to compete with Miss America.
Now, the pageant is trying to make a comeback, and I’m on the Miss America bandwagon. Television producers are hoping to spark your interest in the pageant, too.
The cable network TLC is now hosting the pageant. This comes after ABC dropped the pageant following the 2004 contest and its three-year stint on Country Music Television (CMT). And the pageant now has been moved to January.
To build interest, TLC has aired a show called ‘Miss America: Reality Check,’ which attempts to get the contestants to think outside the box and to forgot everything they’ve ever learned about being in a pageant. The traditional Miss America wave and the stereotype Miss America responses are gone. In their places are groups that compete against each other. The contestants are challenged to be themselves and not give the ‘world peace’ speech.
This year’s contestants come from a variety of backgrounds. Miss Utah was in the military, Miss Indiana enjoys riding her motorcycle, and Miss Wyoming wanted to play ‘Dance Dance Revolution,’ a popular video game, as her talent.
Of course, we won’t actually know if the pageant has changed until it happens, but the show is great for several reasons. First, why wouldn’t I want to watch a show that features 52 beautiful women? I always want Miss Indiana to do well, but little did I know that when I moved to Scottsbluff, Neb., last March that Miss Nebraska 2007 and Miss Wyoming 2007 would both be from my new hometown and would be competing for the Miss America 2008 title. Scottsbluff is about equal in population to Corydon in a county similar in size as Harrison County. Scottsbluff is the only city with two representatives in this year’s pageant. This is possible because Jennifer McCafferty, who attends the University of Wyoming, won a county pageant, qualifying her for Miss Wyoming, which she won.
I’ve had the opportunity to interview McCafferty and Ashley Bauer, Miss Nebraska, and have bragged to my friends about the women from Scottsbluff. Both are very intelligent and well-spoken, something one would expect from Miss America, but both also easily come across as the girl-next-door, someone who laughs, has fun and doesn’t spend every waking moment acting like a beauty queen.
McCafferty and Bauer have given me and nearly everyone in Scottsbluff a case of Miss America fever. I look forward to Fridays, when the reality episodes air. I’ve never been a fan of the pageant, probably for the same reasons mentioned earlier, but this year I’ll definitely be tuning in to see who wins.
Of course, I’ll also be keeping my eye on Miss Indiana, Nicole Elizabeth Rash. The Ball State University student is from Plymouth and she will sing as her talent. It seems as though Miss Indiana is ‘always a bridesmaid, never the bride,’ as the Hoosier state is one of those with the most first runners-up in the pageant’s history. Rash has been on camera more on the reality show than both Miss Nebraska and Miss Wyoming. At the end of the second episode, the judges placed Rash in the top three, but she fell back to the middle of the pack last week.
I realize that the broadcast of the pageant will not show the entire pageant, but I will definitely be cheering on all three contestants to make it to the top 10, and I will stay faithful to my Indiana home. My ideal finish would be for Miss Indiana to win, the first for our state, followed by Miss Nebraska and Miss Wyoming, in no particular order.
From what I’ve seen of Rash on the show, and Bauer and McCafferty in person, these three women are what the next generation of pageants are looking for. It appears that TLC is on a makeover mission, to make the Miss America pageant as popular as it was 40 years ago. To have the title of Miss America 2008 ‘ the winner who started the new revolution for the contest and put Miss America back on television sets once again ‘ would be quite an honor.
To see exactly what the so-called ‘experts’ will change about the contestants on the final week, check out TLC Friday night at 10. To see if any of the contestants have moved away from the old robotic Miss America to a modern version, tune in to the Miss America 2008 pageant Saturday at 8 p.m. on TLC.
Randy Spieth is a former staff writer of The Corydon Democrat. He is now a news reporter for KDUH-TV in Scottsbluff, Neb.

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