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Making Talent Count At Miss America ’05

For the pageant’s 50th year on TV, telecast producers scripted a fast-paced format that ended with a head-to-head Talent duel between the Top 2 candidates. When the final votes were in, Miss Alabama Deidre Downs stood proudly as the 2005 titleholder.

By Carl Dunn
THE 20% SOLUTION – The last leg of competition, Talent, was decided in a head-to-head duel between Miss Alabama Deidre Downs and Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont (L-R). The performances, live before a worldwide TV viewing audience, were worth up to 20% of the total score.
“There she is, Miss America, there she is, your ideal.” Never have the lyrics to the most enduring telecast and pageant serenade seemed more appropriate. In regaining her “ideal,” the Miss America Organization, along with ABC, revamped the illustrious lady with a new telecast (two hours from three), new staging, a new scoring system (the talent segment would only feature the final two contestants), and a sexier and more sophisticated look. All these changes and yet the venerable pageant still held the industry ideals close to her heart.
Celebrating her 50th anniversary as the longest-running special on network television, the 82nd edition of Miss America hoped to live up to her pre-show billing as a must-see television special. As emcee Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, led the quickly paced show through its various competition segments with a seemingly effortless congeniality, Miss America delivered on her promise of a more viewer-friendly telecast, one that would be able to hold the rapt attention of its audience throughout the two-hour prime-time special.
With more than 12,000 frenzied audience members in attendance, the viewing public was welcomed into the inner sanctuary of the Miss America dressing room as the 52 talented, intelligent, and beautiful women prepared for the defining moment of the competition. Fifty-two contestants? That’s right: 51 representatives of the United States (including the District of Columbia) welcomed their newest member to the Miss America club, the U.S. Virgin Islands. While still recognized as the largest provider of scholarship money in the world for women, the new Miss America would also flaunt her individuality and beauty, putting forth the notion that beauty and brains can coexist.
AN AMERICAN CLASSIC ARRIVAL – Dressed in outfits from the 1950s (above), the 52 Miss America 2005 candidates assemble in front of Boardwalk Hall.
THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT – For the second year, American Idol finalist and recording star Clay Aiken (below) provided added entertainment.
With the up-tempo and contestant-friendly introductions broadcast throughout the country, the audience rose to its collective feet in a deafening roar of support as the drop curtain revealed everyone’s favorite representative. As the delegates were introduced, the public was offered a rare glimpse into their personalities as they provided opinions on the relevancy of Miss America, the excitement of the competition (many while wearing their Pageantry magazine T-shirts), to the undeniable bonds that develop throughout the weeks and hours of travel and rehearsal. Poignantly stated, the Miss America hopefuls viewed the Miss America brand as “an icon of today’s woman,” “classic elegance with a fresh face,” “someone whom little girls can look up to,” “a role model,” “an American ideal,” and a “woman of today.” As articulately expressed by the representatives of our country’s young women, Miss America strives to encompass what is best in America, from contemporary fashion to the values of a cross section of America.
With the pre-pageant Washington, D.C. trip, three nights of preliminary competition, and the obligatory judges introductions behind them, the 52 well-rounded young ladies breathlessly awaited the announcement of the 10 semi-finalists. Who would continue in her quest for the Miss America crown and who would realize the finality of her current dream? The deliberately dramatic Chris Harrison played on the crowd’s nerves to heighten the suspense in announcing the Top 10. Stepping forward on the Miss America stage as semi-finalists were: Miss North Carolina Kirstin Marie Elrod, a 23-year-old graduate of New York University who is certified as a stunt performer; Miss California Veena Goel, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of California who has designed children’s shoes for Skechers; Miss Oklahoma Elizabeth Kinney, a 22-year-old summa cum laude graduate of Oklahoma State University; Miss Georgia Danica Tisdale, a 24-year-old doctoral candidate at Emory University; Miss Kansas Megan Bushell, a 22-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Wichita State University; Miss New York Christina Ellington, a 22-year-old graduate of New York University; Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont, a 23-year-old Louisiana State University “Golden Girl” and graduate; Miss Alabama Deidre Downs, a 24-year-old Rhodes Scholar finalist and magna cum laude graduate of Samford University; Miss Arkansas Lacy Fleming, a 22-year-old Dean’s List student at Ouachita Baptist University; and Miss Texas Jamie Story, a 23-year-old graduate of Rice University who majored in both mathematics and sport management. Beautiful, achievement-oriented, and intelligent: these are the hallmarks of the new Miss America.
SPECIAL HONORS – In keeping with the Miss America Organization’s special emphasis on community service, each year it honors state titleholders with the Quality of Life Awards. Accepting 2004 honors are (above, L-R) Miss Nevada ’04 Elizabeth Muto, Miss Alabama ’04 Deidre Downs, and Miss Idaho ’04 Elizabeth Barchas.
QUIZ SHOW WHIZ KIDS – In a recently added segment that has grown popular with viewers, the Top 5 finalists put their brain power to the test in the Quiz Show round (below), which this year ended in a 3-way tie.
No sooner had they heard their names echo throughout Boardwalk Hall as a possible successor to the Miss America crown, the surprised and relieved 10 young woman were whisked away to prepare for the first round of live competition, Casual Wear. Accounting for 15 percent of the final night’s score, Casual Wear, which showcases the individuality of the contestant, was marking its second appearance in the Miss America national title competition. As the 10 semi-finalists bounded on stage from behind a silhouette screen to the rhythmic beats of club music, the audience gained new insight into the contestants’ individual personalities with the presentation of video clips about each young woman. With one competition down and another ready to go, Jennifer Dupont of Louisiana had reason for optimism, having garnered top honors in Casual Wear.
As Miss America celebrated 50 years as a television icon, the pageant’s role as a defining moment in a young woman’s life was never more apparent than when a luminous list of former titleholders were introduced to commemorate this milestone evening. Joining the first Miss America to be crowned on national television, Miss America 1955 Lee Meriwether, and looking as radiant as on the evenings they made history, were 22 former Miss America titleholders: Jean Bartel 1943, Evelyn Ay 1954, Marian McKnight 1957, Maria Beale Fletcher 1962, Jacquelyn Mayer 1963, Donna Axum 1964, Vonda Van Dyke 1965, Judith Ford 1969, Phyllis George 1971, Susan Perkins 1978, Kylene Barker 1979, Susan Powell 1981, Kellye Cash 1987, Kaye Lani Rae Rafko 1988, Debbye Turner 1990, Heather Whitestone 1995, Shawntel Smith 1996, Tara Dawn Holland 1997, Kate Shindle 1998, Nicole Johnson 1999, Heather French 2000, and Katie Harman 2002.
As the final competition of the Top 10, Swimsuit would further winnow the field to the Top 5. For all of the press given to certain reservations regarding the new and contemporary swimwear designs, which allowed the women to choose either a one-piece or two-piece ensemble, the Swimsuit round remains a staple of the competition. Also accounting for 15 percent of the final night’s score, Swimsuit competition affirms a dedication to a fit lifestyle. And what of the swimwear controversy? All 10 finalists opted for the two-piece suit as their choice in Swimsuit presentation. Alas, following that event, only five finalists would earn the right to continue in their personal crusade, and they would be Misses Alabama, Louisiana, California, Arkansas, and North Carolina. With Miss Louisiana capturing Swimsuit (the second segment victory of the evening for Jennifer Dupont), the stage was set for Evening Wear.
Always the audience favorite and counting for an additional 15 percent of the final score, the Evening Wear competition displays the underlying grace and poise possessed by each woman. Serenaded by American Idol finalist and pop recording artist Clay Aiken, marking his second consecutive appearance on the telecast, the final five were proudly delivered to the stage by the escort of their choosing. With Misses Alabama, Louisiana, California, and Arkansas choosing their father as the escort, Miss North Carolina represented the lone delegate to be escorted by her mother. The emphatic display of beauty and grace harkens back to a more glamorous era, when young women relished the opportunity to wear something more sophisticated than the less-is-more fashions of many of today’s current celebrities. With Miss Alabama getting the overall nod in Evening Wear, the final round for all five finalists, the Miss America Quiz, loomed.

THE LOOK OF A WINNER – Miss Alabama Deidre Downs stood out in the 2004 field of outstanding Miss America contestants, whether she was competing in Casual Wear, Evening Gown, or Swimsuit.

A recent addition to the Miss America competition format, the Quiz Show accounts for five percent of the finals scoring tally. Added to the scores from the previous competitions of the evening, along with the 30 percent represented by the preliminary segments, a total of 80 percent of the evening’s scoring was in the ledger book. Answering six questions on civic, national, international, and current affairs, the Top 5 proved that there were, indeed, brains to go along with these beauties, and the Quiz concluded with a three-way tie.
In a major new twist in the format, following the Quiz, three delegates would learn of their fate as alternates, thus completing their journey toward the Miss America title. Announced as 4th Runner-up, 3rd Runner-up, and 2nd Runner-up were Miss California Veena Goel, Miss Arkansas Lacy Fleming, and Miss North Carolina Kirstin Elrod, respectively. With the announcement of the alternates, the last finals competition, Talent, would be decided in a head-to-head duel between Miss Alabama Deidre Downs and Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont.

POST-PAGEANT PHOTOS In another grand tradition for Miss America, Deidre cools her heels in the Atlantic City surf.


ONE-IN-FIVE CHANCE – Miss North Carolina Kirstin Elrod, Miss Arkansas Lacy Fleming, Miss California Veena Goel, Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont, and Miss Alabama Deidra Downs (L-R) made it to the Top 5.

As the final and deciding phase of competition for the first time in Miss America history, Talent accounted for the final 20 percent of the scoring for the evening. The performances — and the resulting score — would more than likely determine everything for one of the remaining two contestants. Thus, the fast-paced show was reaching its pivotal climax. Taking on true reality-show dramatics, the two remaining finalists squared off after choosing the order of performance through a coin flip. First, Miss Louisiana performed a jazz dance routine, and then Miss Alabama rendered a vocal performance as the finale to this first-ever head-to-head Talent presentation.
Fifty years of television history, along with 82 years of social relevance and social change, would culminate in the announcement of the new Miss America. With the completion of the final two Talent presentations, all that remained was for the delivery of the judges’ decision and the announcement of Miss America 2005. Clutching each other for support, Deidre Downs and Jennifer Dupont were about to find out which of their lives would surely be changed forever. Receiving a $50,000 college scholarship to continue her studies, the former Miss Alabama Deidre Downs heard her name pronounced as Miss America 2005. With Clay Aiken serenading her with the signature Miss America tune of “There She Is,” Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs accepted the crown, the title, and the historical significance of being the 50th representative to be crowned before a live nationwide TV audience.
For the complete behind-the-scenes story and all the details on this and other exciting competitive events from across America, as well as a wealth of advice to improve your chances of victory, be sure to order Pageantry today.

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