THE NEW Miss America Pageant: beauty contest meets reality-based television

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ You are the weakest beauty. Goodbye.

Organizers of this year's Miss America Pageant are hoping to spice up the contest by incorporating elements of quiz shows and reality TV, including an opportunity for contestants to help vote for the winner.

Although they may be borrowing themes from shows like ``Survivor,'' pageant officials say the Miss America contest is already a veteran of reality-based programming.

``People are out there inventing things like 'Survivor' and portraying it as reality TV,'' Robert M. Renneisen Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization, said Tuesday. ``But in fact the Miss America telecast has been providing viewers with high-stakes reality television since its broadcast debut in 1954.''

Pageant officials hope the updates to the 81-year-old pageant will draw more viewers to a telecast that has seen its ratings slip in recent years.

Among the changes:

_Contestants who are not chosen as one of the Top 10 will be able to cast votes for the finalist they think should wear the crown, similar to the way contestants on the popular CBS show ``Survivor'' help determine that show's winner. The contestants' votes will be added to the judges' scores.

_The five finalists will be quizzed on current events, American history and U.S. government. A wrong ``final answer'' would not eliminate them, as it does on ABC's ``Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,'' nor does it mean that they could be voted off as on NBC's quiz show ``Weakest Link.'' For the beauty contestants, a wrong answer would count against their final scores.

Pageant competitions also will be renamed. The swimsuit competition will be known as the ``Lifestyle and Fitness'' competition. A video illustrating how contestants stay fit will be shown while they cross the stage in bathing suits.

``It might be ATV riding or bungee jumping,'' Renneisen said. ``Something that gives a broader picture of what her life is all about.''

The evening wear competition will be called the ``Presence and Poise'' phase, while the talent segment will be renamed ``Artistic Expression.'' The interview segment will be called ``Presentation and Community Achievement.''

This year's telecast also will contain fewer song-and-dance routines, and the top 20 semifinalists will be featured in the first hour of the show to give the audience a better idea of what they are like.

Renneisen said the changes were made after The Chambers Group, a Los Angeles-based company, asked people across the country what they would like to see in the pageant.

``The project we commissioned showed that the American public wants to see more competition among the women and a more accurate gauge of the intelligence that contestants possess,'' he said. ``They also want the telecast to portray the contestants in a more natural way.''

Each year 12,000 women begin competing in pageants in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The 51 winners compete in Atlantic City.