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Miss America Makes Another Move

By RD Heldenfels Published: November 16, 2005

No longer appealing to the broadcast networks, the Miss America Pageant moved to cable -- specifically CMT. You might have thought that meant the pageant would move to Nashville, in keeping with its heartland foundation. But no. It's going to Las Vegas for a telecast in January 2006.

All right, so Atlantic City didn't seem like the best location for a pageant now planned for January. Vegas will at least be warm. But it is also famous as A Hub for Underclad Women, and not merely underclad but spectacular-looking, clad or not.

It is no accident that the ''Las Vegas'' series has some very beautiful women as regulars. Otherwise, they would be diminished by the beauties serving as props in so many of the show's scenes.

In a Vegas context, even a Miss America contestant who is the best-looking woman ever to come out of Pocatello, Idaho, will be fourth runner-up to the girls lined up at the bar in any casino you can name. And since the Las Vegas of popular imagination is fundamentally about sin and skin (in either order you prefer), the fantasy women of Las Vegas hint at possibilities unimagined by most Miss America contenders (or at least unimagined whenever the judges are listening).

I know, ''Miss America'' is supposed to be about talent and scholarships and charming Middle America. But that's the thinking that cost it a broadcast TV contract. Now it needs to be about something more alluring, more dangerous. (Country music, nominally CMT's bread and butter, is also a home to leggy women, dark-eyed men, drinking to excess and other roads to perdition.)

Unfortunately, it is going to draw on a pool of competitors who have spent years honing their talents and freeze-drying their intellect to meet the image the pageant was long based on. They have also been groomed to a different, uh, visual standard. They did not need much to stand out in Atlantic City, famous as a waterside resort for families who couldn't afford a trip to a really good beach, and for the sort of seediness shown in the movie ''Atlantic City.'' The casinos haven't done much to change that image, as far as I can tell. Do you imagine anyone saying with a straight face, ''What happens in Atlantic City ...'' ?

Think of it this way. If a mid-level hooker in Las Vegas married a plumbing-supply mogul in New Jersey, dropped a couple of kids, divorced the mogul, married an auto-parts salesman with a drinking problem, had another kid, got divorced again, had trouble finding work, developed a drinking problem of her own and then -- a dozen years after she left Vegas -- wound up sober and working as a hostess in Atlantic City, then she would still be considered one of the better looking women in town. And that would even hold up during ''Miss America.''

So it's going to be tough for the new crowd of Miss America candidates in Las Vegas. I can imagine the directors of the TV production already scouting locations, trying to avoid shots with too much local pulchritude.

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