At 80 years of age, an octogenarian is never supposed to look this great. With the live ABC telecast from Atlantic City this past October 14th, the Miss America Pageant celebrated its 80th anniversary in 21st Century style. With new president and CEO Robert Renneisen and award-winning producer Jeff Margolis leading the pageant into a new beginning, the show grabbed the Convention Center and television viewing audience immediately with its high-tech and techno-centered theme. What a beginning for a night that would bring many new firsts from Miss America.
From the opening production number, the kinetic energy of the show became apparent. With the Miss America dancers providing the energy and beat to an uptempo version of There She Is, the 51 delegates descended upon the stage to the thundering applause of a sold-out Atlantic City Convention Center. In keeping with a promise of a night of ?firsts,? the Top 10 finalists were announced almost immediately in the opening moments of the telecast to provide the audience a better opportunity to learn more about the Top 10 as individuals.
In the professionally made-for-TV showcase, the finalists and non-finalists alike were presented together in various production numbers beginning with the swimsuit competition. Upbeat, fast-paced, and high-energy, the swimsuit competition presentation allowed the traditionalist and non-traditionalist alike to agree that the competition was updated to the 21st Century. And not only was the swimsuit updated, but in keeping with the recent change to the talent competition, only the Top 5 would compete within the talent presentation.
In a fitting tribute to the woman who has spent the past 13 months speaking out on behalf of American veterans and the challenges that they face, the Miss America Organization announced another first as they honored Heather French with the annual Woman of Achievement Award. In addition to the Waterford Crystal gift set, a $25,000 grant was awarded to Heather, the first Miss America to receive this prestigious award from the Miss America Organization. It was presented by CEO Robert Renneisen, himself a former Captain and Vietnam veteran.
As far as history goes, the Miss America Pageant ushered in a new era as they invited a member of the viewing audience and fans to become a member of the celebrity judging panel. For the first time in the history of the pageant, a member of the public would have a voice in the selection of the new Miss America. For all of the arm-chair judges at home and in the audience, this was a dream come true. The lucky ?instant celebrity? would be Melanie J. Brock from Lansing, Michigan. Selected from over 70,000 entries and a lifelong fan of the pageant, Melanie instantly became a part of pageant lore.
Expertly hosted by the charismatic brother-sister duo of Donny and Marie Osmond, for the second year in a row, the new telecast format followed the traditional guidelines with a 21st Century flair. After all, this is still Miss America. And who is Miss America after 80 years? She is still the largest provider of college scholarships to young women in the world. She annually provides over $30 million a year to aspiring and goal-oriented women hoping to continue their secondary education. Following the swimsuit competition, the elegant and personalized evening gown competition would take place before the final five were announced to compete in talent and interview. Interspersed throughout the competition, the viewers were entertained not only by Donny and Marie, but also by the reality-based show band O-Town, again marking a first for the telecast as they made their live network debut.
Before the announcement of the Top 5, it should be noted that all contestants who compete at any level of the Miss America system receive scholarship money to pursue the education of their dreams. For instance, each of the 41 contestants who do not qualify for the Top 10 receive $5,000. All preliminary talent winners receive $4,000, while preliminary swimsuit winners achieve a $1,000 scholarship. All of these scholarships are in addition to those already awarded on the local and state levels and are compounded by the opportunity available through the various endowment grants from numerous donors and corporate sponsorships. During the preliminary week, several scholarships are awarded that are not directly related to the actual competition. Miss Louisiana Faith Jenkins received a $10,000 scholarship as the 2000 Quality of Life Award winner with Miss Iowa Theresa Uchytil and Miss New Jersey Jill Horner receiving $2,000 and $1,000 respectively for 1st and 2nd runner-up. The 2000 Miss America Scholar Award for Academic Excellence went to Miss California Rita Ng along with a $5,000 scholarship. All told, Miss America 2000 Heather French personally received over $80,000 in college scholarships.
As the Top 10 became the Top 5, the talent presentations complete, the young ladies who would sit with Marie Osmond through a ?round table? discussion and then a personal interview would be Miss Mississippi Christy May, Miss Louisiana Faith Jenkins, Miss Hawaii Angela Baraquio, Miss California Rita Ng, and Miss Kentucky Whitney Boyles. As the pressure increased, each contestant knew that she was about to earn the opportunity to become Miss America. With each semi-finalist receiving $10,000 in college scholarship awards, the true benefit of the entire organization began to become apparent as the winners were announced: Fourth alternate and the winner of a $20,000 scholarship would be Whitney Boyles from Kentucky; 3rd alternate and the recipient of a $25,000 scholarship ? Christy May; 2nd Alternate and the recipient of a $30,000 scholarship ? Rita Ng; 1st alternate and the recipient of a $40,000 scholarship ? Faith Jenkins; and the new winner of a $50,000 scholarship, and Miss America 2001, Angela Baraquio from Hawaii.
With the crowning of Angela, another milestone within the legendary Miss America Organization was realized as Miss America 2001 Angela Baraquio became the first person of Asian descent to capture the crown of Miss America. After 80 years, the celebration and spirit of diversity shines through as Miss America enters a new beginning.
Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes coverage and an exciting detailed and in-depth look at the Miss America 2001 Pageant in Pageantry?s Spring 2001 issue!
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