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 Fashion Showcase with Prom, Pageant, and Social Occasion Gowns
Miss America 2007 - Lauren Nelson
Fashions by Tony Bowls for Mon Cheri * Fashion photos by Jason Masters * Hair and makeup styling by Joel Green
MISS AMERICA 2007 goes back to the future with a savvy production combining new innovations and reclaimed traditions. In the end, it’s déja vu all over again for the girl from Oklahoma. By Fred Abel
They say that the average pageant contestant has between 12 and 15 percent body fat when she walks on stage. Sleekly toned for the modern era under the capable training advice of a seasoned TV producer and savvy executives, Miss America 2007 would look more buff than ever as well this past January during its second year televised live from Las Vegas, while garnering a younger, hipper viewing audience than it’s ever had.
With the combination of star-power judges (headliners were Emmy Award-winning actress and choreographer Debbie Allen, America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker, and MSNBC’s Hardball news anchor Chris Matthews), a new award-winning producer (Don Mischer Productions), and a brand-new public-service benefactor (Children’s Miracle Network) adding to the pageant’s luster, Miss America 2007 appeared more than ready to step outside of its comfort zone and let its titleholder reclaim her traditional place as an iconic beauty queen every little girl dreams of growing up to become.
That renewed sense of entitlement was well in evidence as the second installment of this historic institution outside of Atlantic City began amid the nation’s capital of sophisticated entertainment and the new locus of female adoration, Las Vegas. From the sidewalks outside the Aladdin Resort & Casino, the latticeworks of scaffolding and tarps (wrapping what is to become the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino once renovations are complete) were symbolic of the remodeling that Miss America Organization itself continues to undergo in moving to Vegas, taking on a new activist board chairman in Sam Haskell and keeping Art McMaster as President and CEO of MAO.
Golden Traditions
Like Vegas itself, Miss America 2007 would reconnect with tradition to spare: high-achieving contestants in gorgeous gowns, the dapper handsomely tuxedoed host (Mario Lopez), and a slew of production decisions that reminded us that Miss America’s future starts by relearning the lessons from its golden days of television supremacy. Thus, the focus this year fell squarely on the contestants, with all of the Top 5 performing live in the Talent competition. In reality, some aspects of this pageant can never change—only one woman would be judged to truly have the illusive combination of graceful good looks, personality, talent, intellect, drive, and that magical extra ingredient necessary to reach her ultimate goal of becoming the next Miss America.
Tara Conner visits hospital
PRIME REAL ESTATE: The Planet Hollywood and pageant makeover continues. Opposite: Miss America’s cutting edge look is a Pageantry preview of our exclusive photo- shoot.
With even odds of winning the crown and its $50,000 scholarship, the 52 Miss America hopefuls started out in mid-January looking more reality-TV ready than ever, with biographies boasting unique talents and experiences. For Miss Wyoming, it was bathing and hand-feeding Bengal tigers; for Miss West Virginia, it was sleeping outside in a box during a snowstorm with a Habitat for Humanity group; while for Miss North Dakota, it was growing up as the only female student in her grade in a tiny schoolhouse full of boys. Miss New York spoke of enjoying Pilates and baking pumpkin pies, while Miss New Mexico enjoyed flight school as much as horseback riding. As the embodiment of traditional and totally modern female roles, these 52 young women, whatever their final scores, would all qualify for one indisputable title: Overachievers. They would need to be, because the winner each year travels approximately 20,000 miles a month during her upcoming year of service—raising funds and awareness this year for medically challenged young people across the U.S for a new national platform as the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network. The winner’s personal payday would be a $50,000 chunk of the more than $45 million in cash and tuition scholarship assistance that MAO makes available each year as the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women.
Becoming Miss America
As if this year’s svelte Miss America contingent wasn’t working hard enough, MAO, for the first time in pageant history, conjured up some additional duties for their outstanding state winners to embrace with a reality program involving the 2007 contestants to air a few days prior to the pageant finals. The show—a special titled Pageant School: Becoming Miss America featuring the 52 contestants working on various aspects of their pre-pageant preparations—was part of an original nine-hour blitz of pageant-related programming designed to boost overall viewership and awareness of the 2007 Miss America Pageant. The Pageant School show also served to involve pageant enthusiasts in the vote for Miss Congeniality. On January 26, the top three contestants, chosen by all 52 delegates, were announced during the premiere of Pageant School, and America then voted for the winner, Miss Alabama Melinda Toole; Mario presented her award live at the pageant.
As the two-hour Monday-night finals began, the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino’s Aladdin Theatre was awash in the bright lights and glamour only a live TV pageant special can deliver, with the stage framed in the shape of a tiara and classical Greek columns standing sentinel beside a giant video screen that would convey delegate information with floating text and video clips throughout the night.
 
Preliminary Winners
Introducing the Fab 52
Wearing their state title sashes (reintroduced last year) draped across cocktail dresses, all 52 candidates introduced themselves, as audience contingents led the cheers of support for their hometown favorites while unfurling banners and waving colorful placards. Once emcee Mario Lopez came on-stage and said, “Welcome to Miss America 2007... the longest-running reality show on television,” the live audience only grew more animated in anticipation of the crowning as Mario pointed out two new production changes: spontaneous comments from the judges throughout the night and video replays of their one-on-one preliminary interviews with the contestants. In videotaped comments, all five judges weighed in with a definition of the ideal Miss America, and Debbie Allen summed up the panel’s viewpoint in saying, “I’m looking for a young woman who will represent the woman of today.”
Then there were 10
With that, Mario called out the Top 10 in random order: Miss Georgia Amanda Kozak, Miss Pennsylvania Emily Wills, Miss Mississippi Taryn Foshee, Miss Oklahoma Lauren Nelson, Miss Texas Shilah Phillips, Miss Alabama Melinda Toole, Miss Utah Katie Millar, Miss Hawaii Pilialoha Gaison, Miss Washington Kristen Eddings, and Miss California Jacquelynne Fontaine. Half-minute close-up video highlights accompanied each of the semifinalist’s introductions.
MAO2007-Swimsuits
In another bow to the 87-year history of this venerable pageant organization, 21 past Miss Americas, going as far back as 1943, received a warm welcome on-stage, before Mario turned our attention to his favorite event and another Miss America invention—the Swimsuit competition—which judge Chris Matthews, in his signature street-kid vernacular, said “shows guts.... and guys like guts, and they also like bathing suits on girls.” The audience laughed and applauded, after which Mario pointed out another new programming feature: viewers at home would be able to text-message votes for their favorites in each category, and those results would be revealed during the course of the telecast.
MAO2007-Gowns
The Top 10 beauties appeared in their choice of one- or two-piece suits. Following the commercial break, the public vote revealed that Miss California Jacquelynne Fontaine was the viewers’ choice. The next appearances in Evening Wear were illuminated by another judge, as fashion expert Nigel Barker summed up what it would take to impress him: “It doesn’t matter what the dress costs,” he said, “It’s all about how she pulls it off.” With the Evening Wear marks compiled, Mario brightened the outlook for half the semifinalists when he revealed the Top 5 finalists: Miss Texas Shilah Phillips, Miss Georgia Amanda Kozak, Miss Oklahoma Lauren Nelson, Miss Mississippi Taryn Foshee, and Miss Alabama Melinda Toole. Miss Foshee was named the Fan Favorite for Evening Wear.
STAYING ALIVE – the Final 5
Would it be a sign of things to come? Perhaps not, because the final round of competition, Talent, was worth the greatest percentage (30%) in the total scoring and would go a long way toward determining the winner. Judge and musician Michael Feinstein boiled down the determining factor for his evaluation by explaining, “In judging talent, you have to say, ‘Is this something I want to see again?’”
We would soon find out, as each finalist would be tested once more in performing her Talent in front of the largest audience she’d ever faced. But before that, in another eye-opening first for Miss America, we viewed videotaped highlights from the preliminary interviews, where the ladies grappled with socially and personally challenging questions. Snippets from each interview were then woven into the live Talent presentations, which saw Shilah Phillips singing the ballad “I Believe in You and Me,” Amanda Kozak tap dancing to “Baby I’m A Star,” Lauren Nelson singing “You’ll Be In My Heart,” Taryn Foshee on piano with the rumba “El Cumbanchero,” and Melinda Toole singing the operatic ballad “Time To Say Goodbye.” Shilah Phillips was the Fan Favorite, but once again, the voters who would count were the five judges with front-row seats.
Only 15 minutes remained in the show, but for two more finalists, the journey was over when Mario identified them as follows: 3rd Runner-up Miss Mississippi Taryn Foshee and 4th Runner-up Miss Alabama Melinda Toole. The remaining Top 3—Georgia’s Amanda Kozak, Oklahoma’s Lauren Nelson, and Texas’ Shilah Phillips—would each have just 30 seconds to make a positive final impression on the judges in the On-stage Question round, with answers that might tip the balance in their favor or spell the end of their journey. That quickly, the Miss America 2007 title became a toss-up.
Passing the Torch
Appearing for her final walk, with video highlights of her year of service and recorded words of appreciation playing in the background, Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry confessed to Mario that last year, as she nervously awaited the results, she had to fight off stomach sickness. With this year’s night of tension reaching its peak, then, the auditor handed Mario Lopez the judges’ decision. He announced Georgia’s Amanda Kozak as 2nd Runner-up, which left us to witness a cowboy-classic showdown between two straight-shooting Western states: Texas and Oklahoma. As in last year’s pageant, the emcee’s next words would reveal the winner, and Mario made sure to employ the traditional dramatic pause when he said, “The new Miss America is....“ Six ticks of the clock later, with his voice rising to a crescendo, he completed the sentence: “Miss Oklahoma Lauren Nelson!”
After 1st Runner-up Shilah Phillips’ hug, the two Miss Oklahomas embraced warmly before Lauren accepted her sash, the crown, and bouquet of roses from Jennifer and turned to greet her fans lining the runway and out there in Television Land. Playing in the background was “There she is, Miss America...,” the original Bert Parks recording of the Bernie Wayne classic. Miss America’s comeback continues, with a svelte new strategy and a renewed sense of its own identity. This year’s pageant was another fitting reminder to a modern world just how much we value our tried-and-true traditions—immortalized as only Miss America knows how.
Three, Two, WON!
 

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