Miss Oklahoma Jennifer Berry crowned Miss America - in Vegas


Miss Oklahoma, Jennifer Berry, waves to the crowd after being crowned Miss America 2006 at the 2006 Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, Saturday.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 1:07 p.m.

Under the glitzy lights of the Las Vegas casino, a 22-year-old ballerina from Oklahoma was crowned Miss America, but officials hope the problem-plagued pageant will be the real winner.

The pageant was held in Las Vegas for the first time in a bid to revive interest after years of declining interest from its longtime base in Atlantic City, N.J. Without coverage from a major television network for the first time since 1954, it aired on Country Music Television.

Even the new Miss America, University of Oklahoma student Jennifer Berry, said she hoped to help the scholarship organization by creating interest and marketing it to a younger crowd - 18-34.

"I hope to have sponsors knocking on our door," Berry said after winning the crown Saturday night. She also earned a $30,000 college scholarship and a yearlong speaking tour.

Berry wowed the judges by dancing ballet for her talent routine, and pledged to advocate the prevention of drunken driving, a cause she chose because a childhood friend died in an alcohol-related crash at age 16.

"I realized she did not have to die," Berry said. "She died from a decision, not a disease."

Berry beat out runner-up Miss Georgia Monica Pang and second runner-up Miss Alabama Alexa Jones. Miss Virginia Kristi Lauren Glakas and Miss District of Columbia Shannon Schambeau rounded out the top five.

Miss Hawaii Malika Dudley won Miss Congeniality, a title resurrected for the first time in 32 years. Miss Hawaii 1974, Coline-Helen Kanaloku Aiu, was the last person to win the title.

"Everyone in Hawaii exudes that spirit - so generous and kind," Dudley said. "We just all just grow up with that kind of a personality. I'm honored to be part of the tradition that seems to be occurring here."

The pageant, which dabbled in reality TV-style gimmicks in recent years as it tried to lure viewers, struck a more old-fashioned theme this time, despite the move to Sin City.

Video clips from old pageants were aired on the telecast, and another tradition that had been absent since the 1980s was revived: The women wore sashes naming their states.

And when it came time for "There She Is, Miss America," it was a real flashback - a recording by late Miss America host Bert Parks, who emceed the show for 25 years. James Denton from ABC's "Desperate Housewives" handled the duties this year.

For problem-plagued Miss America, the proceedings at the Aladdin Resort & Casino were a high-stakes affair.

Spurned by network television because of declining ratings, the pageant announced plans in August to move out of Atlantic City. Normally held in September, the event was postponed as organizers scrambled for a new TV outlet, ultimately settling on Country Music Television, a cable outlet with about 78 million subscribers.

Women have paraded at the pageant - wearing swimsuits and smiles - since a 16-year-old girl from Washington, D.C., won an eight-way bathing beauty revue in 1921.

The hokey seaside publicity stunt blossomed into an American icon, its Cinderella trappings and girl-next-door appeal becoming a television staple.

But its luster has been fading for years, the result of fragmented viewership and its airing on Saturday nights, historically a date-night dead zone for television.

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