Sep 18, 4:07 PM EDT
By JOHN CURRAN
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- With skimpy bikinis, less emphasis on talent and a shorter show, the producers of Saturday's annual Miss America pageant telecast were hoping less would mean more - viewers, that is.
Fifty two women - including, for the first time ever, a contestant from the U.S. Virgin Islands - were set to compete for the crown in a two-hour show producers hoped could turn the tide on declining TV ratings.
Taking a page from reality TV, Miss America producers have spiced up the prime-time special by enlisting "The Bachelor" host Chris Harrison, crooner Clay Aiken and some new production touches.
The ABC telecast marks the 50th year since Sept. 11, 1954, when Lee Meriwether was crowned Miss America 1955 during the first televised pageant.
This year's pageant retained the same basic elements, but with plenty of updates, including the Miss America Quiz, an eight-question pop quiz on U.S. history, U.S. government and current events given to the five finalists.
The talent competition, which once showcased 10 of the contestants, has been trimmed to two, and the traditional "parade of states" introduction of the contestants was reworked to eliminate some of the tedium.
In a nod to successful reality shows like "Last Comic Standing" and "American Idol," the last two women in the hunt for Miss America 2005 were to square off in a head-to-head talent showdown near the end of the telecast, the results helping a seven-judge panel decide who gets to make the tearful runway walk in Boardwalk Hall.
Miss America gets more than that, though: The winner earns a $50,000 college scholarship, a modicum of overnight celebrity and a yearlong reign that can net up to $200,000 in appearance fees.
Citing hour-to-hour Nielsen ratings that traditionally ebb during the talent competition, pageant producers axed the often-amateurish singing, dancing or baton-twirling acts that had been a part of Miss America since 1938.
The swimsuit contest was briefer, too, in a sense. Showing more skin than ever, the contestants competed in racy two-piece swimsuits provided to Miss America under a two-year sponsorship deal with maker Speedo.
The winner succeeds Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap, 22, an aspiring attorney from Orlando, Fla., who spent her year advocating the celebration of diversity.