Miss Michigan crowned Miss America By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY, Associated Press Writer
7 minutes ago
LAS VEGAS - Miss Michigan Kirsten Haglund, a 19-year-old aspiring Broadway star, was crowned Miss America 2008 on Saturday in a live show billed as the unveiling of the 87-year-old pageant's new, hipper look.
Haglung, of Farmington Hills, Mich., sang "Over the Rainbow" to clinch the title. She beat Miss Indiana Nicole Elizabeth Rash, the first runner up, and Miss Washington Elyse Umemoto, the second runner up for the $50,000 scholarship and year of travel that comes with the crown.
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sporting updated hairdos, sassy attitudes and red carpet-worthy fashion, a crop of 52 newly made-over aspiring beauty queens was trimmed as they competed for the top tiara Saturday in the Miss America Pageant.
Contestants wore blue jeans and added a bit of humor to the traditional opening number, the parade of states.
"Where we consider ice fishing to be a major league sport, I'm Miss Minnesota!" Jennifer Ann Hudspeth said.
Producers had hoped a new confident attitude would show through on the catwalks, and Miss Utah, Jill Stevens, an Army medic who served in Afghanistan, didn't disappoint.
"Home of the country's highest birth rate — as long as the Osmonds don't move," she announced.
Miss Utah didn't make it to the final 10, but she took the disappointment with pluck. When her name was called, she dropped and gave the audience push ups before joining the other losers.
Stevens however was selected "America's Choice," based on voting via text messages from viewers of a reality show that was designed to make over the beauty queens and draw in a younger audience.
Among the top eight finalists: Miss Michigan Kirsten Haglund, granddaughter of Miss Michigan 1944; Miss Washington Elyse Umemoto, an aspiring lawyer from Wapato, Wash.; Miss California Melissa Chaty, a 24-year-old opera singer and Miss Wisconsin Christina Thompson a violinist.
The long-struggling pageant promised a new look for this year's beauty battle. "Entertainment Tonight" reporter Mark Steines was the master of ceremonies of the show, which aired on cable channel TLC.
Clinton Kelly of TLC's hit "What Not to Wear" also helped with the hosting duties. Kelly had instructed the girls on how to update their looks during the reality show.
The pageant sounded and looked different. A deejay spun dance music from turntables set up on stage. Contestant danced and waved to the audience during commercials breaks.
Usually tame by modern TV standards, the swimwear competition kicked it up a notch. Most contestants wore black bikinis, and some struck provocative poses and twirled as the audience howled.
Those who didn't make the cut as finalists were awarded a girl's favorite consolation prize.
"Carbohydrates!" Kelly yelled, as pastries were handed out on stage.
The losers were seated on risers on one side of the stage, while the parents of the finalists, in black tie, were seated on the other.
The crowning at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip caps a four-week reality series, "Miss America: Reality Check," which followed the contestants as they were pushed to shed the dated look of Miss Americas past and adopt a hipper style.
The show was the 87-year-old pageant's latest in a series of attempts to find an audience with a younger demographic after more than a decade of declining ratings.
The fading institution has struggled to find a television home since being dropped from network television in 2004. It spent a two-year stint on Country Music Television before being picked up last summer by TLC, a cable channel reaching 93 million homes in the U.S.
TLC added the pageant to its reality-TV stable, and announced plans to reinvent the look of the show and find an "It girl" ready for modern celebrity.
The pageant has not fared well in the age of reality television, despite a series of recent experiments that have added quiz shows, viewer voting and "new" style.
It moved to the Las Vegas Strip in 2006 and promised a back-to-basics formula that would revel in its old-school charm. The show continued to lose viewers. It fell to an all-time low of 2.4 million viewers in 2007 and was dropped by CMT.
This year's reality TV infusion, "Miss America: Reality Check," was notable for taking a decidedly irreverent tone with the long-revered pageant. Style experts took shots at the earnest contestants' hair, makeup, talent and stiff parade wave, and Saturday's crowning was billed as the big reveal.
The winner takes home a $50,000 scholarship and embark on a year of promoting the pageant, her platform issue and the Children's Miracle Network, a pageant partner.