ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The Miss America pageant (search), which drew fire over its plan to eliminate the two-minute talent routines performed by contestants, has had a change of heart.
Instead, the last two contestants vying for the crown in the Sept. 18 telecast will each perform talent routines to help determine who becomes Miss America 2005, The Associated Press learned Thursday.
Last month, the Miss America Organization announced that it would draw the curtain on the amateurish talent routines (search), which have historically bored viewers and hurt the pageant's TV ratings.
At the time, pageant officials said talent would remain a part of preliminary competition that determines the Miss America top 10, but that the televised finals would include none of the competing contestants.
The pageant planned to allow one contestant who had already been eliminated to perform her talent routine on the two-hour telecast.
On Thursday, the AP learned that Pageant chief Art McMaster (search) had notified state pageant directors that once the field of contestants is pared to two, the other three finalists will be ushered off stage and the two remaining ones will perform for the judges.
"We've always wanted talent in the show," McMaster said. "We went back to the drawing board. Instead of having one talent, we said let's go from one to two, it might be more exciting.
"Dropping down to two (contestants) and having a head-to-head battle at the very end, it's going to be one exciting show at the very end," McMaster said.
ABC-TV and the show's producers have agreed to the change, McMaster said.
Last year, an all-time low 10.3 million viewers watched Miss America. Producers of the show have long complained that the talent routines -- featuring tap-dancing, singing, piano performances and other offerings -- led viewers to change channels.
The talent routines were introduced in 1935 and became mandatory in 1938. They have been a part of the Miss America telecast every year since the pageant was first televised in 1954.