"Desperate Housewives" star James Denton will host the 2006 Miss America pageant in Las Vegas, show organizers announced Wednesday.

Denton, who plays a hunky plumber on the ABC melodrama, will be the first to host the 85-year-old beauty pageant outside of Atlantic City, N.J.

Pageant organizers announced last week they were leaving the Boardwalk behind and heading to the Las Vegas Strip in hopes of boosting ratings and updating the contest's image.

"We're thrilled to have James on board ... as a star on TV's hottest show, he brings excitement and class to the pageant," Miss America CEO Art McMaster said in a statement.

After another year of falling ratings and a failed makeover, Miss America was dropped by ABC last year. Country Music Television, a Nashville, Tenn.-based cable channel, picked up the pageant and will air the contest live on Jan. 21 from the Aladdin Resort and Casino.

CMT programming executive Paul Villadolid has said the Las Vegas production will preserve Miss America's wholesome character while drawing more and younger viewers. The network airs country music videos and original programming and is owned by MTV Networks.

Villadolid said Denton, a Nashville native, would be developing other projects with the network.

"James has a deep understanding of the CMT audience," Villadolid said. "So the opportunity to develop original shows with James as a producer is a great bonus for us."

Denton, whose "Housewives" character is an ex-convict with a mysterious past, said he was happy to be taking part in Miss America's transition and looks forward to working with the network on projects that "continue to convey the all American sensibilities with which both the pageant and network were founded."

Denton began his acting career on Chicago stages. His television credits include "The Pretender" and "Philly." His film credits include "Primary Colors" and "Face/Off."

Last year's Miss America master of ceremonies was Chris Harrison, the host of the reality television show "The Bachelor." American Idol heartthrob Clay Aiken serenaded the winner with "There She Is" by Clay Aiken during her runway walk.