Miss America Finds More Glitz, Less Dough

There may be more glitz for Miss America this year, but there's less dough.

After losing its network television contract, moving to Las Vegas in search of a new glamorous look and turning to former winners for financial help, the Miss America Organization has reduced the amount of scholarship money it awards its winners.

Miss America 2006 will receive a crown Saturday night but $20,000 less for school than her predecessor. And the total amount of scholarship prize money for the 52 contestants will drop this year by about 44 percent to $292,500.

For the past four years, the pageant handed out about $528,500 at the national level through awards given to Miss America, the runners-up and the winners of other prizes for community service, talent and swimsuit, according to pageant officials.

"In the process of putting together our budget, we realized we needed to invest in rebranding and redistribute the funding," said Art McMaster, the CEO of the Atlantic City, N.J.-based Miss America Organization.

The scholarship reductions are one of several recent moves McMaster has made in an attempt to keep the 85-year-old pageant afloat. The organization lost $1.7 million in 2004, due largely to a drop in television revenue from ABC, which later jettisoned the pageant from its lineup.

Cable outlet Country Music Television picked up Miss America, but the broadcast rights are believed to be far less than before.

McMaster cited the financial troubles in explaining his decision to move the pageant from Atlantic City to Las Vegas, a city with less expensive production costs and a built-in media buzz.

This fall, the pageant turned to former winners for help, asking them to underwrite in part what since 2000 had been a $50,000 scholarship for the winner. This year that scholarship is $30,000.

"It's too bad that the young lady won't be able to benefit as much as we did," said Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap, who plans to use her scholarship for law school and promotion of an upcoming country music album.

The Miss America Organization bills itself as the world's leading provider of scholarships to young women. Along with a network of state, county and city pageants, it says it makes $45 million in scholarship aid available annually.

With less television revenue flowing in, McMaster said the not-for-profit organization has had to start focusing on fundraising.

At the pageant's first preliminary competition Tuesday at the Aladdin Resort & Casino, vendors sold Miss America T-shirts and baby pajamas before the show.

Also, the lobby was scented with perfume that will be sold for $49.95 a bottle at national and local pageants, with a certain percentage of the profits going to the Miss America Organization.

The pageant's judges are television personality Leeza Gibbons, "Malcolm in the Middle" star Jane Kaczmarek, Miss America 1985 Sharlene Wells Hawkes, R&B artist Brian McKnight, fashion commentator Robert Verdi, football star Jerry Rice and "Desperate Housewives" narrator Brenda Strong, who competed as Miss Arizona in 1980. "Desperate Housewives" star James Denton will host the show.

The contestants are judged throughout the week by preliminary judges. The talent competition counts for 35 percent of their overall score, the swimsuit competition is 15 percent, evening wear is 20 percent and a one-on-one interview with the judges counts for 25 percent. An on-stage interview is 5 percent.