In ball gowns, blue jeans and bikinis, 52 young women took to the stage Saturday to compete for the Miss America 2009 title. But only one beauty took the crown — Miss Indiana Katie Stam.
While accepting her new position from host Mario Lopez and Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund of Michigan, Stam shared her glory with fellow contestants. “I’m gonna thank all these amazing girls behind me — I love them all so much,” she said.
The 22-year-old University of Indianapolis student battled a throat infection and laryngitis throughout the week but still drew loud applause for her rendition of "Via Dolorosa" during the talent competition.
Stam said she had trouble sleeping one night this week while she took prescription medicine to fight the infection, but got her voice back by Thursday.
"I was feeling like myself again — I will never take my health for granted," she said.
The Seymour native also strutted onstage in a black bikini and an off-the-shoulder, white lace evening gown. During the interview portion of the competition she decried the use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional athletes and discussed the definition of glamour.
"That beauty that you feel on the inside, it's that confidence, that radiance inside of you, that's what glamour is," Stam said.
Stam won a $50,000 scholarship and hopes to obtain a bachelor's degree in communications and become a television news anchor. She began competing in pageants at age 15.
Stam said she had one semester left in school — but didn't know when she would finish — and already was graduating debt-free without the $50,000 prize. Stam said she might use the money for graduate school.
First runner-up was Miss Georgia Chastity Hardman and second runner-up was Miss Iowa Olivia Myers.
Viewers weigh in
In a new twist, viewers of a lead-in reality show, "Miss America: Countdown to the Crown," voted in four of the finalists, while the judges announced the other 11 during a live TLC television broadcast from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
After an opening dance number and the traditional parade of states, judges and fans immediately trimmed the field to 15 finalists. Five more were trimmed based on swimsuit and evening gown competitions, while the remaining 10 went on to showcase their dancing, singing and other skills during the talent portion.
"This gown nearly blinds people," Miss Arkansas Ashlen Batson said in a video clip played as she walked onstage in a silver dress with beading. Batson was eliminated before she could play her flute in the talent competition.
Miss Hawaii Nicole Fox drew cheers as she performed a traditional Tahitian dance, wearing a huge white feathered headdress and skirt to match. After she exited, part of her skirt remained on the stage.
The viewer interaction was Discovery-owned TLC's attempt to stoke interest in this year's crop of well-groomed young women. Once an American icon, the shine on Miss America's crown has been dimmed in recent years by slipping ratings and the popularity of more salacious reality shows.
The pageant was dropped from network television after the 2004 pageant drew a record low viewership. It found a home in Las Vegas after moving from its longtime location in Atlantic City, N.J., but it has struggled to get its footing on cable.
In its second year on TLC, Mario Lopez, of "Extra," will host with an assist from Clinton Kelly of TLC's "What Not to Wear." Judges include actress Laura Bell Bundy, Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson, hairstylist Ken Paves and Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones.
The pageant is bringing back an opening dance number ahead of the traditional introductory parade of states.
As always, the women compete in swimsuit, evening gown and talent competitions, as well as a short "interview," in which they are asked their thoughts on a current event or hot topic. TLC has tried to dash the days of answers that declared that "children are the future." Questions will come from average people and are intended to put the contestants on the spot.
TLC also is having some fun with the cliches of pageants past. For example, in its scorecard for home viewers posted online, it asks viewers to count the number of mentions of world peace and to name the contestant with best spray tan.