N. Carolina controversy may boost pageant ratings

Saturday, September 21, 2002

— The furor over topless photos and who would wear Miss North Carolina's crown may give the Miss America Pageant's ratings a much-needed boost.

Producers are hoping all that turmoil � plus a little more skin and some reality TV-style gimmicks � will pump up interest in tonight's live, three-hour telecast.

The Miss America pageant airs at 7 p.m. today on ABC, Sunflower Broadband Channels 9 and 12.

"There certainly has been an increase in awareness. Hopefully, that will translate into viewership," said Bob Bain, executive producer of the telecast, which airs tonight.

The past year's turmoil at the Miss America Organization also includes the chief executive's threat to move the 81-year-old pageant.

The topless picture to-do centered on Miss North Carolina Rebekah Revels, a 24-year-old English teacher who gave up her crown after an ex-boyfriend told pageant executives he had topless photos of her.

Revels claimed she was forced to quit by jittery pageant executives and sued to get back the title she ceded to runner-up Misty Clymer.

Clymer and the pageant won in court � but too quickly for pageant executives. If they had their way, Bain said, the judge who decided the case Sept. 12 would have dragged out his deliberations until the day before the pageant, all the better for ratings.

Instead, the pageant will rely on some new gimmicks:

l Viewers will be allowed to vote online after each of the three main competitions (swimsuit, evening wear, talent), even though their say will not count toward the selection of Miss America 2003.

l The 46 nonfinalists will vote on who they think should wear the crown. They will also be interviewed in a backstage "jury room."

l Finalists will be subjected to 16 questions about contemporary culture and American history in a "Jeopardy"-style pop quiz.

l The swimsuit contest, the genesis of the Miss America phenomenon in 1921, is being expanded from 10 to 15 contestants and moved up into the first hour of the show.

That last change flies in the face of the Miss America Organization's we're-a-scholarship-program-not-a-beauty-pageant mantra.