ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Miss Kansas, the tattooed Army sergeant, and the injured Miss Florida, wearing a bejeweled knee brace, were among contestants advancing to the semi-finals of Sunday's Miss America finale in Atlantic City as the pageant returned home to where it all began in 1921.
Miss Kansas Theresa Vail was chosen by a nationwide vote as "America's Choice" to advance to the semis. Miss Florida, Myrrhanda Jones, tore knee ligaments on Thursday while rehearing her baton routine, but was able to strut into the semi-finals.
Other states whose contestants advanced to the semi-finals are: Maryland, Connecticut, Missouri, Oklahoma, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, California, Georgia and Minnesota.
The pageant had pitted 53 contestants — one from each state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — in swimsuit, evening gown, talent and interview competitions.
The nationally televised pageant was back in Boardwalk Hall, where judges will choose a winner to succeed the current title-holder Mallory Hagan.
"This is where we belong," Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America organization, told The Associated Press. "This is the home of Miss America, and this is where we're going to stay."
Preliminary winners in the swimsuit competition earlier in the week were Miss Mississippi, Chelsea Rick; Miss Oklahoma, Kelsey Griswold; and Miss Georgia, Carly Mathis. Preliminary winners in the talent competition were Miss New Hampshire, Samantha Russo; Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh; and Miss Florida, Jones.
The show will begin with the traditional parade of states, where each contestant briefly introduces herself and her state, usually in a humorous or attention-grabbing manner. Take Miss Kentucky's intro, for example:
"From the home of fast horses and beautiful women — better not get those two things mixed up — I'm Jenna Day, Miss Kentucky!" she said.
Much attention has been given Vail, who is believed to be the first Miss America contestant to openly display tattoos. She has the Serenity Prayer on her rib cage and a military insignia on the back of a shoulder. While other contestants wore glamorous costumes and elaborately decorated footwear during Saturday night's "show-us-your-shoes" parade on the Boardwalk, Vail wore camouflage gear and Army boots.
In a Twitter message Sunday, Vail wrote: "Win or not tonight, I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have empowered women. I have opened eyes."
The pageant started in Atlantic City as a way to extend the summer tourism season for an extra weekend.
The move from Las Vegas cut short the reign of Hagan, who was crowned in January and expected to have a full year as the title holder. The pageant is compensating her for the shortened term.
The winner will be crowned at Boardwalk Hall around 11 p.m.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC