ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Hours before the first preliminary competition of the 2001 Miss America pageant was to take place, terrorists attacked the United States.
"No one knew what to do," said Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America Organization. "Should we cancel? There was no book to follow."
The contestants all joined hands, cried and prayed for guidance before deciding to go on with the show. Haskell said they felt the Miss America pageant epitomized the values that make America great.
"They'd be damned if they let a vicious enemy keep them from celebrating those values," Haskell said at the start of Wednesday's preliminary competition. "Those girls stood up. And they are still standing."
Following a moment of silence for the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Wednesday's program began with the Spotlight Performers Show Choir from the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company performing "God Bless the USA." The audience rose to its feet and cheered as the song reached its chorus and the lead singer proclaimed, "I'm proud to be an American!"
Then the program got down to business, with the 53 contestants — one from each state plus the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — striding into Boardwalk Hall to pumping pop music.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, was scheduled to begin the talent portion of the competition. She has been the hot pageant topic of the last 24 hours after baring tattoos including the serenity prayer during her swimsuit competition Tuesday night.
Contestants from Mississippi and New Hampshire won the first night of this year's preliminaries on Tuesday.
Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo won the talent competition by singing a Barbra Streisand song from the musical "Funny Girl."
Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick won the swimsuit competition.
The new Miss America will be crowned Sunday night in a nationally televised finale.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC