ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (Reuters) - The pretty young women battling to become Miss America (news - web sites) may have college degrees, artistic talent, and high-minded ideals -- but they're also showing more skin than ever before.
Organizers of America's preeminent beauty pageant -- whose final takes place in Atlantic City, the casino capital of New Jersey, on Saturday -- insist the 83-year-old event is not an outmoded forum for dizzy blonds with perfect bodies.
Yet while TV viewers have grown accustomed to hearing how each contender would like to change the world by eliminating world hunger or illiteracy, the "good looks" of this year's contestants will be on greater display than ever.
Contestants will wear more revealing swimsuits on stage following a 2-year contract with Speedo, owned by Warnaco Group Inc.. The one-piece or two-piece suits, worn as bikinis by most competitors, leave little to the imagination and have caused some unease among the contestants, most of whom are aged between 22 and 24.
But organizers are playing down the swimsuits, saying the contest showcases the talents and aspirations of today's young women who want to make the world a better place and brighten it with their good looks.
Art McMaster, head of the Miss America Organization, said in an interview that the swimsuits would make TV coverage "more exciting." He rejected suggestions that skimpy swimsuits compromised the organization's educational goals and were to titillate the audience.
McMaster said the swimsuit competition demonstrates physical fitness and accounts for just 10 percent of a contestant's final score.
But he conceded some contestants had complained about the suits, not because of the minimal coverage they provide, but because the women could not choose their own.
On Saturday, the final 10 contestants will appear before the judges and a nationwide TV audience in casual wear, swimsuits and evening gowns.
In a change of format aimed at boosting TV ratings, eight of the 10 will be eliminated, leaving just two instead of five to demonstrate their chosen talents, such as dancing or singing in a head-to-head contest that will decide the eventual winner.
In the past, viewers were treated to an array of talents that often included baton twirling and out-of-tune singing.
LESS TALENT, MORE SKIN
The winner will be crowned Miss America 2005 and will receive a scholarship worth $50,000.
In a preliminary competition earlier this week, Miss California, Veena Goel, won the talent section for a jazz dance routine and told reporters she had been dancing since age 3.
Goel, 22, defended the swimsuits, saying they were intended to show that contestants were physically fit, not just thin, echoing the official line of the organizers.
Other contestants include Miss Texas, Jamie Story, a 23-year-old classical pianist who gave an accomplished rendition of a Mendelssohn piano concerto and has a degree in mathematical economic analysis and sports management from Rice University.
The decision to cut back the number of contestants showing off their talent from five to the final two this year was because of poor TV ratings during those segments, McMaster said.
Organizers offered no such analysis about the swimsuit portion of the event.
I just laughed when I read this...
All I like about them is that they want, "WORLD PEACE".