ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The Miss America pageant is back in the city where it began, six years after spurning the city for Las Vegas.
The pageant held a welcoming ceremony in Atlantic City on Tuesday for the 53 contestants, one from each state plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The contestants filed out of Boardwalk Hall, where the competition will begin next week and culminate days later, and walked across the Boardwalk to a stage.
There, they participated in the traditional signing-in ceremony, in which each of them signed her state on a map of the United States and gave a few words of introduction. Most spoke of how happy they were that the pageant had come home again.
"I really couldn't be happier that Miss America is back here in Atlantic City!" said Miss Alabama, Chandler Champion.
"It's my very first time in Atlantic City," added Miss Alaska, Michelle Taylor. "Thank you so much for welcoming us back!"
Miss Massachusetts, Amanda Narciso, added, "We appreciate you, we love you and we can't wait to perform for you!"
Three nights of preliminary competition will begin Tuesday. The traditional Show Us Your Shoes Parade will be Sept. 14, and the nationally televised finale will be Sept. 15.
The loudest cheer went up among Boardwalk spectators for the hometown entrant, Miss New Jersey, Cara McCollum, who proclaimed, "It's been too long since New Jersey has had Miss America!"
Tuesday's welcoming ceremony also included the unveiling of a sculpture of Miss America holding out a tiara to a successor on the Boardwalk.
The Miss America pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2006 in hopes of attracting a younger audience as TV ratings continued to slide. It was lured back to Atlantic City in part by the promise of increased subsidies, which are to total more than $7 million over three years.
The pageant, originating in 1920 as the Fall Frolic, started as little more than a bathing suit revue that was a way to drum up business for the shore resort after Labor Day. It broke viewership records in its heyday and bills itself as one of the world's largest scholarship programs for women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available more than $45 million in scholarship assistance.
With casino industry revenues down for the seventh straight year, the city and state are hoping the pageant can give Atlantic City a fresh boost, showcasing recent improvements. This week, for instance, the contestants will pose for photos while shopping at Atlantic City's downtown outlet malls and having dinner at a restaurant near a Boardwalk casino.