Miss Alabama Deidre Downs Wins Miss America

Miss Alabama Deidre Downs wins Miss America (USA Today)

Miss Alabama Deidre Downs, an aspiring doctor who put off medical school to compete for the Miss America crown, won it Saturday night. Downs, 24, of Birmingham, Ala., outsmarted and outperformed 51 other women in a spiced-up version of the 83-year-old pageant that included a head-to-head showdown between the last two contestants. Downs, who sang “I’m Afraid This Must Be Love” for her talent routine, bested Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont, who performed a jazz dance for hers. Miss North Carolina Kristin Elrod was second runner-up, followed by Miss Arkansas Lacy Fleming and Miss California Veena Goel.

An all-southeast Final Four!

Downs, who wants to be a pediatrician, will take up the cause of childhood cancer prevention during her reign as Miss America. In fact, she already has: She helped persuade the state of Alabama to offer a “Curing Childhood Cancer” car tag, the purchase of which will help fund cancer research.

Wow! We should have car tags for all of the diseases we want to cure if this works.

“I would love to be the Miss America that really brings this organization back into the fabric of popular culture, makes this part of Americana again,” she said after winning. Fifty-two women — including, for the first time ever, a contestant from the U.S. Virgin Islands — competed for the crown in a two-hour show producers hoped would turn the tide on declining TV ratings. Taking a page from reality TV, Miss America producers spiced up the prime-time special by enlisting “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison, crooner Clay Aiken and some new production touches in a bid to keep people watching. The telecast marked the 50th year since Sept. 11, 1954, when Lee Meriwether was crowned Miss America 1955 during the first Miss America pageant to be televised.

This year’s pageant retained the same basic elements, but with plenty of updates, including the Miss America Quiz, an eight-question pop quiz on U.S. history, U.S. government and current events given to the five finalists.

All the best elements of reality shows and Howard Stern! This should be part of Americana again in no time.

The talent competition, which once showcased 10 of the contestants, was trimmed to two, and the traditional “parade of states” introduction of the contestants was reworked to eliminate some of the tedium.

One would hope they would strive to eliminate all the tedium, no?

Citing hour-to-hour Nielsen ratings that traditionally ebb during the talent competition, pageant producers axed the often-amateurish singing, dancing or baton-twirling acts that had been a part of Miss America since 1938. The swimsuit contest was briefer, too, in a sense. Showing more skin than ever, the contestants competed in racy two-piece swimsuits provided to Miss America under a two-year sponsorship deal with maker Speedo.

Excellent. Let’s stop pretending that this is a “scholarship pageant.”

Some photos, courtesy the Associated Press/al.com

Miss Alabama, Deidre Downs, appears in casual wear during the 2004 Miss America Competition.
Miss Alabama, Deidre Downs, appears in a two-piece swimsuit during the Miss America Competition.
David Downs appears with his daughter, Miss Alabama Deidre Downs, during the 2004 Miss America Competition.
Miss Alabama, Deidre Downs, left, reacts with first runner-up Miss Louisiana, Jennifer Dupont, after winning the Miss America competition in Atlantic City, N.J., Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004.
Miss America Deidre Downs of Alabama poses on the beach in Atlantic City, N.J., Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.