ATLANTIC CITY — The finale of the Miss America pageant returns to Atlantic City on Sunday night, with plenty of drama to augment the glamour.
Will the next Miss America be the tattooed Army sergeant, Miss Kansas, or the inspirational Miss Iowa, who was born without part of an arm? Will it be Miss Hawaii or Miss California — both of whom are named Crystal Lee?
How will Miss Florida, hobbled by a knee injury she sustained in baton-twirling rehearsals on Thursday, fare in the live national telecast? Can hometown hero Miss New Jersey capture the title less than a mile from where Superstorm Sandy came ashore last October?
Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America Organization, is delighted it will all be playing out in Atlantic City again after a six-year stint in Las Vegas.
"This is where we belong," he 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, Myrrhanda 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 during preliminary rehearsals.
Much attention has been given to Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, a U.S. Army sergeant 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."
And Jones, who is Miss Florida, will be wearing a knee brace after tearing a knee ligament Thursday while rehearsing her baton-twirling act. A pageant spokeswoman said Jones will compete while wearing the brace Sunday night if she is one of the 15 semifinalists.
The pageant started in Atlantic City in 1921 as a way to extend the summer tourism season for an extra weekend.
The move from Las Vegas cut short the reign of the current Miss America, Mallory 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 pageant pits 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.