LAS VEGAS (AP) — Katie Stam of Indiana was crowned Miss America on Saturday night, fighting off a throat infection, laryngitis and 51 other contestants to win the 88-year-old pageant.
The 22-year-old University of Indianapolis student became the first Miss America winner from the Hoosier State. She drew loud applause for her rendition of "Via Dolorosa" during the talent portion of the beauty pageant at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Stam said she had trouble sleeping one night this week while she took prescription medicine to fight the infection, but got her voice back by Thursday.
"I was feeling like myself again — I will never take my health for granted," she said.
She also strutted onstage in a black bikini and an off-the-shoulder, white lace evening gown. During the interview portion of the competition she decried the use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional athletes and discussed the definition of glamour.
"That beauty that you feel on the inside, it's that confidence, that radiance inside of you, that's what glamour is," Stam said.
Stam won a $50,000 scholarship and hopes to obtain a bachelor's degree in communications and become a television news anchor. She began competing in pageants at age 15.
Stam was crowned by reigning Miss America Kirsten Haglund of Michigan and will soon embark on a year of travel and public appearances.
She said she had one semester left in school — but didn't know when she would finish — and already was graduating debt-free without the $50,000 prize. Stam said she might use the money for graduate school.
The first runner-up was Miss Georgia Chasity Hardman, who took home a $25,000 scholarship.
The 52 young women took to the stage in blue jeans, bikinis and ballgowns following a mini-reality series on pageant prep work and a week of preliminary competition.
After an opening dance number and the traditional parade of states, judges and fans immediately trimmed the field to 15 finalists. Five more were trimmed based on swimsuit and evening gown competitions, while the remaining 10 went on to showcase their dancing, singing and other skills during the talent portion.
"This gown nearly blinds people," Miss Arkansas Ashlen Batson said in a video clip played as she walked onstage in a silver dress with beading. Batson was eliminated before she could play her flute in the talent competition.
Miss Hawaii Nicole Fox drew cheers as she performed a traditional Tahitian dance, wearing a huge white feathered headdress and skirt to match. After she exited, part of her skirt remained on the stage.
In a new twist, viewers of a lead-in reality show, "Miss America: Countdown to the Crown" voted in four of the 15 finalists, while the judges announced the other 11 during a live TLC television broadcast.
The four finalists chosen by viewers were Stam, the eventual winner, and Hardman, the first runner-up, as well as Miss South Dakota Alexandra Hoffman and Miss Alabama Amanda Tapley.
The viewer interaction to name four contestants as "America's choice" was Discovery-owned TLC's attempt to stoke interest in this year's contestants. Once an American icon, the shine on Miss America's crown has been dimmed by slipping ratings and the popularity of more salacious reality shows.
The pageant was dropped from network television after the 2004 pageant drew a record low viewership. It found a home in Las Vegas after moving from its longtime location in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but it has struggled to get its footing on cable.
In its second year on TLC, Mario Lopez, of "Extra," hosted with an assist from Clinton Kelly of TLC's "What Not to Wear." Judges include actress Laura Bell Bundy, Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson, hairstylist Ken Paves and Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones.
As always, the women competed in swimsuit, evening gown and talent competitions, as well as a short "interview," in which they were asked their thoughts on a current event or hot topic. TLC has tried to dash the days of answers that declared that "children are the future." Questions came from average people and were intended to put the contestants on the spot.
TLC also had some fun with the cliches of pageants past. For example, in its scorecard for home viewers posted online, it asked viewers to count the number of mentions of world peace and to name the contestant with best spray tan.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Miss America: http://www.missamerica.org/
TLC Network: http://www.tlc.com/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.