Miss USA pageant to be staged in Baltimore

'05 contest winner to be crowned at Hippodrome

October 07, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Trump to Baltimore: You're hired!

Celebrity entrepreneur Donald Trump, who gives employees the heave-ho on television's The Apprentice, is giving Charm City a gig: host of his Miss USA pageant.

The 2005 contest will take place in April at the Hippodrome Theatre, officials will announce today, offering 51 women the chance to walk away with tiara and sash - and giving the city and state national television exposure that could translate into big tourism and economic development bucks.

So, while the contestants hike up their cleavage with duct tape and smear Vaseline on their teeth to keep their smiles fresh, Baltimore and Maryland expect to be the ones sitting pretty.

The two-hour program - to be shown in 100 countries and live in this one on NBC - will devote nine minutes of air time to promotional footage of Baltimore and Maryland. In an evening time slot during which 30-second commercials fetch $225,000, that exposure will be worth millions, city officials say.

"We're thrilled to have played a role in bringing this signature event to the city," said Clarence T. Bishop, Mayor Martin O'Malley's chief of staff, who will join the mayor, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and pageant officials at the 5:15 p.m. announcement. "And it's just another sign of the positive direction that the city is heading in."

A team of city and state officials landed the contest after negotiating with the pageant for more than a year and agreeing to pay a $500,000 "host fee."

Baltimore's Board of Estimates will be asked to contribute about $75,000 toward that, while the state and private sponsors are expected to cover the rest.

After narrowly losing out to Los Angeles for this year's pageant, the mayor's office, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development kept in touch with Miss USA officials.

Pageant officials declined to comment other than to confirm that they would be in Baltimore today for a news conference. State officials also said they would not discuss the pageant until today.

Steele's office let the news slip out yesterday by listing the announcement on his public schedule.

Along with the beauty queens, the pageant will spotlight the Hippodrome, which opened in February after a $62 million makeover and is the centerpiece of downtown's west side revival.

"It shows it's a world class facility and can accommodate these kinds of huge productions," said Bill Gilmore, director of the Office of Promotion and the Arts. "And it says something really wonderful for the west side."

The pageant will bring con- testants from every state and the District of Columbia - to Baltimore for 2 1/2 weeks for preliminary competition leading up to the pageant in early April. The date of the contest has not been made public, nor have attendance projections.

The Miss USA pageant follows a tradition begun by P.T. Barnum, who first tried to put beautiful women on display in the 1850s, and the Atlantic City businessmen who in 1921 started what became the Miss America contest to draw visitors to the ocean resort after Labor Day.

The Miss USA pageant was first held in 1952 as a "bathing beauty" competition spearheaded by Catalina Swimwear in Long Beach, Calif. But, like Donald Trump, who with NBC owns the pageant, the Miss USA contest is flashier than the competition - Ginger to Miss America's Mary Ann.

The Web site for the Miss America pageant, which prides itself for the scholarships it awards, features the traditional crowning-of-the-new-queen photo. The Miss USA site is full of sultry pictures of its winners.

The current Miss USA, Shandi Finnessey of Florissant, Mo., wrote a children's book, The Furrtails (available for $12.95 through the pageant Web site).

Finnessey completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Lindenwood University in 3 1/2 years. Details of her academic resume hint at something a little racier than the typical pageant fare.

While in college, the Miss USA Web site notes, Finnessey conducted research on androgyny.

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