Miss USA charms city, again

Contestants arrive today as pageant returns to Baltimore in a bigger venue


Loveliness is coming here to Baltimore -- loaded down with mountains of hair gel, moisturizer and mascara, and armed with evening gowns and strappy sandals.

The Miss USA pageant is calling Baltimore home this month, for a second year in a row. The 51 contestants -- plus last year's winner, Chelsea Cooley -- will descend here en masse today.

"The judges are going to have a big job on their hands trying to figure out which one of these ladies is worthy of being Miss USA," said Dennis Castleman, assistant secretary for tourism, film and the arts, with the state's Department of Business Economic Development.

The Miss USA pageant, in choosing Baltimore twice in two years, just made Castleman's job easier.

"Last year, 8 million viewers watched the show, which, when you think about it, is really a commercial for Maryland," Castleman said. "You can't buy that kind of advertising."

At $225,000 for 30 seconds during primetime hours, it would cost about $4 million to get what the Miss USA pageant provides for the bargain basement price of about $640,000, he said.

Last year's telecast showed the beauties posing at Fort McHenry and hanging out at the Harbor. They were merry in Ocean City and historic Annapolis. They shopped at Arundel Mills.

The city and the state split about $200,000 of the cost of such good PR. Private donors coughed up the rest. The community's willingness to help was one reason why pageant officials opted to return to Baltimore, despite the fact that the live, two-hour competition attracted only about 8.1 million viewers, compared with 13 million the year before.

"We worked really well together. And we thought, `Knowing what we know now, imagine what we can do for next year,'" said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, which includes Miss USA, Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA.

One major change this year: Instead of at the Hippodrome Theatre, the pageant will be broadcast April 21 from the 1st Mariner Arena. The Hippodrome was "absolutely beautiful," Shugart said, but it was too small. The delegates, as the contestants are called, will be lodging locally this time, too -- at the Wyndham Baltimore Inner Harbor, instead of the Sheraton in Columbia.

During their three-week stay, they'll dine at Fleming's Steakhouse, and attend a luau in Ocean City. They'll tour the CoverGirl factory in Hunt Valley, and Miss Maryland will toss out the first pitch at an Orioles game.

The pageant has also added a third emcee to the telecast. Carson Kressley, of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, will act as "color commentator" to the show's two hosts, Access Hollywood's Nancy O'Dell and Drew Lachey, of Dancing with the Stars fame.

The pageant is also not just about looks. It's about personality too, says Miss New York USA Adrina Diaz.

"In my opinion, one of the most important roles Miss USA plays is that she exemplifies today's well-rounded and multifaceted American woman," said Diaz, 21, a Princeton University student and violinist, in a pageant-released statement.


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