By: Mary Fran Bontempo

missamericaAtlantic City could use a little beauty boost.

I’m a fan of the gambling mecca by the sea in New Jersey. Well, at least I’m a fan of parts of this town that has seen much better days.

There’s plenty to do, from restaurants to shopping to shows and entertainment, and that doesn’t even include the lure of the casinos. But Atlantic City is, unfortunately, one of those places where the tourist areas shine while the rest of the town slowly disintegrates. It’s unsettling, and it’s hurt efforts to sell the place as a vacation experience. A shame, as Atlantic City was once the elegant, exciting, go-to place at the Jersey Shore.

Which is why the return of the Miss America Pageant to its rightful home is so significant and so welcome.

According to, the Miss America Pageant “began in 1921 as part of an elaborate public festival staged by Atlantic City businessmen to extend the summer tourist season. In succeeding years, the Miss America competition evolved into an American tradition with contestants from each of the states competing every September for the coveted title of Miss America.” The organization began offering scholarship money in 1945, thus adding a “brains” segment to all that beauty.

The pageant has continued to evolve over the years (this year, Miss Kansas is on active duty in the military and proudly has the Serenity Prayer tattooed on her side–unheard of!), despite ups and downs in public support and changes in venue. Today, the Miss America Organization promotes itself as a vehicle for young women “to further their personal and professional goals and instills a spirit of community service through a variety of unique nationwide community-based programs.”

For most of us, though, especially we gals of the NRFPG demographic, Miss America will always remind us of the little girls we once were, eyes wide and glued to our televisions, as we marveled over the impossible poise and beauty of the young women parading on stage, sequins swirling and smiles wide and astonishingly white. Miss America was the stuff of dreams, every girl’s fantasy to glide across that stage and maybe even romp in the Atlantic for the famous day after the win photo shoot.

Of course, beauty pageants aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Witness Toddlers and Tiaras, and the fact that the ghastly Honey Boo Boo got her atrocious start as a beauty pageant contestant.

But as the mother of all beauty pageants, Miss America belongs in Atlantic City. And if anything can help bring a little sparkle to this somewhat tarnished town, it’s the bevy of beauties competing to win the title.

Be sure to tune into ABC this Sunday night, September 15th at 9 PM EST for the show and catch the 20/20 news special: Pageant Confidential at 8 PM. It’s a great excuse to invite over some now grown-up girlfriends, pick your favorites and indulge in a little middle-aged dreaming. Enjoy, and may the best beauty win!