Beauty contest coming back

Sun Reporter

Baltimore has scored another date with Miss USA. The internationallytelevised beauty pageant will be held here in the spring for the second yearin a row, competition officials said yesterday.

Tourism officials cheered the decision, which was to be announced at a newsconference today, saying pageant guests spent $2 million to $3 million in thestate this year and that the broadcast provided about $6.5 million in freeadvertising as the contestants were shown frolicking at the Inner Harbor,Annapolis and elsewhere.

"We thought, `Gosh, now that we've done it once, think how much betterwe'll do it this time,'" said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss UniverseOrganization, the pageant's parent company. Shugart was to join city and stateofficials this morning at 1st Mariner Arena to announce that the contest willbe broadcast from there April 21.

Pageant officials were undeterred by the rating for this year's broadcast,which plunged lower than some contestants' necklines.

The pageant - which is co-owned by NBC and Donald Trump - typically changeslocation each year, and next year was open to bids from other cities. ButBaltimore was so thoroughly wowed by its first rendezvous with Miss USA thatthe wooing began minutes after the 2005 competition ended, at the VIPcoronation ball.

Dennis Castleman, the state's assistant secretary of tourism, film and thearts, handed Shugart a letter stating the city's intentions to win Miss USAback.

Now, Castleman said, "We're really excited."

So, reportedly, is NBC, which Shugart said praised the city's"metropolitan, cosmopolitan look."

Next year, the competition is moving to the arena from this year's spot atthe Hippodrome, which organizers said wasn't big enough. The broadcast willshowcase different parts of Maryland, and - for three weeks leading up to thecompetition - the beauties will be installed at the Wyndham Baltimore-InnerHarbor hotel. This year, they stayed at a Sheraton in Columbia because thecity was unable to find housing.

The timing will be different, too. The show will air on a Friday night,which means a smaller available audience but possibly weaker competition fromother shows. On a Monday evening this year, it was pitted against the hitprogram CSI: Miami.

It's also being broadcast about a week and a half later than this year'spageant, a delay that Shugart hopes will translate into warmer weather. Grayskies and a cold snap had wreaked havoc on filming this year, she said.

The Baltimore 2005 pageant attracted about 8.1 million viewers, comparedwith 13 million the previous year, NBC said. That number approached the55-year-old pageant's 7.6 million low in 2002, which led its former network,CBS, to drop the show.

In Baltimore, though, the 2005 show did quite well, snagging about 14percent of households, a 71 percent increase over 2004.

And the show returned the compliment, airing about 10 1/2 minutes oflocally shot footage of beauty queens in locations such as Fort McHenry andthe Ocean City boardwalk - exposure worth an estimated $6.5 million, Castlemansaid.

Whether the ratings fell or not, "I gotta tell you that 8 million viewersis a good number," said Castleman. And he said that number doesn't count thepeople in about 100 other countries who watch the show. Maryland will get aminimum of nine minutes of airtime this year.

This year's pageant cost the region $575,000, which covered rights to thecompetition, insurance, and coronation ball costs. The state and the city eachput up $100,000, and the rest was generated through private fundraising.Castleman said he expects a similar arrangement next year.

Miss USA's Baltimore double-take comes at a difficult moment in the pageantindustry. Last week, the show's beleaguered rival, the Miss Americacompetition, announced that it would be relocating to Las Vegas, after 84years in Atlantic City, N.J.

ABC dropped its Miss America coverage in 2004, and now the pageant airs oncable-only Country Music Television.

Shugart won't comment on the possibility of making Maryland - home toCoverGirl, the Hunt Valley cosmetics company that is one of the pageant'smajor sponsors - the pageant's permanent location.

"We take everything one year at a time," she said.

But in the lobby of the Wyndham hotel yesterday, the reigning Miss USA didlook pretty comfortable. Chelsea Cooley, 22, in town for the news conferenceand charity work, said she was looking forward to another extended tour ofBaltimore.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad