Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 | 10:55 a.m.
See all of the Sun's 2010 Miss America Pageant coverage.
Sunday was the final evening of relaxation for 46 of the 2010 Miss America Pageant contestants, and Monte Carlo resident headliner Lance Burton joined them for some added magic. The remaining seven beauties were tapped for tapings for Friday night's one-hour TLC special that sets the public voting in play for Saturday's coronation of this year's Miss America.
Public and judges' votes
A major change is in place for this year's pageant: All 53 contestants have had to vote for who they think should be in the final 12. Here's how it will work:
At-home viewers Friday will learn the 12 contestants that the 53 have nominated to be among the final 15 on the Saturday broadcast. Then viewers will make their selections in a 1-through-12 order. If they correspond with the judges' selections, then the judges' next picks will balance out the final 15. So viewers and judges could jointly select 11, with America solely choosing four, or America and the judges agreeing on all 12, and then the next three judges' picks would be on deck.
In theory, and probably in practice, this means that the contestants and the public have chosen one candidate who will become Miss America.
"It's much fairer, and the public gets a real say in the final choice," one Miss America official said.
On Saturday, the 53 candidates, including Miss Puerto Rico for the first time in more than 50 years, will be cut to the 15 selected by at-home viewers and judges. It remains to be seen if the viewers and the judges will agree with one another.
After one competitive segment — ball gown, talent and swimsuit for fitness — the contestants will be reduced to 12. The 12 then will get cut to 10, and then down to a final seven. From those remaining seven, the four runners-up in fourth, third, second and first will be named. That will leave three girls onstage with host Mario Lopez, and only one of them will win the Miss America title and crown.
Added security for Rush
Planet Hollywood, now being managed by Harrah's, has beefed up security while controversial radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is staying at the casino resort.
Pole Position Raceway
Last night, contestants had their final fun night on the town after a weekend that included the Miss America hopefuls at The Venetian gondolas, a Fashion Show runway meet-and-greet and their celebration dinner at Buca di Beppo.
First, Burton welcomed them to Las Vegas, and after giving a special greeting to his home state contender Miss Kentucky, Mallory Ervin, he performed several magic tricks for the astonished girls who discovered coins from their ears, multiplying rabbits in their hands and streamers flowing from their cardigan necks.
At one point in a mock fight between Miss Indiana, Nicole Pollard, and Miss Louisiana, Katherine Putnam, the two had to be separated after the New Orleans Saints won their playoff game in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings to face the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl next month.
The new Miss America will make one of her first-week appearances as hostess of the Taste of the NFL in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., after her round of New York TV show appearances next week.
After the magic tricks it was time for high-speed thrills as the 47 pageant queens at Pole Position Raceway opposite Palms Place raced around the indoor track at speeds of up to 35 mph.
Miss New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham, won the race. Rounding out the Top 10, in order: Miss Massachusetts, Amanda Kelly; Miss District of Columbia, Jen Corey; Miss Arizona, Savanna Troupe; Miss West Virginia, Talia Markham; Miss Idaho, Kara Jackson; Miss Kentucky, Mallory Ervin; Miss Arkansas, Sarah Slocum; Miss Illinois, Erin O'Connor; and Miss Alaska, Sydnee Waggoner.
The competition begins
Today, the grueling week of judges' interviews, talent practice, rehearsals and three nights of preliminary competitions get underway at Planet Hollywood. From hereon in, it's a brutal 16-hour workday — a 7a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule — as the young women compete for the title, crown and scholarships.
Tonight, the contestants will attend Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian, and they've been promised a backstage visit with the Phantom after the performance.
This year's Miss America Pageant, hosted once again by Mario Lopez, will be broadcast Saturday from Planet Hollywood on TLC.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.