Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008 | 5:30 p.m.
Finally inside the packed very Little Miss Sunshine-looking auditorium, where it smells like 1,000 Vanity Fair magazines.
Miss Nevada, Caleche Manos, introduced herself at 5:10 pm.
Contestants are in four color-coded groups and will be eliminated reality-show style, then they will take seats in the audience as they're cut.
You'll have a better view at home when the pagent airs on the TLC network at 8 pm tonight.
5:45: It's the swimsuit portion right now and there are some serious bikinis on the stage. Most of the women are wearing black with neon or metallic trim.
The final 15 are Miss Michigan, Miss Iowa, Miss North Carolina, Miss California, Miss Indiana, Miss South Carolina, Miss Georgia, Miss Washington, Miss Arkansas, Miss Virginia, Miss Texas, Miss Wisconsin, Miss Florida, Miss Mississipi, and the TV audience's vote of Miss Utah — a military vet.
While the rest of the contestants did their best model catwalks to a live DJ's pulsating beat, Miss Utah was the only one to strut in a one-piece suit.
That prompted one teenager in the audience to cheer out: "I vote for modesty."
6:00: The elimination process has started and Miss Tennessee, Miss Arkansas, Miss
Florida, Miss Mississippi, and Miss Utah are out. The rest of the semifinalists hit the floor and performed pushups in honor of Miss. Utah.
The final 10 are all in little black dresses now.
Even though I'm live at the Planet Hollywood hotel and casino, the whole audience is watching the pageant on a big screen TV.
One of the eliminated contestants has the best quip of the night when she says "the butt glue is not a myth," after being asked how she keeps her bikini from riding up in front of millions.
6:10: I'm sitting next to a Wisconsin group who still has a girl in the race. There is lots of crying and loud praying.
They are really racing through it reality show style. Preliminaries tool place all week and were a part of TLC's reality show.
Next up is the talent competition, but two contestants will be elimnated before they get the chance to perform. More reality-style cruelty: If you get to perform you're on to the next round, if you don't you're out.
6:20: Miss Michigan, decked out in a gown that looks like blue cotton candy, did a big dress fluffing twirl as she sang Over the Rainbow.
Miss California sings credible aria from Faust, and is dressed like an opera house.
Miss Indiana sings a karaoke style song in Spanish.
Miss Virginia, dressed in a cherry red candyflake tutu, performs a Spanish dance from the Nutcracker.
6:30: Miss Iowa is out. The host says: "Now you can join the others and have some carbohydrates."
There are lots of Little Miss Sunshine pageant girls in the audience tonight — wearing tiaras and carrying sashes.
Back to the action:
Miss Washington does her best American Idol-style rendition of Angels by Robbie Williams, including a sultry walk toward the camera.
6:35: There is a huge relief next to me when Miss Wisconsin comes out playing the violin. The family is praying, crying, just going completely nuts.
I'm told she has played with Kanye West.
6:40: Miss Georgia has been eliminated.
Miss North Carolina does a ballet dance to Four Seasons by Vivaldi.
6:50: Yay, it's question time! Questions were submitted by tourists in Las Vegas
Miss Wisconsin goes first
Contestants volunteer for questions, here's a sample of the inquistion.
If you have HIV or an STD do you have obligation to tell partner?
What does it say about America when people can be famous for not doing anything?
Should Britney/s pregant little sister be fired from her tv show?
Miss Indiana makes a plea for clemency.
Ah, no one got to talk about world peace.
6:55: This pageant looks more like a caucus than the recent Las Vegas caucuses did with state squads chanting and holding up colorful candidate placards.
Or maybe it looks more like a rally in a North Korean stadium. I'm not sure.
6:57: Miss Oklahoma has her final official act as Miss America when she makes her last walk and wave with a rushed VoiceOver of all of her 2007 good deeds.
The fourth runner-up is ... Miss North Carolina.
The third runner-up is ... Miss Virginia.
The second runner-up is ... Miss Washington.
The first runner-up is ... Miss Indiana.
7:00: And Miss America is ... drumroll ... Miss Michigan!
Miss Michigan walks with roses as the audience applauds.
And my final thought: The reality show format that was meant to reinvigorate the venerable pageant actually robbed the show of any real drama or suspense.
Read more about Miss America in Monday's Las Vegas Sun.