Miss Oklahoma Becomes First 'Vegas' Miss America

Jan. 22, 2006 — -- Jennifer Berry of Oklahoma was crowned Miss America Saturday at the pageant's Las Vegas debut.

Berry, 22-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma who plans to become a teacher, earned a $30,000 college scholarship for winning the pageant.

An advocate for drunken driving prevention, Berry helped seal her victory with her ballet routine. Before winning, she competed in five Oklahoma state pageants. She had finished as third runner-up two times before moving on to the next level.

"It's very surreal," Berry said. "When we were little we would watch the pageant as a family, and my sister and I would go into the utility room and play Miss America in our heels."

The Miss America pageant took place in Atlantic City for 85 years. But this year, because of sinking ratings, it was not carried on one of the major television networks and was aired instead on Country Music Television. James Denton, the plumber on ABC's "Desperate Housewives, hosted the event.

"They open their hearts to us," Berry said of Las Vegas. "It's been an incredible experience. I think it was a great step forward for the Miss America organization, and we began a new tradition here last night."

Miss Georgia Monica Pang was first runner-up and Miss Alabama Alexa Jones was second runner-up. Miss Virginia Kristi Lauren Glakas and Miss District of Columbia Shannon Schambeau both finished in the top five. And Miss Hawaii Malika Dudley was named Miss Congeniality.

Some critics have said that the Miss America pageant is outdated and old-fashioned. Berry, who succeeds Miss America 2005 Deidre Downs, said the pageant still has a place in America.

"I definitely think it is still relevant," she said. "We've had more promotion for this year's Miss America pageant that we've had … and I've had strangers come up to me and tell me how much promotion they've seen. CMT has done a wonderful job with the pageant. I think it was the best union and the best decision that could have [happened] for the organization. And we are definitely on our way up from here on out."