Beauty contest winners from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands took the stage to vie for the title Saturday night at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
The show is the culmination of a week of preliminary competitions and months of preparations.
During an opening number set to One Direction's “What Makes You Beautiful,” the beauty queens donned knee-length dresses and introduced themselves with quips about their home states.
Judges quickly eliminated all but 15 contestants. Miss District of Columbia Allyn Rose, who made headlines by announcing plans to undergo a preventive double mastectomy after the competition to reduce her risk of breast cancer, was among those sent home.
As the show went to commercial, co-host Chris Harrison, of “The Bachelor,” announced that the judges would be allowed to name an additional semi-finalist before the competition continued. They chose Miss Washington, who continued through the next three rounds.
The 16 semi-finalists strutted in bikinis in front of a red and orange beach backdrop to Will.I.Am's club hit “Scream and Shout.”
Miss South Carolina, who oddsmakers named as a favorite, wore a strapless white bikini. She is from Laurens. Miss Tennessee wore a red matte bikini with glittering straps.
Judges eliminated the fan-voted selection of Miss Montana Alexis Wineman after the swimsuit round. She had grabbed media attention as the first Miss America contestant with a diagnosis of autism.
During the eveningwear competition, Miss Oklahoma strutted the runway in a grey gown with rouging at the hip. Miss Texas donned an asymmetrical, iridescent gown that threw off a rainbow of color.
Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News Channel morning show host and Miss America 1989, took the stage to give commentary. She joked that contestants today are more fit than in earlier years.
For the talent round, the women tap-danced, twirled batons and played classical music and pop tunes on the piano.
Miss Maryland recapped the rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Le Mis that won her first place in the preliminary talent competition.
Only five contestants will advance from the talent round to the final portion of the show: the interview competition.
The night's winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship and is expected to embark on a yearlong speaking tour to advocate for her chosen cause and raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, the pageant's official charity.