ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Miss South Carolina won the swimsuit competition and Miss Iowa won the talent portion of the first night of preliminaries in the Miss America pageant on Tuesday.
Daja Dial of South Carolina won the swimsuit contest, while Taylor Wiebers of Iowa won the talent portion with a vocal performance of "Don't Forget Me" from the TV show "Smash."
"I was a huge fan of that show," Wiebers said afterward. "That's what all we contestants want: We don't want the judges to forget us."
Dial said she developed a fitness regimen in three years of cheerleading in her home state — tempted at times by her grandparents' soul food restaurant and their delicious but fattening favorite dishes.
Exercising "has become routine," she said. "It's been a part of my everyday life."
The new Miss America will be crowned in Sunday night's nationally televised finale.
Contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are vying for the crown. The U.S. Virgin islands, which competed last year, could not field the required minimum number of entrants this year, pageant officials said. It is eligible for future competitions.
Preliminary competition in talent, interviews, evening wear and swimsuit competition will run through Thursday.
This year's competition began in earnest Tuesday morning with the announcement that Vanessa Williams, who resigned her Miss America crown in 1984 amid a nude photo scandal, will return as head judge for this year's pageant.
Williams, the first black Miss America, won the title in 1984, but resigned after Penthouse magazine published sexually explicit photographs of her taken several years earlier. She went on to have a successful career in film, television, music and Broadway.
The announcement that she is returning to the pageant was made a few hours before the current Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, unveiled the footwear that each of the 52 contestants will wear in Saturday's "Show Us Your Shoes" parade on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
"I can't believe it's been a year since I was backstage getting ready to compete, just as the contestants are right now," Kazantsev said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Boardwalk Hall. "I'm excited to crown the 95th Miss America."
Kazantsev, who was the third consecutive Miss New York to win the title, calculated that she traveled nearly 200,000 miles in her year as Miss America, which took her to 10 countries.
"I get to keep the miles, which is nice," she said.
Most of the shoes designs for the parade are state-specific: Miss New Jersey, for example, has dice and Monopoly money on her shoes, in a nod to the pageant's Atlantic City history. Alabama has monarch butterflies; Colorado has snowflakes; the District of Columbia honors to the U.S. Marine Corps; Idaho sports a potato; and Indiana's footwear consists simply of unadorned basketball sneakers.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC