Atlantic City, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Contestants from Florida and Wisconsin scored the first preliminary wins in the post-swimsuit era of the Miss America pageant Wednesday night, and proclaimed a new day had arrived for a piece of Americana that's trying to reboot itself in a rapidly changing world.
The competition swapped swimsuits with interview questions that were as daunting for some as walking across the stage in a bikini and heels.
Miss Florida Taylor Tyson won the talent competition for a piano rendition of "Mephisto's Waltz" by Lizst.
Miss Wisconsin Tianna Vanderhei won the onstage interview competition for her comments on how higher education should be more affordable and more widely accessible.
Both said they were excited to be the first winners in the revamped Miss America competition, which has generated controversy for its decision to eliminate swimsuits - a staple of the pageant since it began 98 years ago in Atlantic City.
"Swimsuit is behind us," Vanderhei said after Wednesday night's competition ended. "It's sad that it's gone, but I understand the reasons it's gone."
"People are going to get to see what Miss America is all about with these changes," Tyson added.
The preliminaries began amid a revolt by state pageant officials unhappy with the way the decision to drop swimsuits was made, and who are demanding that top leadership, including chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, step down.
The current Miss America, Cara Mund, has accused Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper of bullying and silencing her — allegations the two officials deny.
Mund did not reference the controversy in her opening remarks, which followed a prolonged standing ovation. But she did pay tribute to local and state officials without mentioning national ones.
"This only exists because of our volunteers," she said. "We wouldn't have any organization if it weren't for them."
A spokesman for opponents of the current leadership said 46 state organizations have signed letters calling for Carlson and Hopper to resign; only Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada and Vermont have not signed.
The first of three nights of preliminary competition began with a big change: In past years, one talent and one swimsuit winner were named in each of the three preliminary nights.
This year, instead of a swimsuit winner, the winner of an onstage interview will be named.
Some of the questions were softballs: Where is the most interesting place you've ever visited, and how did you grow emotionally from it? Others put some contestants squarely on the spot on red-hot social issues.
Miss Texas, Madison Fuller, was asked if NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem are showing freedom of speech or disrespect.
"Where NFL players who kneel are standing up for what they believe in, there is an arena to promote change, not during the anthem," she said.
Miss Mississippi Asya Branch was asked whether health care is an entitlement.
"Health care is not an entitlement, but we do all need it," she said. "We should work within our country to make it more affordable and available. No one deserves not to have health care."
The format is similar to what will happen during Sunday night's nationally televised broadcast on ABC.
Scholarships totaling nearly $506,000 will be awarded, including $50,000 for the new Miss America; $25,000 for the first runner-up; $20,000 for the second runner-up; $15,000 for the third runner-up, and $10,000 for the fourth runner up.
Brooklyn Center, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — A pair of ruby slippers used in "The Wizard of Oz" and later stolen from a Minnesota museum were recovered in a sting operation after a man approached the shoes' insurer and said he could help get them back, the FBI said Tuesday.
The slippers were on loan to the Judy Garland Museum in the late actress' hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, when they were taken in 2005 by someone who climbed through a window and broke into a small display case. The shoes were insured for $1 million.
The FBI said a man approached the insurer in summer 2017 and said he could help get them back. Grand Rapids police asked for the FBI's help and after a nearly year-long investigation, the slippers were recovered in July during a sting operation in Minneapolis.
The FBI said no one has yet been arrested or charged in the case, but they have "multiple suspects" and continue to investigate. As they unveiled the recovered slippers at a news conference Tuesday, they asked anyone with information about the theft to contact them.
"We're not done. We have a lot of work to do," Christopher Myers, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said.
Myers said he would handle any prosecution. The North Dakota link to the case wasn't evident and authorities declined to explain it.
The slippers had been on loan to the Garland museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw. Three other pairs that Garland wore in the movie are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian and a private collector.
The stolen slippers' authenticity was verified by comparing them with the pair at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History in Washington.
The ruby slippers are key in the 1939 movie. After mysteriously landing in the colorful Land of Oz after a tornado hit her farm in Kansas, Garland's character, Dorothy, has to click the heels of her slippers three times and repeat "there's no place like home" to return.
Rhys Thomas, author of "The Ruby Slippers of Oz," called the slippers "the Holy Grail of Hollywood memorabilia."
"They are maybe the most iconic cinematic prop or costume in movie history, and in fact, in cultural history," Thomas said. "They are a cultural icon."
Thomas estimated that this particular pair could be worth between $2 million to $7 million. He said it's not clear in which scenes they were used, but he was "99 percent" sure that they appeared in the film.
Thomas said the slippers then went unseen for 30 years until Shaw, acting as a middleman, bought them for someone who intended to sell them to the late actress Debbie Reynolds, but Shaw ended up keeping them and often loaned them for exhibits.
Law enforcement offered a $250,000 reward early in the case, and a fan in Arizona offered another $1 million in 2015.
The shoes are made from about a dozen different materials, including wood pulp, silk thread, gelatin, plastic and glass. Most of the ruby color comes from sequins but the bows of the shoes contain red glass beads.
The genre-busting Wizard of Oz — presented in black and white, and color — was a box office smash and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, with wins for Best Song and Best Original Score.
Garland, who was born Frances Gumm, lived in Grand Rapids, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, until she was 4, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died of a barbiturate overdose in 1969.
The Judy Garland Museum , which opened in 1975 in the house where she lived, says it has the world's largest collection of Garland and Wizard of Oz memorabilia.
London, Aug 29 (AP/UNB) — The outfits Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wore at their wedding are to go on public display later this year at the ceremony's venue, Windsor Castle.
Royal fashion fans will be able to get a close look at the bride's silk Givenchy wedding dress and 16-foot (5-meter) veil, as well as the diamond-and-platinum tiara loaned to Meghan by Queen Elizabeth II.
There will also be a copy of the frock-coat uniform of the Blues and Royals regiment that Harry wore for the May 19 service, which was watched by millions around the world.
The exhibition "A Royal Wedding: The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex" will be at Windsor Castle from Oct. 26 to Jan. 6, and at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland, from June 14 to Oct. 6, 2019.