Luxe Life Blog
Miss America Pageant host Mario Lopez excitedly counts down to live broadcast from Planet Hollywood
With less than eight hours to curtain up on the 2009 Miss America Pageant live from Planet Hollywood, host Mario Lopez says: “I’m excited more than I am nervous. I love live television, and, although hosting is a real challenge, at the best of times, the secret is to just have fun with it.”
Mario admitted that he was hoping rehearsals would go well enough yesterday afternoon that he would be “Dancing With the Queens” for the opening production number. “To be honest, I haven’t even stepped on the stage yet for the first rehearsal. It’s not easy working out a dance number with 52 partners, but we’ll give it our best shot, and you’ll see whatever happens live on the show. We’ll certainly try for it, but we won’t know what will happen until you watch us doing it.
“I’ve been thrown into Larry King’s seat at the last minute. I’ve subbed for Regis at the last minute. So the pageant is what it is, and it has a structure, so I am comfortable about the last-minute dancing number. They have been rehearsing the past six days with their drills, routines and dance patterns so hard that all 52 of them are asleep lying flat on the stage while you and I are talking! The goal is to have me dancing with all of them for the opening. ”
I talked exclusively with Mario, runner-up to football legend Emmett Smith in Season 3 of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, as he began those last-minute rehearsals yesterday. Mario told me: “To me all the girls are winners, but because California is my home state, I’d obviously be rooting for her to win. But I must keep my blinders on and not get caught up in it. It’s like a sporting event because as the event progresses and you get down to the final three, you do get caught up in it. It’s no different than the NCAA Final Four when you are really into it and wondering who’s going to pull it off.
“Then when I ask that final question, I know who is going to win by the way they answer. In the back of my mind, I think one could have answered better than the other. At that point, I wish I could help them. Whatever is meant to be will be at that moment. My job is to guide them through the night. I take them and transition them from one section to the next. They do a pretty good job of it. They have a good handle on it by now.”
Although Mario is hosting the Miss America Pageant for the second time, this is his debut with the program for TLC. I asked him if he was a judge, what would he be looking for in the next Miss America. “It’s the same qualities as the judges look for,” he said. “A woman who is confident in herself, is poised, charming, charismatic and intelligent. She has to be all-around well rounded.
“I’ll know if we’ve been successful with the show in a combination of things. I will feel the energy of the audience and how the winner reacts at that one special moment. I’ll get the adrenaline rush if the talent portion works out for the final 10 because that’s so important. In the end, the ratings, though, will determine if we’ve been successful, but we will actually feel it while the show is running.”
Mario will have support tonight from sassy, smart-mouthed special correspondent Clinton Kelly, and I’ve learned that at one point, Clinton will be positioned right outside the changing tent backstage when the girls are zipping in and out between swimsuit and evening gowns.
“That will be live, and Mario and Clinton will be on a split screen. We’re taking a huge gamble with that sequence, but Clinton will both live and work in that moment, so it will be something that’s never been seen backstage before,” Tony Eaton, the telecast executive producer, told me. “The audience and the viewer will get a real feel of the pressures and chaos as the girls go frantic changing for the two segments.”
Clinton told me: “Last year I didn’t even want to do this, but now I’m loving it. Sign me up for next year! As a style consultant, it’s great to help people look and feel their best. In one of the episodes of the Countdown to the Crown reality series, I gave the girls advice about their gowns, and I’m pleased to tell you that this year they took my words of wisdom, and there will be a lot less big hair. They will also have an age-appropriate, socially sophisticated look instead of that of an aging Vegas lounge singer!
“Their gowns are simply stunning this year, and they could shine on any Hollywood red carpet. It’s amazing because these are all normal young women: kind, friendly and ambitious without any bitchiness. But under the lights and in the spirit of competition, they rise and shine like no others.”
After rehearsals yesterday afternoon, the 52 contestants took part in a meet-and-greet with host hotel Planet Hollywood’s high-roller customers, and then last night they got to kick up their heels at their own “Dinner of Dreams” and “Miss America Dance Party.”
Marie Osmond was felled by a sore throat and a bad cold, so I wound up kicking it all off, and then introduced Miss America 1981 Susan Powell. She even had Miss America 1965 Vonda Van Dyke come on stage to reprise her ventriloquist act that won her the talent competition and overall title 44 years ago!
It was the first time at the “Dreams” evening that we managed to corral the three winners of the Miss America Pageant since it moved to Las Vegas in 2006 after its 85-year run in Atlantic City. Miss America 2006 Jennifer Berry Gooden posed with 2007 Miss America Lauren Nelson and Kirsten Haglund, who ends her reign as Miss America 2008 tonight. “I get to sleep in Sunday morning for the first time in an entire year,” Kirsten laughed. It’s also the very first time all three have consented to photographs with their significant others.”
Also attending among the many other former Miss Americas were 1955 winner and TV actress Lee Meriwether and 1989 winner Gretchen Carlson, who is now anchor of Fox & Friends in the morning on Fox News. It was a reunion for Gretchen and me! She and I have teamed on several Fox appearances over the years, and her report on the pageant will air live from New York on Monday morning.
The 2009 Miss America will be up early tomorrow to start her 365-day reign with a flight to New York. All contestants pack for the possibility of starting their monthly 20,000 miles of travel without getting to go home first! She will make her first TV appearance with Gretchen on Monday. Then the winner will continue her debut-day media blitz with Regis Philbin on ABC and then Kathie Lee Gifford on the final hour of NBC’s Today. Next Thursday, she will fly to Tampa, Fla., for Super Bowl activities, and our contributing photographer Tom Donoghue will be with her in the Sunshine State to wire the photo reports back to us at Vegas DeLuxe.
Don’t forget that tonight we’ll have the new Miss America winner announced right here at 7 p.m. -- even before West Coast viewers get to see the time-delayed broadcast on TLC. We’ll also have her first exclusive interview and photo session! On Monday, we’ll have the rest of our post-Miss America Pageant coverage, including our chat with Mario about his meeting with President Obama and the unbelievable “small world’ coincidence for me and Legally Blonde Broadway actress Laura Bell Bundy, one of the judges who reminded me I’d first interviewed her when she was just 9 years old making her debut at Radio City Music Hall!
As part of tradition now as the Miss America Pageant began on the Strip three years ago, a final note: Each year, her predecessor has correctly predicted the actual winner. So now I am holding safely onto a piece of paper with the one state name that prior Las Vegas winners Jennifer, Lauren and Kirsten have predicted will win. Out of respect and confidentiality, I wont reveal that until tonight’s coronation, but I can tell you that she’s included in their six finalist favorites of Miss California, Miss Georgia, Miss Indiana, Miss Michigan, Miss Mississippi and Miss Oklahoma!
However, as Lauren told me: “The reality show really caused some changes this year, and one of the contestants was hard hit by illness affecting her preliminary participation, so it could wind up being a complete shock with somebody nobody expects.”