Stephen M. Silverman
January 22, 2006 11:00 AM

Here she is … Miss Oklahoma Jennifer Berry, 22, was crowned on Saturday night as the new Miss America.

The University of Oklahoma student won over the judges with a ballet routine and her pledge devote her year-long reign as an advocate to help fight drunken driving, after having lost a friend to an alcohol-related crash at age 16.

“I realized she did not have to die,” Berry said. “She died from a decision, not a disease.”

Besides a crown, Berry also walks down the runway with a $30,000 college scholarship and a 12-month speaking tour.

Berry’s runner-up was Miss Georgia Monica Pang, followed – in order – by Miss Alabama Alexa Jones, Miss Virginia Kristi Lauren Glakas, and Miss District of Columbia Shannon Schambeau, the Associated Press reports.

Named Miss Congeniality (a title taken out of mothballs for the first time in 32 years) was Miss Hawaii Malika Dudley. Coincidentally, the last winner of the title, in 1974, was also a Miss Hawaii, Coline-Helen Kanaloku Aiu.

For the first time, however, the pageant took place in Las Vegas, rather than Atlantic City, N.J. It was also broadcast on Country Music Television rather than a major network – another first, since the event initially began airing in 1954. Changing viewer tastes have been cited as the reason.

Still, that did not deter Saturday night’s victor. “I hope to have sponsors knocking on our door,” Berry said about the future of the Miss America pageant.

The pageant also managed to touch upon politics, albeit briefly. Miss Nevada Crystal Wosik was asked about an interview she gave in which she backed a controversial plan to build a nuclear waste repository at a Yucca Mountain site in the state. “They really nailed her on the interview,” Wosik’s mother, Lena Wosik, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The judges were ruthless.”

Asked about the proposal and the possible fear that people might die because fit, the younger Wosik said: “We just have to take one for the team.”

Her mother defended the contestant’s stance, saying: “You have to have strong beliefs. … It’s a tragedy that we have nuclear waste, but it’s got to go somewhere. I’m sure she’ll get hate mail. I felt they should have been asking about education.”

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