September 08, 1997 12:00 PM

>John and Eva LaRue Callahan

MISS AMERICA’S NEW CHAPERONES

CONTESTANTS PARADING IN TWO-PIECE swimsuits, interviews with finalists’ families and a new network (ABC) are only some of the innovations bestowed upon this year’s Miss America Pageant (Sept. 13, 9 p.m. ET). The most noticeable change? After six years (five of them with cohost Kathie Lee Gifford), Regis Philbin, 66, is out as emcee, replaced by All My Children’s John and Eva LaRue Callahan. “I thought [Regis] did a terrific job,” says executive producer Leonard Horn. “But ABC felt we would have a better chance at attracting a younger audience with John and Eva.”

Eva, 30, and John, 42, have been daytime’s storybook couple since 1993, when their characters, Dr. Maria Santos and Edmund Grey, tied the knot. Their offscreen chemistry was equally combustible, and in 1996 the couple got married. Then last month their TV soap bubble burst when Maria disappeared in a plane crash, a plot twist that enabled Eva to move on to Head Over Heels, a new fall sitcom on UPN.

Invited to cohost Miss America, Eva admits she and her husband were “shocked.” But, adds her spouse, “once the shock wore off, I said, ‘We do a lot together, so why not this?’ ” Rehearsing for the Atlantic City pageant, the now-bicoastal couple (Head Over Heels is taped in L.A., AMC in New York City) learned they won’t be warbling “There She Is.” (That honor falls to a mystery guest.) “I was a little bummed,” says Eva. “I would have liked [us] to sing that together, but I think John’s relieved he doesn’t have to.”

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