- Associated Press - Friday, January 14, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - With intricate beading and down-home charm, 53 Miss America contestants strutted outside a Las Vegas Strip casino Friday to show off shoes decorated for their native states.

Dressed as Marilyn Monroe, 19-year-old Miss California Arianna Afsar showed off a high heel decorated as the famed Hollywood sign, then belted out: “Happy birthday, Miss America,” to celebrate the pageant’s 90th birthday.

“My shoe represents the glitz and glam of Hollywood, and I’d like to thank my mom for spending so much time to make this shoe,” Afsar told the crowd.

The “Show us Your Shoes” event outside the Paris Las Vegas hotel-casino comes one day before Saturday’s televised competition to crown Miss America 2011.

In Las Vegas, the girls held their handcrafted shoes aloft for a crowd of about 3,500. But the event was a nod to the pageant’s days in Atlantic City, N.J., when an annual procession on the boardwalk spawned a quirky footwear tradition.

It started when spectators would catcall contestants riding past in open-topped cars, asking them to show their shoes. They hoped to embarrass the girls because they wore elaborate dresses but casual shoes since nobody would see their feet. The girls eventually responded by displaying decorated footwear, and shoes eventually became the highlight of their outfits.

Many shoes this year would have been unwearable as decorated. Miss Connecticut Brittany Decker, 21, displayed a high heel with a basketball hoop and “ESPN” written on the backboard in homage to UConn and the home of the cable sports network, while 24-year-old Miss Alaska Abby Hancock held a high heel turned Christmas sleigh, telling master of ceremonies Robin Leach: “Santa lives in Alaska.”

Miss Louisiana Kelsi Crain, 20, said she thought about going with a New Orleans Saints theme but was happy she stuck with Mardi Gras.

“We’ve coined the phrase ‘Bon temps rouler’ for ‘Let the good times roll,’” she said. “Now the Louisiana delegation is just here to share a little taste of what a Mardi Gras celebration is like.”

Crain, a kinesiology student from the University of Louisiana-Monroe, said she was at first surprised when she learned the pageant queens would be showing the shoes instead of wearing them.

“We had to order two pairs of shoes, one that we could wear and then one that we had to decorate, so now I just have a spare shoe sitting at home,” she said.

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