- Associated Press - Saturday, January 15, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A group of 53 beauty queens came to Sin City hoping to become the next Miss America on Saturday night, but 38 were stopped before they could change into swimsuits.

Just 12 contestants remained in the hunt for a $50,000 scholarship and a sparkly tiara as the pageant celebrated its 90th anniversary at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

Judges had picked Miss Oklahoma Emoly West; Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan; Miss Texas Ashley Melnick; Miss Rhode Island Deborah Saint-Vil; Miss Utah Christina Lowe; Miss Washington Jacquie Brown; Miss Arizona Kathryn Bulkley; Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier; Miss Virginia Caitlin Uze; Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady, and Miss California Arianna Afsar.

Fans voted in Miss New York Claire Buffie and Miss Delaware Kayla Martell.

And in a first-ever twist for the contest, the young women picked two finalists themselves, Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent and Miss Oregon Stephenie Denise Steers.

But Rhode Island’s Saint-Vil, Utah’s Lowe and Oregon’s Steers were quickly eliminated after the swimsuit competition.

The contestants _ from every state plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico _ started the show by dancing up the aisles at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas while wearing silver cocktail dresses.

In her introduction to the audience, Bulkley dedicated her performance to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head last week in Tucson. Bulkley called Giffords her mentor.

The finalists strutted across the stage in black bikinis, while a panel of seven judges eyed them for looks and fitness. The competition also includes evening gown, talent and interview portions, with eliminations along the way.

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