- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Miss America is sticking with “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison at least another two years.

The ABC host, who has been front-and-center for the network on several reality competitions, awards shows and last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, tells The Associated Press he’s happy to help the pageant showcase young women who’ve become top role models from throughout the country.

“It’s not about you (as host),” Harrison told the AP. “It’s about these amazing women that have dedicated their lives to this one moment.”

Next year’s pageant is scheduled to air live Jan. 14 from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The pageant’s announcement comes as it marks the 90th anniversary of its first competition this week. Back in 1921 _ when Margaret Gorman was crowned _ it was little more than a bathing revue. Today, the Miss America Organization touts itself as the country’s largest provider of scholarships to young women, giving more than $45 million last year.

It’s also a pageant that has done plenty of reflection in recent years as it attempts to stay hip enough to appeal to youngsters while keeping values that officials and fans believe are core to the whole exercise.

“I’m excited because I certainly see things going uphill and continuing to improve. I know over the past decade there were some difficult years, some difficult changes,” said this year’s winner, Teresa Scanlan of Nebraska. “But I see some incredible things happening and from the response that I have continued to get this year, I have seen that it really is what America needs.”

The pageant returned to network television this year for the first time since 2004. It aired in the meantime on cable with CMT and TLC, but found itself without a TV deal in March last year until ABC picked it up for a three-year deal that pageant officials described as better than its cable deals.

Officials say 14.6 million people watched the pageant this year nationwide.

“So many people wonder if it’s something that people do want or care about and I have definitely seen in my travels this year that it is,” said Scanlan, who became the youngest Miss America at age 17 since the pageant implemented age limits in 1938.

The pageant is hoping it can shine even brighter in future years with the help of a new licensing and branding deal with Infinity Lifestyle Brands and Hilco Consumer Capital.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the arrangement includes plans to let Infinity, which owns and operates brands including Polaroid, Sharper Image and Linens `N Things, help Miss America expand its reach internationally.

Sam Haskell, chairman of the Miss America organization, said the hopes are to take a name that’s already well-known around the world and push its popularity further.

“My whole goal is to see Miss America right up there with the Oscars and the Super Bowl again just like it was in the `60s and `70s,” Haskell told the AP. “I believe we do that by keeping it relevant and by continuing the encouragement of little girls’ dreams, because that’s what brings this pageant to fruition every year.”

To promote the licensing deal, Scanlan sang “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch of Tuesday night’s Yankees-Orioles baseball game in New York. She planned to return to Las Vegas for the first time since winning the crown for a day of events on Thursday to mark the milestone birthday.

Harrison said he hoped his next two years hosting _ running through the end of the pageant’s current ABC deal _ would give the pageant the chance to keep showing how competitors are more than just pretty faces who can strut in bikinis and evening gowns.

“They’re hysterical, they’re great, they’re very real, they’re very normal. They’re strong, yet they have insecurities like every other woman, and so I think showing that a little bit more might help,” Harrison said. “It might help the audience relate a little bit more.”


Oskar Garcia can be reached at https://twitter.com/oskargarcia

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