Miss America's Mister America

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Behind every young woman making her way through the gantlet of pageant life in hopes of being crowned Miss America, there's a father, brother or boyfriend or some other man who's probably along for the ride.

These men may not know - or ever really want to know - what "ballet en pointe" is, or hold an appreciation for tap dancing, opera or renditions of half-century old standards. Yet, they come every year to watch the Miss America succession unfold.

This year's televised finals and crowning of Miss America are scheduled for Monday at Aladdin Resort & Casino.

"I really enjoyed myself tonight," 22-year-old Ben Beran, who dates Miss Wisconsin Meghan Coffey, said after watching preliminary competition. "Just seeing the girls tonight, they're a lot better than I thought."

Mike Hamilton of Auburn, Wash., is an engineer by trade who helps on a volunteer basis to coach local contestants how to tackle the thorny interview portion of the pageants. To him, the pageant's appeal rests in being able to glean pointers for the girls he coaches.

"If I had a choice to watch the Patriots and Indianapolis, I'd watch the Patriots and Indianapolis versus the show," he said, referring an NFL matchup.

Like many of the men gathered this weekend at the Aladdin Resort & Casino to see the crowning of a new Miss America on Monday, Hamilton first became involved in the pageant through his daughter, who won local contests and the state title in 1995.

"It's like kids in sports. You go to all your kids' games," he said.

Men easily made up a third of the crowd at one of the gatherings of relatives, friends and supporters of the 52 contestants vying for the title this year. Some seem out of place, with the allure of gambling perhaps distracting them.

Not so with Patrick Coffey, Meghan's father. Praise for the pageant life comes easy for the 63-year-old university administrator, who lives in a suburb of Milwaukee.

Coffey watched his daughter compete as a baton twirler since she was very young and said the pageant is an extension of that. Along the way, he said he's come to appreciate the pageant's offerings.

"I'm not going to say I was dragged kicking and screaming to this, that was not the case," said Coffey, a photo of his daughter pinned onto his lapel.

Beran said he particularly liked a sizzling Tahitian dance routine by Miss Hawaii Pilialoha Gaison, which landed the 23-year-old a $2,000 award.

"I was kinda surprised that I liked it," he said of the talent contest. "It's definitely broken my stereotype of what I pictured these contestants to be."

Seeing the young contestants vie against each other through performance got David Desper hooked on the pageant when he was a boy. Desper earns a living in real estate but volunteers as a local pageant director.

The 54-year-old from Waynesboro, Va., has attended the Miss America pageant for the last 20 years, including when it was held in its longtime Atlantic City home.

"I like the talent portion best, because that shows their hard work and perseverance," he said. "There's a real competitive atmosphere between the fans, and believe it or not, I like football and basketball."