Gary Hill, left, and Miss'd America pageant co-founder John Schultz hold a press conference Tuesday on the return of the pageant to Boardwalk Hall after a five-year hiatus. The pageant is slated for Jan. 31. Danny Drake

ATLANTIC CITY — Miss’d America is still all about drag queens, but the pageant showed signs Tuesday of going mainstream.

The spoof on Miss America returns to Atlantic City on Jan. 31 — after five years of hibernation — complete with three corporate sponsors. They include Grey Goose Vodka, Trump Entertainment Resorts and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. The latter two companies control seven of Atlantic City’s casinos. 

Plus Miss’d America will go from 400 seats on the deck of a gay nightclub to a 2,800-seat ballroom in Boardwalk Hall, the longtime home of Miss America. And its host there, Jeffrey Vasser of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, even called the show “wholesome” at a Tuesday press conference announcing that Miss’d America is returning to life and the local scene.

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“Our runway needs to be dusted off,” Vasser said, but he drew a few laughs at the meeting, with Boardwalk Hall’s main auditorium as his backdrop, by saying the drag/comedy show presents a “crown fit for a queen.”

The organizers, including Rich Helfant of the Greater Atlantic City LGBT Alliance and Miss’d America co-founder John Schultz, said they expect to have no trouble filling seats in Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom.

Schultz, who is also an Atlantic City councilman, owned Studio Six, the club where Miss’d America was born in 1993 and was a big hit through 2004. Miss America moved out of Atlantic City in 2005 and Studio Six closed in 2007.

“We used to turn away thousands of people” who wanted tickets to the drag show, Schultz said Tuesday. “Thousands. … We couldn’t even advertise it, because it was always sold out.”

Customers who wanted tickets always included blocks of requests from the city’s casinos, he added. Miss’d America had to limit the number of tickets they let the casinos buy, but the 700-percent jump in the number of seats available should solve that problem.

The organizers also expect a new co-host, Carson Kressley of the Bravo TV hit “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” to help them sell some of those seats. Kressley will oversee the evening with the pageant’s chief writer and director, Sandy Beach – an Atlantic City native sometimes known as Robert Hitchen – who was one of two male guests at the meeting to give a taste of what Miss’d America is all about by showing up in women’s clothes. 

Helfant and Vasser cast the return of the pageant partly as one of Atlantic City’s ongoing efforts to market itself to a gay and lesbian audience. Helfant said the city needs to be “aggressive and competitive for every market segment.”

But Schultz estimated a bit later that in the Studio Six days, straight customers made up 80 percent of the crowd for Miss’d America.

The tickets to the 2010 version will run from $35 to $100 and are scheduled to go on sale today. Those top-price tickets include admission to parties before the pageant at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and afterward at the Dusk nightclub in Caesars Atlantic City, both just a few steps down the Boardwalk from Boardwalk Hall. 

The reborn Miss’d America will raise funds for several charities, among them the Greater Atlantic City LGBT Alliance, the Schultz-Hill Scholarship Foundation and the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. The pageant had raised more than $230,000 for charity by the time of its hiatus, according to Schultz. 

Returning to its roots, the Miss’d America Pageant is scheduled for the night after Miss America 2010 is crowned – only that other dress-up pageant is now in January, in Las Vegas. Schultz smiled as he noted that Miss’d America is the pageant that “never left Atlantic City.”

And Helfant suggested that the drag show could build on its crossover into the mainstream by growing even bigger in the future.

Standing on that balcony overlooking the 12,000-plus-seat main Boardwalk Hall auditorium, he repeated that “Miss’d America this year will be crowned (in the ballroom) across the building from here.”

But “next year,” a hopeful Helfant said, with a wave behind him, “Miss’d America will be crowned in this room.”  

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