By Chris Nashawaty
Updated January 25, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

And the winner of the 2009 Miss America Pageant is…

Do you really care?

Actually, there was a time — not so long ago, really — when Americans did, tuning in in record numbers. It was like the Super Bowl with evening wear. But in 2009, the thought of seeing 52 young women (the extra two are for Miss District of Columbia and Miss U.S. Virgin Islands) awkwardly prance around in bikinis and high heels (there’s a look you see in real life a lot) and showing off their hokey “talents” like tap dancing and belting out their rendition of “Home” from The Wiz, seems not just like bad programming, but embarrassingly out-of-step with the times. And the fact that the mirrored stage made the whole thing look like it was being broadcast live from the Champagne Room at Cheetah’s, didn’t help matters either. Watching it, you couldn’t help thinking that every 10 minutes of air time set the women’s movement back another decade — a sad situation that even host Mario Lopez, jockeying to become the poor-man’s Seacrest, couldn’t right. What, was Joey Fatone busy?

Let’s be honest, if these young women (most of whom looked well beyond the 17 to 24 age limit thanks to their knack for applying make-up with a trowel) really had any discernible talent beyond spouting rehearsed platitudes about how they plan to improve the state of the world with a tiara on top of their Texas-sized hairdos, they would have already signed up for Top Chef, Project Runway, or American Idol instead of slumming it on this low-rent cavalcade. Not that TLC didn’t try to get with the times. This year’s “updated” Miss America format included a lame, lead-up reality TV series that had the gals fighting for wildcard spots in the big event. Not a bad idea, in theory. But a pageant that requires that much commitment from viewers is doomed when there are so many better things on like, oh, I don’t know, Howie Do It. And the addition of a loser’s lounge, where the freshly eliminated had to sit, stew, and shoot dagger-eyes at the contestants who were still standing, was an uncalled-for extra helping of humiliation. Actually, that part was kind of fun.

Still, you can’t blame the producers of Miss America for wanting to hip things up a bit. After all, there’s nothing in American popular culture that’s as hopelessly square as this wheezy old soap opera. But adding Lopez (whose smarmy ad-libbing was excruciating) and some weak reality challenges was hardly a step in the right direction. Then again, what do you expect from TLC — the network that’s currently running the creepy JonBenet Ramsey-style show, Toddlers & Tiaras?

Maybe the only honest moment in the show came when Miss District of Columbia admitted to the camera that she was only in it for the scholarship money and to get out of debt. Wow, was she really just allowed to say that? Naturally, she didn’t make it to the Final Five. So, who did walk away with an armful of long-stem roses and the rhinestone crown? Well, if you read this far, I suppose you’ve earned the right to know: that would be Miss Indiana.

Go Hoosiers!

Congratulations, Miss America 2009. We’ll all be paying rapt attention to your first 100 days in office. For now, be gracious and leave the whole world peace thing to our new president. Instead, how about making your first official act as the reigning queen to put this dated contest out of its misery once and for all?

What did you think of Miss America…that is, if you’re brave enough to admit you watched it?

addCredit(“Denise Truscello/WireImage”)