LAS VEGAS — The journey to Miss America ended for Miss Utah Jill Stevens tonight as she was eliminated from the competition after landing in the finals as the "America's Choice" candidate, chosen by voters on the Web.

Though she had one of the largest cheering sections — one full of soldiers from the Utah National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves — and the most publicity of any candidate leading up to the competition, it wasn't enough to win over the hearts of the Miss America judges.

The crown has yet to be bestowed at the annual pageant tonight at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Miss America 2007, Lauren Nelson, will crown the winner about 8 p.m. MST.

Stevens, 24, from Kaysville, and a nursing graduate from Southern Utah University, cleared a critical hurdle early in the competition when 37 contestants, including Stevens, were eliminated by judges.

This year's pageant offered something different from pageants over the previous 86 years. Stevens was chosen by votes cast at www.tlc.com to be the America's Choice candidate, landing her in the top 16.

The Learning Channel, which is hosting the pageant for the next three years, aired a reality show over the past four weeks, "Miss America: Reality Check," which showcased the 52 contestants in a variety of team challenges while they lived together in a Los Angeles mansion during a week in November.

From the airing of the first episode in early January, Miss America fans voted for their favorite.

Stevens' supporters organized a campaign to support her online, and it paid off, allowing her to compete in the fitness/swimsuit part of the competition.

Stevens, a 12-time marathoner, was the only one of the top 16 contestants to wear a one-piece swimsuit.

Following the swimsuit competition, six contestants were eliminated, including Stevens.

Always a ham, Stevens joined the remaining contestants in a set of push-ups before exiting the stage.

Her elimination meant that she didn't compete in evening wear, talent or on-stage question. Contestants were eliminated following each portion of the evening.

Since last year, more than 13,000 women competed in local pageants. And about 1,300 of them competed in state pageants. That led to the 52 contestants — one from each state, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands — who hit the stage this evening.

Stevens, who was deployed as a medic with the Utah National Guard to Afghanistan for a year, decided to compete in the Miss Southern Utah University pageant in 2006, won and landed the first runner-up spot at the Miss Utah pageant that year.

In 2007, Stevens won the Miss Davis County and subsequent Miss Utah pageant.

Now, she returns to Utah to finish her reign as Miss Utah until the state's pageant in June.

Then, as she says, she will have her life back and plans to celebrate that fact at a party this evening after the pageant.


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