Ukiah hometown favorite Melissa Chaty, the reigning Miss California, was a close contender Saturday night for the Miss America crown, coming in among the top eight finalists.
Chaty, 24, who grew up in Ukiah, was among 51 other aspiring beauty queens competing in Las Vegas for the top prize.
But in the end, it was Miss Michigan, Kirsten Haglund, 19, an aspiring Broadway star, who was crowned Miss America 2008 in the 87th running of the pageant.
Saturday's contest, broadcast on the TLC cable channel, was billed as a reinvention of the pageant, which has struggled with declining TV ratings for more than a decade.
Contestants wore blue jeans, added a little self-deprecating humor and occasionally struck provocative poses in the swimwear competition in which most wore black bikinis.
For the talent portion, Chaty, a 2002 graduate of Ukiah High School, sang "The Jewel Song" from the opera Faust.
Haglund, of Farmington Hills, Mich., sang "Over the Rainbow" to clinch the title. She beat Miss Indiana, Nicole Elizabeth Rach, the first runner-up and Miss Washington, Elyse Umemoto, the second runner-up, for the $50,000 scholarship and year of travel that comes with the crown.
In an attempt to update the contest and attract a younger demographic, TLC added the pageant to its reality TV line-up. Prior to Saturday's finale, viewers got to go behind the scenes with the young women and listen to style experts take shots at the contestants' hair, makeup and talent.
Chaty's mother, Karen, said her daughter tried to stay in the background of the reality show.
"Her strategy was to stay off camera. It can backfire," she said Friday.
Chaty's parents still live in the Ukiah area and were at the competition Saturday along with many friends and supporters of the reigning Miss California.
Chaty's mother is director of personnel services at Mendocino College and her father, Dennis, is a land use planner for Mendocino County.
Melissa Chaty works for the Alzheimer's Association in San Diego, where she now lives.
She majored in psychology with a minor in music at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, graduating cum laude. Her stated career ambition is to run a nonprofit agency that meets community needs.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@