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New dress, old furniture, for opera-singing Miss D.C. Jen Corey

Miss DC 2009 Jen Corey attends a fitting at the Washington National Opera's costume studio, which built her dress for the Miss America pageant. (Washington National Opera)

Jen Corey in full Miss America contestant mode, in Las Vegas this weekend. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Yes, there still is a Miss America pageant.

Not in Atlantic City and not on network television, but still hanging in there, complete with tears and tiara. Miss D.C. 2009, Jennifer Corey, is competing in Las Vegas this week for Saturday's finals (live on TLC, for all you rhinestone junkies) -- with some help from the Washington National Opera.

The 22-year-old beauty queen, a music major grad from American University, has worked for the opera's education department since 2008. When she won the title in July on her third attempt for the crown, the opera's costume studio offered to design her gown for the talent competition.

"If you've ever seen an opera costume up close, it's not always the prettiest dress," Corey told us. "But they know what looks good onstage, under the lights, from far away. And they know how to create a dress someone can sing in."

The royal-blue tiered gown ("very sparkly") has an expandable, hidden panel that allows her to perform an aria from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" -- unlike her skintight black dress for the evening gown competition in which, she admits, "I can't breathe."

Miss DC 2009 Jen Corey attends a fitting at the Washington National Opera's costume studio. WNO built her dress for the Miss America pageant. (Washington National Opera)Enlarge Image

Every Miss America contender must have a "platform" or cause; Corey's is "Let's Talk Trash," or recycling -- the first time a contestant has picked it for her platform, she says. Among her bona fides: She decorated her apartment with used items from Goodwill stores, and she collaborated on a "hip-hopera" with Grammy-nominated rapper Kokayi for Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Her competition in Vegas will include, among others, Miss Virginia Caressa Cameron, 22, a Fredericksburg native and VCU student (talent: singing; platform: AIDS education) and Miss Maryland Brooke Poklemba, 24, a Carroll County behavioral therapist (talent: singing; platform: autism intervention).

By The Reliable Source  |  January 25, 2010; 1:02 AM ET
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