Gary Susman
August 02, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Nearly 20 years after pageant judges selected the first black Miss America, the 81-year-old Miss America pageant is getting its first black host. It’s two-time Emmy nominee Wayne Brady, the improv comic best known for ”Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and ”The Wayne Brady Show.” An ABC team player, he’ll emcee the network’s Miss America telecast on Sept. 21, less than three weeks into the run of the daytime version of ”The Wayne Brady Show.”

”My selection as host is a defining moment, as I will be able to proudly represent the African-American community for the first time in the telecast’s history,” Brady told the Associated Press. That said, he downplayed his race as a deciding factor in his getting the job. ”I wasn’t cast for my color,” Brady said. ”I was asked because, [more] than some of the previous hosts, I bring a youthful energy to the proceedings. I’m the first African-American and that’s great, but let’s move on.”

”Youthful energy” is certainly something pageant organizers would love to see more of, particularly in the show’s ratings, which rose slightly last year after a six-year decline. At 30, Brady will certainly be one of the youngest pageant hosts ever. Last year’s host, Tony Danza, was 50; other hosts have included such old-timers as Regis Philbin and Bert Parks. Pageant president George Bauer described Brady as a host whose ”intelligent wit and warm-hearted presence will help illuminate how special our young women are.”

Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America in 1983. Though she was forced to resign before her term was up when Penthouse magazine published nude photos of her, she has gone on to enjoy a successful singing and acting career and probably remains the best-known Miss America ever. Since Williams, four other African-American women have worn the tiara.

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