The producers of "America's Most Wanted" -- presumably miffed that NBC's "To Catch a Predator" has cornered the market on embarrassing would-be child predators on national TV -- have decided to kick the entrapment up a notch. Instead of luring men with an everyday woman who -- with the assistance of a ponytail and baseball cap -- passes for a 14-year-old, they've brought in ... Miss America. The commercial for the upcoming special is a must-see: After a clip of the beauty queen's recent sting, the following message crawls across the screen: "This is the last person the accused perverts ever expected to see. Who is she?" Cut to footage of Lauren Nelson, Miss America 2007, strutting and spinning across a stage in an itsy-bitsy bikini. It was at this point that I nearly spewed my midday coffee.
Nelson not only looks great in a bikini but can now officially "add crime fighter to her resume," says the Associated Press. The 20-year-old went undercover with New York's Suffolk County Police Department and helped to nab at least four men who now face charges; Nelson first chatted online and on the phone with potential predators, posing as a 14-year-old and sending them photos of herself as a teenager. Then, per the usual routine, she invited them to a Long Island home -- complete with an undercover police presence, hidden cameras, a camera crew and a big-shot TV host -- saying she was cutting class to see them. "I stood outside on the porch, and I would say 'Hi' to them and wave them inside," Nelson said. Once inside, the men were interrogated on-camera by host John Walsh.
Without commenting on untelevised police stings of this sort, I will say the sensationalistic and exploitative -- yes, exploitative -- nature of these TV shows makes me incredibly squeamish. Publicly humiliating mentally ill individuals seems to satisfy the general public's sick desires more than it does anything to deter would-be pedophiles. (I've seen at least one offender caught twice on "To Catch a Predator.") Adding celebrities -- a beauty queen, no less -- into the mix only ups the ick factor.
What's next? A celeb-reality TV series where contestants compete to see who can entice the most predators?