NEW YORK -- Sharlene Wells, a Mormon Sunday school teacher, began her reign Monday as Miss America 1985 by promising to restore traditional values to the title following the Vanessa Williams scandal.
Wells, a strawberry blonde nicknamed 'Charlie,' said she did not think the selection of a Mormon was a ploy to make sure there was no repeat of the controversy that led Williams to give up her title following publication of explicit photos in Penthouse magazine.
'They never asked me any questions dealing with religion, dealing with morals, dealing with any of that in my interview,' Wells said. 'So how they would know, besides the fact that I came from Utah?'
The 5-foot-8, 120-pound Salt Lake City native began the traditional start of her reign with a news conference at the Hotel Intercontinental in Manhattan.
Even her outfit was traditional -- a feminine pink suit, pink stockings and shoes, and pearl necklace and earings.
Afterward, she posed for photographers in the center lane of busy Park Avenue, causing more than one taxicab to screech to a halt to get a better look.
Wells said the Williams controversy, which unraveled when Penthouse magazine said it published nude pictures of the first black Miss America, has not damaged the pageant.
'I think what has happened is we have redefined what Miss America stands for,' she said. 'Miss America has always stood for certain ethics, I would have to say, the traditional values.'
Wells said the controversy made her work harder to win the title because, 'I thought, hey, I don't want people to think that of Miss America. Maybe that was Vanessa, but that's not what the Miss America pageant stands for.
'Hopefully, I will project the image of concern about people in general, about our country, about recognizing that we do have a creator, and that we have on our coins, 'In God We Trust.''
Penthouse magazine spokesman Sy Presten said he did not know when or if publisher Bob Guccione would reveal the identity of a pageant contestant who posed nude in 350 slides.
Guccione said last week he would print the pictures if the contestant won, but 'he has no plans at this moment to say anything,' Presten said.
The selection Saturday night of the non-smoking, non-drinking Miss Utah -- who said she has never posed in the nude -- relieved scandal-weary pageant officials. 'She is almost too good to be true,' said one.
Wells said the image of Miss America 'varies from year to year. Sometimes it's glamourous, sometimes it's the girl next door, sometimes it's fluffhead, sometimes it's intelligent.'
Wells, who favors President Reagan in the November election, said she believed in school prayer and is opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment, premarital sex and abortion unless the pregnancy was due to rape, incest or would endanger the life of the mother.
Asked about the Mormons' former custom of taking more than one wife, she laughed and said, 'That was a few years ago, I believe. Many, many years ago. That's history now.'