ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Miss America is not supposed to portray the innocent bathing beauty anymore - she's a career woman who is educated and articulate, and she may not even be a virgin, says the pageant's new director.

Miss America contestants, says Leonard Horn, are human beings living in a very liberal 20th century.

''They sweat. They're nervous, they've made mistakes. They may not all be virgins. I don't know whether they are or not. Who cares?'' Horn says. ''I'm sure that if we found out 25 or 30 years ago that a girl lived with somebody or had intercourse, she wouldn't make the morals clause.''

''Today? Come on 3/8'' he says with a laugh.

In an interview last week, Horn described what could become sweeping changes to assure that the public never again views Miss America as just a beauty queen.

The Atlantic City attorney, who has volunteered with the pageant for the past 25 years, replaced Albert Marks as director of the 68-year-old contest, ending Marks' 35-year reign.

The biggest challenge for pageant directors always has been attracting television viewers in the same age group as the contestants. The contest has a loyal following of older women and young starry-eyed girls, but young college and career women often spurn the event as old-fashioned, Horn said.

This year's pageant will emphasize the contestants' backgrounds much more, he said.

''These women are interesting individuals,'' Horn said. ''They're thinking human beings. You can get any one of them in an intense conversation. And for the most part, they're pretty courageous kids to put themselves on the line for some specific goal, whether it's for a scholarship or displaying their derriere - which is probably not the case anymore.''

Some standards still apply, however. Horn said former Miss America Vanessa Williams had to be dethroned after nude photographs were published in order to protect the integrity of a pageant that still wants young girls to dream about the crown.

The pageant also is not seeking only drop-dead-gorgeous contestants.

''If a young woman considered herself to be the ugliest person in the world, she could still enter a local pageant,'' Horn said. ''Those who enter these contests enter because they are confident enough of their beauty. So what is defined as 'beauty' is self-limiting by the contestants.''

An updated stage production is planned as a way to reshape the contest's image.

Tony and Emmy award-winning Broadway producer Donald Pippin will be music director for this year's show, replacing Glen and Edna Osser, who have handled the productions for the past 35 years.

''They did a great job, but there comes a time when you've got to change things,'' Horn said. ''The music has to be more upbeat. We don't want to go into hard rock, but we are dealing with young people so we don't want to turn them off.''

Another change aimed at luring more viewers will be bringing in celebrity judges on the final night of the pageant to pick from the top 10 contestants, Horn said.

This year's pageant will be held Sept. 10, a week earlier than usual to accommodate NBC-TV's coverage of the Olympic games. Horn said that next year the pageant might be moved from its traditional Saturday night television slot, aired live from 10 p.m. to midnight.

''Some sponsors feel we can do better in prime time, like maybe Sunday or Monday evening,'' he said.

Horn's most controversial change might be in the way he will revise seating in Atlantic City's Convention Center.

Many of the reserved boxes near the runway have been passed down among generations of Miss America supporters, but now will be given to the pageant's eight sponsors for their executives. Some of the resort's casinos have been offered a chance to buy boxes - at a hefty premium - for their high rollers.

Horn denies that the pageant has become too commercial.

''Just because someone has been sitting in a box for 30 years,'' he said, ''does not mean they should be filling a box that can be filled more financially in order to keep the pageant here in Atlantic City.''