Rich Helfant remembers the first year of the Miss’d America pageant, when the winner was awarded a Burger King paper crown and given a bouquet of dead roses wrapped in The Press of Atlantic City’s help wanted ads.

He recalls another year early on when winner Chunky Marinara fell through the runway.

In 1995, Mortimer Spreng was crowned on a night he sang Julie Covington’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from a balcony.

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These are just a few past highlights of Miss’d America: an event that, despite its ups and downs, has become a staple for the LGBTQ community in South Jersey.

This Saturday, the pageant returns to Atlantic City for its 26th installment, having evolved from the confines of the former Studio Six nightclub to the Event Center at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, where it will again be hosted by celebrity designer Carson Kressley.

GALLERY: Miss'd America through the years

This Saturday, the Miss'd America pageant returns to Atlantic City for its 26th installment, having evolved from the confines of the former Studio Six nightclub to the Event Center at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, where it will again be hosted by celebrity designer Carson Kressley. Take a look at the evolution of the pageant through the years.

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From right, Melanie Banks, primps in the mirror as Sheena Hipp and Salotta Tee get ready in a dressing room for the MissÕd America Pageant at …

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Guest performer Joy Marnier does latin dance with male dancers. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City…

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One of the production numbers during the Miss'd America Pageant, at the Studio Six outside theater, in Atlantic City, Sunday 9/21/03. The spoo…

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Faith Cherrywood performs his/her talent portion of the Miss'd America Pageant, a spoof on the Miss America. Pageant, held at Studio Six , Atl…

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Miss Tenee waves to the crowd after being crowned in the eighth annual Miss'd America Pageant on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999, in Atlantic City, N.J…

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From left, Claudia DuMont, Dee LaMour and Faith Cherrywood, prepare for the Miss'd America Pageant, at the Studio Six outside theater, in Atla…

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MISSDAMERICA---Miss Dareena Ho sings dressed as a Hershey's kiss....Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd America........SUNDAY 09/19/…

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Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City, September 18, 1994

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Derina Hoe in evening gown. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compete for the…

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The Miss'd America Pageant will be held at the Surfside Hotel in AC on Sunday, Sept. 19. ( L to R) Tene' Long of AC and Sheena Valquez from Pe…

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Salata Tea does comedy lip sync in talent. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers …

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MISSDAMERICA---It was a full house to watch the annual event....Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd America........SUNDAY 09/19/2004…

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Sheena, MissÕd America 2003 begins walk down runway. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross…

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MISSDAMERICA---Sandy Robert Beach , one of the MC’s , loosens the crowd up between events...Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss’d Amer…

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MISSDAMERICA---Miss Princess Janee comes backstage after doing her number.....Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd America........SUN…

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MissÕd America 2002 Claudia DuMont crowns Sheena the MissÕd America 2003. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atl…

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The Miss'd America Pageant will be held at the Surfside Hotel in AC on Sunday, Sept. 19. Here Sheena Valquez of Pennsylvania rehearses her num…

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Miss Tenee performs song and dance combo during the eighth annual Miss'd America Pageant on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999, in Atlantic City, N.J. The…

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Derina Hoe in evening gown. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compete for the…

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Ginger Ale performs his/her swimsuit portion of the Miss'd America Pageant, a spoof on the Miss America. Pageant, held at Studio Six , Atlanti…

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Faith Cherrywood puts on make-up before putting on hair in a dressing room for the MissÕd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City.

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Deela Moore performs in talent. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compete for…

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MISSDAMERICA---A contestant walks the runway during the swimsuit competion ....Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd America........SU…

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MISSDAMERICA---Sandy Robert Beach , one of the MC's , loosens the crowd up between events...Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd Amer…

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Guest performer Chlamydia Liverpool. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compet…

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Derina Hoe performs in talent. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compete for …

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Ginger Louise performs in talent. Sun. 9/22/02 11th annual Miss'd America Pageant at Studio Six in Atlantic City. Ten cross-dressers compete f…

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The Miss'd America Pageant will be held at the Surfside Hotel in AC on Sunday, Sept. 19. Tene' Long of AC shows us what it takes to be a drag …

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MISSDAMERICA---Former Miss'd America , Chunkie Marinara , wowed the crowd and a few laughs , too. ....Eight contestants vie for the crown of M…

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Ginger Ale performs his/her talent portion of the Miss'd America Pageant, a spoof on the Miss America. Pageant, held at Studio Six , Atlantic …

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MISSDAMERICA---Miss Faith Cherrywood sings during the talent portion of the program ....Eight contestants vie for the crown of Miss'd America.…

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MISSDAMERICA---Last years Miss'd America , Brittany Lynn , crowns the new Miss'd America , Miss Andrea LaMour ....Eight contestants vie for th…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Sapphira Cristal of texas, aka O'Neill Nichol Hayne…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Host Carson Kressley.

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Pattaya Hart, aka Methawee "Plu" Sayampol, of New Y…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Host Carson Kressley.

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Pattaya Hart, aka Methawee "Plu" Sayampol, of New Y…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Sapphira Cristal of texas, aka O'Neill Nichol Hayne…

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Ms. Pattaya Hart, aka Methawee ‘Plu’ Sayampol, of New York City, is crowned Miss’d America on Saturday night at the Borgata in Atlantic City. …

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss’d America contest is held. Ms.Pattaya Hart, aka Methawee “Plu” Sayampol, of New Y…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Morgan Morgan Morgan of Pennyslvania during the tal…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Morgan Morgan Morgan of Pennyslvania during the tal…

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On October 7th, 2017, at the Borgata casino, the annual Miss'd America contest is held. Ms.Pattaya Hart of New York City.

Founded by Studio Six’s co-owners, John Schultz and Gary Hill of the Schultz-Hill Foundation, Miss’d America — a fundraiser for local LGBTQ charities in the South Jersey area — is a spoof on the annual Miss America pageant.

Helfant said the name Miss’d America came after many personnel involved with running the Miss America pageant — from makeup artists to hair stylists to costume designers — were unable to actually watch the show at Boardwalk Hall. The drag pageant allowed those affiliated with Miss America to watch Atlantic City’s own take on the pageant.

“The very first year it was a modest event,” said Helfant, who is president of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance and co-executive producer of the pageant.

By the second year it became a fundraiser for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. With that, its popularity grew.

“It just exploded,” Helfant said. “It would sell out without advertising. It became a must-see event. We would start selling tickets for the following year’s pageant the night after (the event).”

The pageant was standing-room-only every year and the show would have to turn people away at the door. Helfant said it was well attended by both the gay and straight communities.

“People from all walks of life, from politicians to casino workers, would attend,” Helfant said.

However, not long after Miss America decided to leave for Las Vegas in 2005, Miss’d America halted production, Helfant said.

“Miss’d America was always the night after Miss America because it poked fun and mirrored it in every sense of the word with swimsuit, talent and Q&A segments,” Helfant said. “When Miss America left, we felt we really can’t present our pageant without having a Miss America prior.”

But like Miss America, the pageant eventually returned to the Queen of Resorts.

Since its return in 2010, Miss’d America has had multiple homes, including Boardwalk Hall, the House of Blues, Harrah’s Resort and Borgata.

James Heath-Clark, known as Honey Davenport, was crowned Miss’d America 2015. Heath-Clark said people don’t realize that thousands of dollars and about a year of preparation go into each contestant’s routine.

But it all paid off for Heath-Clark when he was crowned the winner.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” Heath-Clark said.

Another thing some may not realize is the activism and support the winner provides for the local LGBT community.

“Honey was a very well-spoken individual and he really took his reign and he did so much for our community in promoting the brand and Atlantic City,” Helfant said. “It’s more important that people realize that the pageant allows people to shine for who they are and present another form of entertainment.”

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Contact: 609-272-7258 mreil@pressofac.com

Twitter @acpressmaxreil

I’ve written for multiple publications including Levittown Now, Passyunk Post, Philadelphia Neighborhoods,Temple News and JUMP Magazine. I’ve covered arts, entertainment, business, music, sports and local government. Experienced in videography.

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