The Jersey Shore is back, Miss New Jersey Cara McCollum said in her introduction Tuesday at Boardwalk Hall as the Miss America Competition kicked off the first of three nights of preliminary competition.

McCollum got huge cheers from the audience as she said “Welcome Home, Miss America!”

Wearing high heels and huge smiles as the competition returned to the resort for the first time since 2004, the 53 Miss America hopefuls strutted down the runway, opening the show with the traditional Parade of States that introduces the contestants. Many people in the seats waved signs to show which contestant they were supporting.

The first night’s winners included a $1,000 scholarship for fitness and evening gown going to Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick.

The talent competition, along with a $2,000 scholarship, went to Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo, who sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

The surprise of the evening was Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, who during the swimsuit portion revealed two tattoos on her side and shoulder, the first time a contestant has revealed tattoos at the Miss America competition, according to officials. She has said the two tattoos are the Serenity Prayer and a military medical insignia from the Dental Corps. She is a sergeant and combat medic in the Army National Guard.

Rick said that is was a little hard to stay in shape while going to school for the last year, but she also said she felt confident onstage Tuesday and that helped.

The gown she wore was the same she one she wore for her state pageant, but she said she just loves it and that it has the level of sophistication she wanted to project.

Russo, who is planning a career in sports management, said she was very surprised to win in talent because she felt her group was very strong.

While she hadn’t planned a career on Broadway, she said she wouldn’t turn down an offer to perform. She added that everyone told her not to perform a Barbra Streisand song for her talent, but she felt confident doing it and pointed out that that former Miss America Kate Shindle performed the same song when she won in 1998.

As the audience arrived for Tuesday preliminaries, Steven Ball played the world-famous Boardwalk Hall organ, the first performance on the Midmer-Losh instrument in about 40 years.

While the competition is not a sporting event in the traditional sense, many Miss America hopefuls made their support for hometown teams clear Tuesday, maybe hoping to lure some male viewers away from football this weekend.

Miss Virgin Islands Ashley Massiah mentioned she lives in the birthplace of San Antonio Spurs basketball star Tim Duncan.

The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens got a mention from Miss Maryland Christina Denny.

And Miss Oregon Allison Cook noted that she comes from the home of Nike.

Sports entities have taken notice. Pageant officials said ESPN has interviewed Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo who plans to go into sports management. A Crimson Tide ball gown made for Miss Alabama Chandler Champion has been featured on multiple sports web sites. And NBA player Amar’E Stoudemire is one of the final night’s judges who will pick Miss America 2014.

The first night of competition featured groups of contestants competing in interview, talent, or swimsuit and evening wear.

Tuesday’s talent group included a lot of singers, and some more unusual talents. Miss Arkansas Amy Crain performed a contemporary clog dance to the "Football Night in America" theme and Miss District of Columbia Bindhu Pamarthi performed a Bollywood Dance.

Outside the hall, the crowd began forming on the Boardwalk around 7 p.m., some people discovering for the first time that security measures prohibit large purses. Small signs are permitted and veteran supporters carried signs-on-a-stick promoting their state contestant.

Young girls wearing fancy dresses and tiaras said they hoped to one day walk the runway in Boardwalk Hall. Miss Florida Teen Leah Roddenberry, 14, and Miss Louisiana Teen Baylea Huffman, 16, posed for photos on the Boardwalk.

Family members and supporters continued to arrive in droves Tuesday, most planning to attend every night to show their support. Veterans were thrilled to be back in Atlantic City and newcomers said they looked forward to seeing the city’s attractions during the day as well as the night-time competition.

June Stoeber is Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones’ baton twirling coach. She drove up with her daughter Elizabeth, 10, and her mother, Neenee Johns, and planned to make the most of their week in Atlantic City.

“I’ve taught her since she was six years old,” Stoeber said of Jones. “She’s been very successful in the baton world.

Jones won’t perform until Thursday night’s preliminary, but was scheduled for the on-state interview Tuesday.

Talent counts for the most, 35 percent of the preliminary contest, followed by 25 percent for the private interview, 20 percent for evening wear, 15 percent swimsuit and 5 percent on-stage question. Those scores will determined the top 15 for the finals on Sunday.

All of the contestants are wearing swimsuits by Catalina, and in the opening wore dresses by Ribkoff and shoes by Pink&Pepper, all pageant sponsors.

Contact Diane D'Amico:


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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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