Thousands of people grabbed the best seats or brought their own Saturday as they awaited the return of the Miss America Show Us Your Shoes Parade.

The parade, last held in Atlantic City in 2004, drew fans young and old, many clad in tiaras, feather boas or T-shirts proclaiming thier favoirte contestant in today's Miss America Competition.

By 6 p.m., the parade reached the front of Boardwalk Hall, the broadcast area that television viewers saw at home.

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There, Miss America Mallory Hagan, Kool and the Gang, and hundreds of local singers and dancers performed for a packed audience.

About 30,000 chairs were placed up and down the Boardwalk for the parade, and in other areas people stood wherever they could to catch a glimpse of the elaborate shoes worn by the contestants.

The tradition goes back decades. When the competition moved to Las Vegas, the contestants walked around a casino holding the shoes in their hands.

The parade's return to Atlantic City brought back the pageantry, excitement and community atmosphere the Las Vegas version lacked.

Miss Arizona Jennifer Smestad received cheers as she showed her cactus-clad golden shoes, and even Mayor Lorenzo Langford won applause as he held up his own shoes for inspection.

The rows of seats were empty hours before the parade began, as fans got a sneak peek at the musical numbers. Rehearsals took place early Saturday outside Boardwalk Hall, as everyone from Kool and the Gang to Hagan prepared for the show.

Then, with a 5 p.m. step-off, the musical acts, floats, bands and other performers rolled down the Boardwalk.

The parade featured 4,000 participants, including people such as Malia Monk, 17, of Galloway Township, who performed with the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company.

Malia's mother, Eileen Hughes, watched as her daughter and dozens of others practiced their numbers earlier in the day.

"She was over the moon excited," Hughes said of her daughter's reaction to learning that the theatre company was going to perform in the parade.

The group was one of dozens of local dance troupes, choirs and other organizations in the parade.

Watching the Miss America Competition, Hughes said, has long been a tradition in her family.

"I remember as a teenager coming up and seeing the parade," Hughes said. "It was just a tradition here. It brought people together."

Michael Melia Jr. said watching Miss America had long been a tradition for him and his family, though he didn't stay to watch the parade in person. Melia was among those who opted not to pay $20 to watch the parade or stand in one of the free areas on the Boardwalk.

"We weren't going to pay $20 for me, my wife, granddaughter, my son and daughter," he said. "That's $100 to sit here."

Instead he planned to watch the show when it is rebroadcast today before the pageant on WPVI "to see who I'm rooting for," then gather with his family to watch the final competition.

"I'll be rooting for New York, New Jersey, the eastern coast," he said.

But plenty of others stayed to watch in person.

Dawn Tucker, of Sicklerville, Camden County, came to cheer for her 7-year-old daughter, Mikayla, one of the hundreds of children performing to "Footloose."

"Are you going to be Miss America one day?" her mother asked.

"I hope so," the little girl replied.

Tucker said the family had spread the word via Facebook and word of mouth about the parade and Mikayla's part in it.

"We're DVRing it," she said as she sat in one of the 30,000 white chairs lined up along the Boardwalk.

Mikayla said she was excited to see Miss America, though she had a suggestion for who could host next year's competition.

"I would like Selena Gomez to host," she said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:



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