“Six-and-a-half minutes to air, everybody. Six-and-a-half minutes to air,” boomed a voice on the loudspeakers over Kennedy Plaza Saturday night.
Young dancers in glittery gold and pink costumes with crimson lipstick smiles stood in formation mimicking the moves they were about to perform as the Miss America parade returned to the Boardwalk after an eight-year hiatus.
Within minutes, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk went live on television for two hours presenting dozens of dance troupes, marching bands, choirs and — of course — the 53 women vying to be crowned the next Miss America at Boardwalk Hall tonight.
Trumpets played, dancers twirled and batons were thrown as the resort celebrated the homecoming of its long lost daughter, Miss America. Now, however, the spectacle known as the Show Us Your Shoes Parade has grown up, some said.
“I’m amazed — just blown away — to see this. It’s not what it used to be,” said Stella Martin, of Philadelphia, a faithful parade-goer who returned to Atlantic City for the show.
Topping off the night were a long list of performances. There was a group of 550 neon-clad children clutching neon scarves dancing to “Footloose,” and an enthusiastic gospel choir. Miss America’s Outstanding Teens were transported to Boardwalk by rolling chairs and a float before jumping off to perform their number.
There was a performance by Kool and the Gang perched atop the Tropicana’s float, and Miss America 1998 Kate Shindle sang wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey as two floats of former Miss Americas passed by.
In true Atlantic City form, the 53 beauty queens graced the Boardwalk perched on the back seats of convertibles. The somewhat quieter crowd of VIPs seated at Boardwalk Hall were somewhat reserved, generally refraining from calling out, “Show us your shoes,” but the women did anyway.
Miss California Crystal Lee, one of two women with that name competing for the crown this year, proudly presented her gold sequined Minnie Mouse-inspired high heels to the crowd. She was dressed in a navy blue polka dot dress with a headband adorned with a red bow in a nod to the female cartoon mouse who resides at Disneyland in her home state.
Prior to the parade, Lee’s sister, mother and godmother were preparing for her entrance by putting on matching bow headbands. Her sister, Jamine Lee, and her mother, Wendy Lee, said the costume took at least a month to make as each rhinestone was hand-glued by a loyal team of supporters. Wendy Lee joked that the group had rhinestone meetings every Monday.
“We were one big group of rhinestone workers putting together Crystal’s costume,” Jasmine Lee said.
The parade kicked off in front of Revel after 5 p.m.. Atlantic City’s South Inlet neighborhood saw new life as marching bands took advantage of empty lots for practice space as they waited their turn to begin.
Residents took advantage of the opportunity to watch the spectacle from their front stoops.
Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones, who tore her ACL Thursday while rehearsing her baton twirling act, said she has received plenty of offers to carry her wherever she needs to go. She received loud cheers by the time she reached Boardwalk Hall in a blue and orange costume with green sequined shoes in the shape of alligators, in a nod to the University of Florida.
Crowds packed the Boardwalk hours before the parade began hoping to get the best seats either in the free viewing sections or among the reserved seats. Among the paid seats, parade watchers were assigned a section but still had to arrive early to capture the best seats in the section.
Brenda McMahan, of Monroe, La., was one of those who arrived early. She was trying to garner some last minute support on the Boardwalk for Miss Louisiana Jaden Leach and her Mardi Gras themed costume.
McMahan and other members of the Miss Louisiana Organization were handing out Mardi Gras beads on the Boardwalk before the parade began.
“We’re sort of doing Mardi Gras in reverse, giving out the beads beforehand,” she said. “Everybody loves them. It’s just so much fun being here.”
Atlantic City Emergency Management Director Tom Foley estimated that the parade drew 225,000 spectators to the Boardwalk based on visual estimates. Of the total crowd, the Miss America Organization had 30,000 reserved seats lining the Boardwalk, but tickets for some of those seats were still being sold less than an hour before the show.
Tom Gilbert, commander of the Atlantic City Tourism District, said the parade and the competition have given the city a reason to step up its efforts to create a clean and safe environment. He said throughout the week he’s heard compliments about the district’s Boardwalk Ambassadors.
While the amount of personnel has been increased, none were directed to do anything more than their usual duties.
“What you’re seeing is that everyone here is just very proud to have Miss America in Atlantic City. They’re stepping it up because they want to," he said. "We’ve got a lot of families with young kids here today. The goal is that they have a good time and see what Atlantic City can really be as a tourism destination.”
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