OCEAN CITY — Three singers tied Friday night in the talent contest during the second night of preliminary competition at the Miss New Jersey Pageant.

Miss Salem County Katie Skwirut, of Salem, Miss Stars and Stripes Venessa Baez, of Bloomfield, Essex County, and Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentilletti, of Vineland, each sang during the talent portion and won. Co-host Dena Blizzard said it was the first time the pageant has had a three-way tie.

The results came on the second and final night of preliminary competition in the 80th annual Miss New Jersey Pageant. The new Miss New Jersey will be crowned tonight at the Music Pier.

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The three talent winners said they were thrilled to be part of history.

“I am ecstatic,” Baez said. “I feel like my uncle was there with me.”

She dedicated the song “Show Off” to her Uncle Eddie Centeno, who died just before the pageant activities began.

Skwirut, a first-time competitor said she was “a little bit shocked, a little stunned” by her share of the win. An opera singer, she performed “Der Holle Rache” by Mozart.

Gentilletti sang the song “Anthem” from the musical “Chess.” “When I first heard it I knew it was the song (I wanted to sing). It captivated me,” she said

Friday night’s other winners were Miss Central Coast Melissa Hoffman, of Cranford, Union County, who won the night’s swimsuit or lifestyle competition, and Miss Atlantic Shores Carissa Palumbo, of Wayne, Passaic County, who won for evening wear.

Cohost Karen Rogers, of ABC 6 and a former Miss New Jersey, credited the Miss America program with instilling confidence in the women who take part.

“After you’ve walked onto a stage in a swimsuit, walking into a board room is never a problem,” Rogers said after the lifestyle competition, which featured the women in swimsuits.

Palumbo also was Friday’s parade winner. The community service award went to Miss South Shore Area Anna Negron, of Vineland.

The new Miss New Jersey will be crowned on Saturday night at the Music Pier. Saturday’s competition will include an appearance by the current Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan, of Tennessee.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:


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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