OCEAN CITY — Garment bags, jam-packed suitcases and even full-length mirrors were hauled into the Forum Motor Inn on Tuesday morning as one by one the 23 contestants in this year’s Miss New Jersey Pageant arrived.

“It feels like it’s the first day of school,” said Vivian Hoffman as she helped her daughter, Miss Central Coast Melissa Hoffman, of Cranford, unload her car. “It’s that feeling of being proud to see your child move on.”

Miss Middlesex County Angie Abdelrehim’s sister, Soha, helped as they tried to stuff Abdelrehim and her luggage into the elevator.

“I’m so thrilled for her,” her sister said.

As they arrived, the contestants competing in Saturday night’s finals at the Music Pier checked in, each receiving a Michael Kors purse containing $50 in ones.

The Miss New Jersey Education Foundation pays for their stay and the dollar bills are included as a way for the women to show their appreciation during the week to the many local businesses that will host them or to buy incidentals.

After everyone checked in, they each counted off, 1 to 23, to make sure they were all together before heading out for the day.

Proud parents and pageant supporters clapped as the women — after dropping off their bags and meeting their roommates — headed to the Music Pier for orientation and the first day of rehearsals for this week’s pageant.

Preliminary competition starts Thursday night at 7 p.m. followed by another round of preliminaries Friday and finals Saturday, when a new Miss New Jersey will be crowned.

The pageant gives the women an opportunity to win college scholarship money and it shines the spotlight on Ocean City, particularly this year when the Miss America pageant is returning to nearby Atlantic City in September.

“It’s special for everybody. Everybody in this area is excited,” said pageant co-director Sally Johnston. “None of us thought it should have left, and even my friends across the country are excited.”

The return of Miss America, which left Atlantic City in 2005, means the Garden State’s representative gets to play host, Johnston said.

“It’s really wonderful for Miss New Jersey. Coming down the parade route she’ll have so many extra people rooting for her,” Johnston said.

State Director Lisa Pawlus said it was an exciting time as the contestants arrived.

“One of these girls is going to be the state girl. The hometown girl,” she said.

Early Tuesday, each of the women had a chance to sign her name on a map of New Jersey, highlighting where they come from. The contestants are a mix of first-time competitors and returnees from across the state. Some are college students, some graduated high school just last week and others are about to start their careers.

Each sported a homemade T-shirt Tuesday, a chance to tell a story about themselves.

Miss Seashore Line Kaitlyn Schoeffel wore a train conductor’s hat with a shirt that read “All aboard to the shore.” Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentiletti kept it simple, using her shirt to remind people of her name. “It’s like Kayla without the K,” the shirt read.

Miss Northern Lakes Andi Cocozza, a budding actress with plans to head for Los Angeles one day, simply put her name, “Andi,” on her shirt surrounded by miniature sparkling lights.

Gentiletti, competing for the first time, found herself sharing a room with Venessa Baez, who is making her sixth and final trip to Miss New Jersey this year.

The mix of new and experienced competitors get help from a collection of people, all volunteers, who spend the week working to make sure the pageant runs smoothly.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716

To see the pageant and parade

The competition

The Miss New Jersey pageant starts Thursday with preliminary competition at 7 p.m. at the Music Pier. Preliminaries continue Friday at 7 p.m. The final night of competition starts at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets for preliminaries are $35 each night and finals are $50. Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan will take part in the pageant Saturday during the finals. A combination ticket for all three nights is also available for $110. To get tickets, call Mary Lou Cake at 609-315-1423.

The parade

The Miss New Jersey Pageant parade kicks off at 7 p.m. today at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk in Ocean City. The 23 contestants will be sporting their scariest and meanest looks (but all in good fun) as they take part in the parade with this year's theme "Villains Down the Venue." Featured villains range from the Hamburglar to Cat Woman.

Fans can watch the parade for free tonight as it makes its way south to 14th Street on the Boardwalk.

Miss New Jersey Lindsey Petrosh, an Egg Harbor City native, will lead the parade.

MISS N.J. PAGEANT PARADE THEMES

This year’s Miss New Jersey contestants will have a chance to show us their fun and, maybe scary, sides at the pageant parade June 12.

“The theme is ‘Villains Down the Venue,’” Parade Director Maribeth Neal said.

And the 23 contestants have come up with an interesting list of villains to portray.

The list of villains expected to make an appearance includes:

Miss Atlantic County Lindsey Giannini portraying the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz

Miss Atlantic Shores Carissa Palumbo as Cruella De Ville from 101 Dalmatians.

Miss Avalon Fiona Di Gennaro as a semi-frightful Medusa

Miss Cape May County Lauren Fogarty as the Tax Collector from the Monopoly Game

Miss Cape Resort Olivia Suarez as Jadis White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia

Miss Cape May Shores Cierra Kaler-Jones as the Evil Queen from Snow White

Miss Central Coast Melissa Hoffman as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Miss Coastal Shore Courtney Fairfield Ursala from The Little Mermaid

Miss Columbus Day Courtney Charatsaris will play Cat Woman

Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentiletti as Harley Quinn Silver Surfer from Fantastic Four.

Miss Eastern Shore Brenna Weick as Kissing Kate Barlow

Miss Gateway Krysten Moore will play Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde

Miss Gloucester County Katie Klaus as Captain Hook

Miss Island Resort Cara McCollum as McDonald’s Hamburglar

Miss Liberty Myra McCann will be Angelica Pickles from Rugrats

Miss Middlesex County Angie Abdelrehim as the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.

Miss Monmouth County Ellen Chu as the Riddler from Batman

Miss Northern Lakes Andrea Cocozza as Scar from The Lion King

Miss Salem County Katie Skwirut as the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland

Miss Seashore Line Kaitlyn Schoeffel as the Black Swan

Miss South Shore Area Anna Negron as Poison Ivy

Miss Stars and Stripes Venessa Baez as a Fire Breathing Dragon

Miss Tri-County Nicole Washington as Malificant from Sleeping Beauty

THE CONTESTANTS

Here are the 23 contestants at this year’s Miss New Jersey Pageant in Ocean City.

Miss Atlantic County Lindsey Giannini

Age: 18

Hometown: Hammonton

School: Rowan University

Platform: Raise Awareness of Dangers of Texting While Driving

Talent: Dance

Miss Atlantic Shore Carissa Palumbo

Age: 22

Hometown: Wayne

School: Rowan University

Platform: Queen of Hearts

Talent: Dance

Miss Avalon Fiona DiGennaro

Age: 19

Hometown: Middletown

School: Middletown

Platform: Melanoma Awareness

Talent: Vocal

Miss Cape May County Lauren Fogarty

Age: 24

Hometown: Marmora

School: Villanova Law School

Platform: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Talent: Dance

Miss Cape Resort Olivia Suarez

Age: 18

Hometown: Mullica Hill

School: Widener University

Platform: V.I.P. - Volunteering is Powerful

Talent: Dance

Miss Cape Shores Cierra Kaler-Jones

Age: 19

Hometown: Galloway

School: Rutgers University

Platform: Empowering Todays Youth Through Arts Education

Talent: Dance

Miss Central Coast Melissa Hoffman

Age: 21

Hometown: Cranford

School: Rutgers University

Platform: Girl Scouts of America

Talent: Dance

Miss Columbus Day Courtney Charatsaris

Age: 23

Hometown: Totowa

School: Montclair State University

Platform: Care 4 A Cure

Talent: Vocal

Miss Coastal Shore Courtney Fairfield

Age: 20

Hometown: Egg Harbor Twp

School: Widener University

Platform: Breast Cancer Awareness

Talent: Dance

Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentiletti

Age: 18

Hometown: Vineland

School: Sacred Heart High School

Platform: Service Above Self

Talent: Vocal

Miss Eastern Shores Brenna Weick

Age: 18

Hometown: Mantua

School: High Point University

Platform: Keep Calm & Volunteer On

Talent: Dance

Miss Gateway Krysten Moore

Age: 23

Hometown: Mahwah

School: University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Platform: Education and Prevention of Childhood Bullying

Talent: Dance

Miss Gloucester County Kelcie Klaus

Age: 20

Hometown: Pitman

School: Gloucester County Community College

Platform: C.H.A.S.E

Talent: Piano

Miss Island Resort Cara McCollum

Age: 21

Hometown: Princeton

School: Princeton University

Platform: Giving the Gift of Reading

Talent: Piano

Miss Liberty Myra McCann

Age: 20

Hometown: Ocean City

School: St Joseph's University

Platform: Redefining Normal One Step at a Time

Talent: Dance

Miss Middlesex County Angie Abdelrehim

Age: 21

Hometown: Verona

School: New York University

Platform: Promoting Confidence to Eliminate Bullying

Talent: Belly Dance

Miss Monmouth County Ellen Chu

Age: 21

Hometown: Park Ridge

School: Rutgers University graduate

Platform: Overcoming Obstacles, Disabilities Awareness

Talent: Dance

Miss Northern Lakes Andi Cocozza

Age: 21

Hometown: Ocean City

School: Rider University

Platform: Volunteerism

Talent: Vocal

Miss Salem County Katie Skwirut

Age: 18

Hometown: Salem

School: Muhlenberg University

Platform: Global Citizenship - The Lorax Project

Talent: Vocal

Miss Seashore Line Kaitlyn Schoeffel

Age: 19

Hometown: Egg Harbor Twp

School: Montclair State University

Platform: Just Do It-Volunteer

Talent: Dance

Miss South Shore Area Anna Negron

Age: 21

Hometown: Vineland

School: Seton Hall

Platform: Think Before You Drink

Talent: Vocal

Miss Stars & Stripes Venessa Baez

Age: 24

Hometown: Bloomfield

School: Montclair State

Platform:Give Back - Helping Heros in Need

Talent: Vocal

Miss Tri-County Nicole Washington

Age: 23

Hometown: Scotch Plains

School: Seton Hall

Platform: Adoption Reform and Education

Talent: Dance