When the Miss New Jersey Competition gets underway Wednesday at Resorts Casino Hotel, it will be in a new home, with new faces and some new rules.
Change has become the status quo for the state and national pageants. This past week, Miss America Organization Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson resigned after just a year, and the organization is searching for a new date and home in Atlantic City for the national competition.
So when the 28 Miss New Jersey candidates arrive in town Monday, they likely will have already learned to expect the unexpected.
Different from last year, all state pageants will host “Miss America 2.0”-style competitions — meaning candidates are once again saying bye-bye to the bikini.
“The biggest thing is, since swimwear isn’t a part of the competition anymore, I’ve had more opportunity and time to work on my social initiative platform,” said Miss Eastern Shores Natalie Ragazzo, 23, of Ocean City.
Ragazzo has been a part of the MAO pageant system since she was a young teen. The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competitions include a “lifestyle and fitness” portion, where contestants sport athletic wear and perform a routine with stretching, flexing and push-ups.
“For me, in the moment, I was disappointed and frustrated that all the hard work I have done was for nothing,” said Ragazzo, who won the swimsuit competition during the first night of the 2018 preliminaries.
“Now, I’m happy with the way Miss New Jersey is. I have learned about my body and being healthy,” she said. “I don’t need to be in a bikini for the judges to know that.”
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David Holtzman, executive director of the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation, said this year’s competition without swimsuits will be as exciting and entertaining as past pageants.
“It’s very similar,” said Holtzman “We pulled out the swimsuits, but we did keep our People’s Choice competition.”
The Miss New Jersey pageant, which qualifies the winner for the 2020 Miss America Competition, will have its format divided into on-stage questions from the judges, talent and an evening gown runway.
The 27 local pageants that qualified candidates for Miss New Jersey still had swimsuit competitions, with the exception of the Miss Liberty, Miss Collegiate and Miss Garden State pageants.
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Holtzman, who was named Miss New Jersey director in December, said he has enjoyed working with the Miss America leadership to improve the state pageant.
“New leadership is listening and taking input. They’ve opened the door,” said Holtzman. ”There have been nice surprises, and it has become more transparent. That’s refreshing.”
Jamie Gialloreto was crowned Miss New Jersey 2018 less than two weeks after the announcement that swimsuits were being pulled from the Miss America Competition. She said she has been very open and transparent with the upcoming Miss New Jersey class, answering questions about the national competition and making sure the candidates feel comfortable with the new format.
“We went in blind,” said Gialloreto. “The competition was changing up until the final night of Miss America.”
Holtzman said he thinks it’s exciting to be able to expand Miss New Jersey — moving the pageant from the Ocean City Music Pier to Resorts’ Superstar Theater in Atlantic City, lining up new sponsorship and adding two more local titleholders to compete for the state title.
“I’m excited about everything,” he said.