ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The 53 young women competing for the Miss America crown perhaps know better than most that first impressions make a difference, and put a lot of practice into perfecting their appearance and poise.
Preliminary competition for the pageant began Tuesday night in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, where it was held for decades before moving to Las Vegas six years ago.
In the preliminaries, each contestant aimed to first introduce herself and her home in a humorous and hopefully attention-getting way. Some, like Miss Kentucky, succeeded before the first spectator took a seat.
"From the home of fast horses and beautiful women — better not get those two things mixed up — I'm Jenna Day, Miss Kentucky!" she said during rehearsals.
In a nod to still-sore Cleveland Cavaliers fans, Miss Ohio, Heather Wells, tweaked basketball star LeBron James, whose defection to the Miami Heat enraged the Buckeye State.
"I won't be taking my talents to South Beach because they're right here in Atlantic City!" she said, riffing on the wording of James' nationally televised announcement of where he would sign as a free agent.
Others touched on their state's role in popular culture.
"Some states turn lemons into lemonade; we turn avocados into guacamole!" said Miss California, Crystal Lee, who is one of two contestants with that name in this year's pageant.
And Miss South Dakota, Tessa Dee, made a bold proclamation.
"Hey, Mount Rushmore, get ready for a new face — this one!" she said.
Pageant organizers couldn't wait until Saturday night's traditional "show us your shoes" parade to unveil the state-themed footwear the contestants will wear, basking in the competition's return to the place where it began in 1921.
"It's a monumental thing we've done, bringing back Miss America to Atlantic City," said Sam Haskell, CEO of the Miss America Organization. "We had to go to the desert for a couple years, but we're back!"
Miss Florida's shoes depicted alligators, Miss Indiana's had basketballs and hoops, Miss New Jersey had sea shells and Miss Arizona's had a cactus.
Miss Louisiana's shoes had a Mardi Gras theme, with multi-colored feathers and sequins. Several state contestants decorated boots as their footwear, including Miss Kentucky, and Miss South Dakota opted for metal-studded black leather boots that resemble those worn by Kiss bass player Gene Simmons.
The 53 hopefuls — one from each state as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District Of Columbia — will receive scores in categories including talent, swimwear and evening wear, and onstage interviews.
The new Miss America will be crowned during Sunday night's nationally televised broadcast.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC