OCEAN CITY — The first night of the Miss New Jersey preliminary competitions started with a video of all 28 contestants each reading a line from the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise.”

Miss New Jersey 2016 Brenna Weick showed her talent for the last time on the pageant stage dancing to “Rise Up” by singer-songwriter Audra Day.

The contestants then took the stage, wearing Garden State green dresses, waving to fans and family in the audience of the Music Pier.

Competition hosts Dena Blizzard and 6ABC’s Karen Rogers, both former Miss New Jersey pageant contestants, introduced the competitors.

Fourteen girls from the evening’s competition group strutted confidentially across the stage for the lifestyle and fitness section, then later in evening wear. The second competition contestants showcased their talents, including singers, dancers and musicians.

Participants in the Miss New Jersey Little Stars Mentoring Program sat in the front row to get a glimpse of what a future in the pageant circuit could be.

They were serenaded by host Dena Blizzard’s son Dean, with “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”

The Little Stars program is for girls ages 6 to 12 and is a mentorship program with the Miss New Jersey contestants.

Weick’s Little Star mentoree Sloane joined her on stage and did not hestitate to take the opportunity to walk the Miss New Jersey runway.

Miss New Jersey Outstanding Teen Augostina Mallous, 15, of Cape May Court House, performed a bit of her gymnastic routine to “Hit Me with a High Note.”

A special moment went to 17-year-old pageant volunteer Ally Hoffman, who darted off between rehearsal and the night’s competition to graduate with her classmates at Ocean City High School.

Friday’s preliminaries will see the competing groups switch events.

Thursday night's preliminaries winners were Miss Coastal Shore Krystle Tomlinson for talent and Miss Seashore Line Amanda Rae Ross for the lifestyle and fitness section.

Top performers will be announced during Saturday’s pageant finale and Miss New Jersey 2017 will be crowed.

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Contact: 609-272-7286 LCarroll@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_LC