Of all the wonderful memories I have growing up with New Jersey summers, there’s one that was the most amazing to me, and that was my magical week at Palisades Amusement Park.

I remember it fondly for all the great memories it brings, but especially for the two most special summers of my childhood. The ones where I competed in The Little Miss America Pageant.

Little Miss America was one of the first national pageants for girls in the country. And it was a big deal. The show was televised on WPIX 11, one of the local New York stations, and was always hosted by various TV stars.

We contestants got to ride all the rides, spend our days in the park with cameramen following us around, and generally having a great time over the week of the pageant.

I remember my mom waking me at 5 a.m. in Bradley Beach where we summered with my grandparents every year. We’d drive to the park, my mom would do my hair put one one of the myriad of outfits she had bought me for the occasion, and off we’d go to the somewhat grueling competition.

It was stage mothers galore, with moms tightening their daughters' braids and pulling up white tights in the summer heat.

Judi Franco photo
Judi Franco photo
loading...

We were 50 girls from the ages of 5 to 12 and had been chosen from thousands of entries from all over the country. Those who somehow made it into the top 50 of girls would go on to actually compete in the pageant and be in the TV production. One year I made it into the top 10 finalists.

The first year, my stage-mother mom sat in the audience and watched as the host, Dick Seargant, asked if any of the 50 of us packed onto the stage wanted to get up and dance for the judges and the huge crowd in the outdoor stage audience.

It was totally voluntary. I was shy so I hung back while the 15 or 20 perkier show-off type girls ran to the front and started dancing like crazy to “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night.

At the opening strains of “Jeremiah was a bullfrog...” I caught my mom‘s eye in the audience. She looked at me with daggers and gestured with her hand for me to move forward and get dancing. I did. And that’s what ultimately got me noticed and pulled me into the top 10.

Both years that I competed were the most amazing experiences of my life. I was a star around Bradley Beach that summer with people pointing and saying, “That’s the girl that was on TV in the pageant!”

At the end, the grand finalists — all 10 of us — won some consolation prizes. One of mine was a Susie Homemaker blender. I’m pictured with it here.

Judi Franco photo
Judi Franco photo
loading...

And by the way, do not underestimate the thrill of owning your very own real blender when you’re a 9-year-old girl.

I’ll never forget The Little Miss America Pageant, and whenever I see or hear any mention of Palisades Amusement Park, it has special significance for me. And those wonderful memories come flooding back.

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco only.

You can now listen to Dennis & Judi — On Demand! Hear New Jersey’s favorite best friends anytime, anywhere and any day of the week. Download the Dennis & Judi show wherever you get podcasts, on our free app, or listen right now:

Judi's COVID vacation to Dominican Republic