Spring Prince/Princess of Long Island pageant
Singing the Disney song "Frozen" off-key. Describing nap time as a favorite activity. Walking down the runway holding mom's hand.
This is just part of the charm of the Little Miss Long Island beauty pageant, where everyone gets a crown and the intimidation factor is nonexistent. No fake teeth, airbrushed makeup or expensive hairdos necessary.
"In fact, many wear old dance recital costumes," says Debra Marra, 51, of Westbury, who runs the pageant.
This month, Marra changed the name of the event to encourage some unlikely participants -- boys. On May 18, entrants in the newly titled Ultimate Grand Supreme Spring Prince/Princess of Long Island pageant, to be held in Great Neck, will be given awards for everything from Best Hair to Best Personality. A few boys already have registered, she says.
Marra, an advertising executive, dreamed up the idea of a pageant about three years ago while watching "Toddlers and Tiaras" on TV with her daughter, then 8 years old. Her first pageant was last year; this will be her third.
"I felt there was nothing like this on Long Island," says Marra. "I wanted to give a real beauty pageant experience" for those who are outgoing and have had no place to show off their talents.
But the idea was to keep it low-key and accessible to all. Unlike many other pageants, parents sit with their children at tables during the show. They eat together during a break. The kids are called up when it's their turn to perform.
"It's why I included the luncheon -- it's not just about the pageant and who wins," says Marra. "It's nice to see the kids' families there rooting for them."
In February, about a dozen girls in pretty dresses competed for the Valentine's Day-themed beauty pageant at Verdis in Westbury, posing and twirling to the music of the DJ. But there was no stage mom frowning, only fun encouragement from the crowd. There was no swimsuit competition, and the amount of makeup and hair was up to the parent.
And there was no need for huge talent. Belting out Disney's "Let It Go" a bit off-key was enough to get a round of applause. Others did cartwheels and danced.
"The judges don't care if the girls hit certain steps," says Kristin Esposito, 26, of Lynbrook, whose daughter, Brooke, 18 months at the time, ran down the dance floor runway, flapping her arms, and won the top prize. "They want to see their personality shine. That is what it's about."
Gianna Destefano, 3, who later won Best Personality, was in a pink tutu, running around during the break with her mom. It's more relaxed than the other events, says Garden City resident Elizabeth Destefano.
"They get to play, and they make friends," she says.
During the lunch break, the older kids played with the little ones who were cavorting on the dance floor. None of the parents seemed annoyed they were messing their hair. A quick hand-smoothing by the moms before the dress competition was all that was needed.
Girl contestants can be from 6 months to 12 years old, and boys 6 months to 10 years. In addition to trophies, there is a grand prize of $300 and a one-year contract with Model Management Group in Manhattan.
It costs $195 to enter, which includes admission to the luncheon for both the child and one parent.
Nadia Jernigan may be only 21 / 2, but she already has been attending pageants, including the better known Glitz pageants in Connecticut and New Jersey.
"She likes to get dressed up," says her mother, Pierrette Ribecca. "She's having a lot of fun today."
WHAT Ultimate Grand Supreme Spring Prince/Princess of Long Island pageant
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 18 at Leonard's Palazzo (formerly Leonards of Great Neck), 555 Northern Blvd., Great Neck
INFO Register by May 12. $195 for a contestant and one guest for lunch; discounts for siblings; extra adults are $65 and children ages 4-10 are $45; 516-334-2626, littlemisslongislandny.vpweb.com.