BY MADDY VITALE
After placing first runner-up in last year’s Little Miss Ocean City Pageant, it was Lyla Clark’s time to shine Friday night, when she became the crown holder before a packed crowd at the Music Pier.
Lyla, 11, of Ocean City, wowed the judges with her powerful dance routine to “Gorgeous,” becoming the 2023 pageant queen out of 16 contestants.
“It feels amazing,” Lyla said backstage with her family and friends, including fellow pageant winners, around her. “I am thrilled and excited for this year and all of the events.”
The contestants, ages 8 to 11, were judged on poise, talent, interview and scholastics. They danced, sang, and there were even a couple of standup comics and a magician.
First runner-up was Harper Juelg, 8, second runner-up was Stella Fleming, 9, third runner-up was Francesca Schaffer, 11, and fourth runner-up was Sophia Neal, 11.
Other contestants included Meadow Ottinger, Quinn Dorr, Lynnie Becker, Kippin Halliday, Mila Delanzo, Lucia Schaffer, Alice Bickings, Rose Bickings, Alexa Rosetti, Nora Dinsmore and Giselle Ardelean.
The opening act, “I Don’t Dance,” gave the audience an action-packed show. The theme was baseball-inspired and the contestants came out in their baseball uniforms.
It also brought sister act 2022 Little Miss Ocean City Arianna DiAntonio and 2021 Little Miss Ocean City Antonella DiAntonio, who live in Sea Isle City, onstage to the excitement of the crowd as they danced, flipped and twirled before the 16 contestants joined them onstage for the act.
The winning contestants received prizes and gifts from local sponsors in addition to money.
Lyla, who is going into seventh grade at the Ocean City Intermediate School, received the judge’s awards for poise, talent and interview.
The new Little Miss is not only a dancer, but she is a competitive cheerleader for All Star One, a cheerleading academy in Egg Harbor Township.
During the nearly three-hour show, there were also other performances by Arianna DiAntonio and the other pageant queens.
In addition to the performance with her sister, Antonella, Arianna performed a solo dance routine and later walked the runway for the last time as Little Miss with tears in her eyes.
To bid farewell to Arianna’s reign as Little Miss, she and her “crown sister” Miss Ocean City 2022 Maddyn Randazzo danced as Junior Miss Ocean City 2022 Makenna Fleming sang “Uptown Girl.”
The audience watched a video that captured some of the memories Arianna said she will keep with her forever. They were of her and her other reigning queens at events and activities hosted throughout the city during the year.
Parades, Wacky Wednesdays and other zany events made for some tears, laugher and smiles from the outgoing queen as she sat with Maddyn and Makenna on stage.
The new Miss Ocean City 2023 Grace Oves also performed. She did a tap routine to the 1957 hit by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Great Balls of Fire,” to the excitement of the audience.
During the ceremony, Michael Allegretto, aide to Mayor Jay Gillian, gave Arianna a key to the city, a beach towel and other parting gifts on behalf of the city to show appreciation for her yearlong service as an ambassador for the town.
The pageant was emceed by Natalie Ragazzo, of Ocean City. Ragazzo, the 2008 Little Miss Ocean City, is currently the reigning Miss New Jersey Volunteer.
Backstage, after the show, Lyla was joined by her parents, Sara and Ray Clark, and big sister, Faelyn.
“This is her big dream,” Sara said. “She worked so hard.”
Ray, an Ocean City Fire Department captain, said, “This event is so amazing. Lyla really enjoyed herself.”
Faelyn, 13, said of her little sister, “We are so proud of her. She has grown up before our eyes.”
The new pageant queen said she is looking forward to a busy year as Little Miss Ocean City.
Lyla will join a new Junior Miss Ocean City who will be crowned Saturday night, and Miss Ocean City 2023 Grace Oves, of Ocean City, crowned on Aug. 13, for the iconic Ocean City events, including parades and other promotional events for the town.
The Little Miss Ocean City Pageant has been sponsored by the city’s Recreation Department for the past 32 years. Kristie Fenton, a city employee, has organized the Little Miss pageant for years.
Here are the awards Friday night: Winners names are above the categories.
Little Miss Ocean City 2023 Lyla Clark
Poise & Composure Winner
Essay Award – First Runner-Up
Harper Juelg – Ocean City
Mini Golf Award – 2nd Place
Stella Fleming – Ocean City
Essay Award – Second Runner-Up
Francesca Schaffer – Ocean City
Sophia Neal – Ocean City
Alice Bickings – Ocean City
Lucia Schaffer – Ocean City
Nora Dinsmore – Ocean City
Poise & Composure Recognition
Bowfish Kids Originality Award
Essay Award – Third Runner-Up
Quinn Dorr – Ocean City
Tracy White Spirit Award
Lynnie Becker – Ocean City
Kippin Halliday – Ocean City
The Compassion, Kindness and Sincerity Award
Meadow Ottinger – Philadelphia
Essay Award – Winner
Lucia Schaffer – Ocean City
Mini Golf Award – 1st Place
Giselle Ardelean – Ocean City
Mini Golf Award – 3rd Place