BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Miss Essex County Area Scholarship Pageant is getting a second chance.
Originally scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Bloomfield Middle School, it abruptly had to be cancelled because a contestant dropped out. The new date is Feb. 3. It will again be held at the middle school, but it will also have a new name: the Miss North Jersey Meadows Scholarship Pageant.
In the cancelled pageant, there were four contestants, the minimum allowed for a pageant leading to the title of Miss NJ. In order to be eligible to enter, a woman had to live, work or go to school in Essex, Passaic or Bergen counties.
But according to the Miss America Organization, the Bloomfield event could not be held with only three contestants. As a consequence, the executive director of the Miss Essex County Area Scholarship Pageant, Bloomfield resident Rosa Baez, by her own admission, took a financial hit because she had already spent a considerable amount of her own money mounting the event.
She did not learn that one of her contestant would not be attending until the night before the pageant. Baez said beside the money, she was emotionally distraught because the pageant was a way for young women to receive scholarships to further their aspirations. And then the pageant was gone. One of the contestants who had planned to compete, Brittany Ann Cadet, lives in Bloomfield.
“You cannot do a pageant without four contestants,” Baez said in her home this past weekend.
Baez lost money on food, the program for the pageant, renting the space, the custodial help, and even the sash that proclaimed the winner. She also had agreed to pay hotel accomodations for a judge. Her basement was filled with gift baskets to be raffled at the event.
“I was numb for two weeks,” she said. “Devastated. There went so much work and effort and so many people helped me. I even took off three days from work to prepare. I was upset but there are rules. But I felt the organizers should have had a backup plan.”
Baez told her immediate supervisor that she was going to resign.
“But a lot of title holders I knew from other pageants reached out to me and told me not to resign,” she said.
Her daughter, Vanessa Baez Davis, a former Miss NJ contestant who had been assisting her mother, said the turning point was the reaction from other people.
“The money was the big blow,” Davis said. “But my mother’s purpose was to help these women. She was ready to resign but because of these people that we’ve known over the years, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, we’re making a difference.’ That is why she started.”
Baez was advised that for the show to go on she had to open the pageant to all NJ counties or expand the number of eligible counties from three to seven. Baez, who said her original intention was to have a pageant for north Jersey women, opted for the latter choice. So, in addition to Essex, Passaic and Bergen counties, she expanded the scope by adding Morris, Sussex, Warren and Hudson counties. This expansion of eligible counties also necessitated a name change for the pageant and title holder.
But one change that helped Baez came unintentionally from the Miss America Organization itself when, starting Jan. 5, the eligible age of contestants was officially raised from 24 to 25 years old. As a consequence, a contestant who was turned down for the cancelled pageant because of her age is now eligible.
Baez said this woman plans to compete and believes there are currently at least five contestants.
Davis said the age requirement change is an indication of more changes to come.
“The Miss America Organization has a new chairperson,” she said. “Her name is Gretchen Carlson and she is the first former Miss America to be in that position. She won in 1989 and there are two other former winners on the board.
“There’s a whole new level of understanding to give women the opportunity to compete,” Davis continued. “Bumping up the age is the first change. It’s the first thing people ask you about pageants — how old can you be?”
For Baez, the changes are another chance to help women realize their dreams and hers, too.