Contestants in the Little Mr. and Miss Marigold Pageant no longer have the stress of answering interview questions or preparing speeches, but the cuteness factor is still off the charts.

“Now they just walk out to the middle of the stage and smile and wave,” said Jackie Montgomery, who's been directing the pageant for the past 18 years. 

This year's pageant takes place from noon to 5 p.m. July 29 at the Pekin Moose Lodge, 2605 Broadway Road. The deadline to enter is July 21. Registration can be made by emailing Montgomery at jakki1009@yahoo.com or calling her at 309-267-4402. Registration forms may also be obtained at the Pekin Chamber of Commerce, 402 Court St.

Cost to enter is $50, while the cost of admission to watch the pageant is $5 at the door. The pageant is a fundraiser for Easter Seals.

“I bet we've raised $20,000 for Easter Seals over the years,” Montgomery said.

The decision to eliminate interview questions on stage and speeches by older contestants was made several years ago when the pageant was becoming too large to accommodate those things, she added. 

“People loved it when the kids answered questions on stage, because you never knew what they were going to say,” Montgomery said. “But the pageant got too big, and there just wasn't time to fit all that in.” 

In the pageant's early years, Montgomery recycled some of her daughter's trophies and crowns. The top winners receive a trophy, crown and embroidered sash. Four runner-ups per category receive a trophy and a crown for the girls or a medallion for the boys.

The Ultimate Queen or King title is awarded to the contestant that raises the most money in donations for Easter Seals. 

“I think we give away 60 crowns at least. I'm not using my daughter's anymore,” Montgomery said with a chuckle.

Her daughter, Jessie Ray Montgomery, is now the pageant's assistant director.

For the second year, the pageant also will include a photo contest with a winner named in each age group. 

“This way, if you have a kid who's really shy on stage, they still have a chance to win a title with an adorable picture,” Montgomery said.

Pageant winners will have opportunities to appear at the Miss Marigold Pageant, the Marigold Festival, and Winter Wonderland parades and the Easter Seals Telethon. 

Montgomery said girls can compete in a nice dress, while boys should wear a suit or dressy short or slacks set. Hair and makeup must be age appropriate.

“The expense of the dress doesn't matter,”  Montgomery said. “They can win in a dress they bought at a garage sale. It's more about whether they look happy and are having fun on stage. Contest judges include past pageant winners and pageant queens from other areas.”  

Age categories for girls are Baby Miss, 0-8 months; Baby Miss, 9-18 months; Tiny Miss, 19-35 months; Petite Miss, 3-4 years; Little Miss, 5 and 6 years; Junior Miss, 7-9 years; Pre-Teen Miss, 10-12 years; and Teen Miss, 13 years and up. Age categories for boys are Baby Mr. 0-2 years; Tiny Mr., 3-4 years; and Little Mr., 5 years and up.

The pageant starts with the youngest contestants, and there will be a cake reception during the intermission at 3 p.m. Food and beverages will also be for sale by the Moose Lodge during the event.

An informational meeting for registered contestants will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 24, at the Pekin Public Library. Participants will receive their contestant number and a schedule of events. Funds raised for the Ultimate Queen or King title should also be submitted at the meeting.

“It's a fun event to come watch even if you don't have anyone competing,” Montgomery said. “For each child, I read off an info sheet that the parents have written about them, including their favorite thing about Pekin. Everyone has about 30 seconds to a minute on stage, and you never know what they'll do. One kid just suddenly did the splits last year.”

For more information, email or call Montgomery or visit the website www.pekinchamber.com/2018/Marigold%20Festival/2018LittlePageant.pdf.