There is something about that sparkly tiara. For Lauren Fogarty, a busy, full-time student at Villanova University School of Law, the idea of walking away with a pageant title - not to mention some much-needed scholarship money -seemed like a now-or-never opportunity she had to at least try.
After walking away with the Miss Cape May County 2013 title, Fogarty is certainly glad she gave it a shot.
"I always wanted to do it … and this year would be the last year I could enter because of my age," says Fogarty, 24, of Marmora. "I've been dancing on that stage since I was 2 for dance recitals … it was about trying something different."
On Saturday, June 15, Fogarty will once again head to the Ocean City Music Pier, this time to compete against 22 contestants for the title of Miss New Jersey. The statewide winner will then head to Boardwalk Hall in September for the Miss America Pageant, which returns to Atlantic City after a nine-year absence.
The competition will feature nine contestants from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, including Miss Atlantic County Lindsey Giannini of Hammonton, who was drawn to the pageant to help promote her platform of avoiding texting and driving.
"I was actually contacted by the Miss New Jersey organization through a parade when I was Miss Hammonton," says Giannini, a sophomore at Rowan University. "I knew there was no better way to make my platform available than through the Miss America organization. It's also a great scholarship opportunity."
"I think it's wonderful, the pageant is finally back where it started," adds Lisa Pawlus, field director for the South Jersey East Region of the Miss New Jersey Pageant, a region which accounts for more than half the pageant's contestants. "I know the girls are so excited. When (the Miss New Jersey winner) vies for the title, they're actually going to be the home state girl."
The festivities kick off with the Miss New Jersey parade 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, with contestants heading from Sixth to 14th streets on the Boardwalk dressed for this year's theme of "Villains Down the Venue." (Fogarty, in a nod to Atlantic City history, will dress up as the tax collector from Monopoly, while Giannini will portray the witch of the west from the "Wizard of Oz.")
The pageant's preliminary rounds take place Thursday, June 13, and Friday, June 14, with the final competition taking place on Saturday, June 15. All events will take place at the Ocean City Music Pier at Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace.
The reigning Miss America, Mallory Hagan, will be a special guest.
A state pageant brings much tougher competition than a county pageant, Pawlus says. In between a busy school schedule, Fogarty is busy prepping with mock interviews and new workout routines. She changed up her dance performance for the talent portion - ditching her winning jazz routine and teaming up with a choreographer from the Wayne Ballet to create a brand new solo set to instrumental music.
"It's an unknown author, and it's just darker," Fogarty says of the music. "I've always leaned more toward ballet - that's something I always loved."
"I think besides the obvious of mock interviews and working out … it's also working up your confidence," Fogarty says. "You think you're OK with yourself, but you have a million different people pulling you in different directions, which can be tough."
Pawlus, too, has a busy week of preparations and events ahead of her in Ocean City behind the scenes, squeezing in rehearsals, promotional appearances, sponsor meetings and technical meetings. It's not uncommon for the days leading up to Miss New Jersey to begin at 7 a.m. and end at 2 a.m., she says.
For Giannini, who grew up going to the annual Miss America parades on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, having the pageant return to its home makes this year more special.
"It's so exciting, especially since I'm Miss Atlantic County," Giannini says. "The pageant is coming home to my region."
Giannini, who will perform a jazz dance for her talent portion, says the nerves do kick in before she hits the stage - but she has her ways of staying as calm as possible.
"You're always nervous," Giannini says. "If you're not nervous then you don't want it. But I always take a deep breath and think about my family in the audience."
Being the home state for the national pageant has also meant more focus on this year's Miss New Jersey contestants - something Fogarty wasn't necessarily prepared for going in.
"There's more press to it now, there are more people asking you questions," Fogarty says. "But I'm just extremely excited - (the pageant) has definitely changed me for the better and I'm glad I did it."
Pawlus, whose daughter, Kristi Brown, was Miss Cape May County 2007, first got involved in local pageants when she learned of the opportunity to win scholarship money.
After winning several local titles, Brown graduated Rutgers University at 21 debt-free, Pawlus says. Today, Pawlus works hard to see that other area women have that same opportunity.
"That's why I became a state director," Pawlus says. "We want people to know that it's a scholarship pageant, not a beauty pageant. The talent and the interview are the main parts of the pageant."
In addition, the state contestants each have their own personal platform, in addition to the national Miss America platform promoting the Children's Miracle Network.
"So they're living their life and helping others," Pawlus says.