Miss Island Resort Cara McCollum, a student at Princeton University, was named Miss New Jersey 2013 at the pageant Saturday night in Ocean City.

Miss New Jersey 2012 Lindsey Petrosh, of Egg Harbor City, placed the crown on McCollum’s head to the cheers of the audience. Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan, who took part in the night’s events, was also on hand, a nod to Miss America’s return to Atlantic City this year.

The new Miss New Jersey will compete for the title of Miss America 2014 at Boardwalk Hall on Sept. 15.

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McCollum, a first-time Miss New Jersey contestant is an English major at Princeton with a concentration in journalism.

Asked how she was feeling after the win, she replied, “never better.”

“I am so overwhelmed and feeling extraordinarily blessed,” McCollum said.

McCollum’s platform is giving the gift of reading, an effort she promotes through a program in which she collects and distributes books to children for their birthdays.

She said she plans on postponing her senior year at Princeton to serve as Miss New Jersey.

“I am so looking forward to the adventure ahead of me,” she said, noting she wants to visit as many schools as she can to share her love of reading. “I plan on being an extraordinarily active miss New Jersey.”

She played the piano during the talent portion of the competition.

McCollum, a native of Arkansas, lives in Princeton. Her parents, Maureen and Rick McCollum, were among those rushing backstage to congratulate her.

Other family and friends from Arkansas were also in the audience.

“We’re thrilled,” her mother said after hugging her daughter.

McCollum was one of 23 contestants to compete this week at the 80th annual Miss New Jersey pageant. The winner receives an $11,000 college scholarship from the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation as well as numerous other smaller awards from the competition’s sponsors.

The other top five finalists were first runner-up Brenna Weick, of Mantua, Gloucester County; second runner-up Lindsey Giannini, of Hammonton; third runner-up Cierra Kaler Jones, of Galloway Township; and fourth runner-up Kaitlyn Schoeffel, of Egg Harbor Township.

Saturday night’s final competition came after two preliminary rounds held Thursday and Friday at the Music Pier.

On Thursday, the preliminary winners were Miss South Shore Area Anna Negron, of Vineland, for talent, Miss Coastal Shore Courtney Fairfield, of Egg Harbor Township, for evening wear, and Miss Seashore Line Schoeffel, also of Egg Harbor Township, and Miss Gateway Krysten Moore, of Mahwah, in a tie for swimsuit.

On Friday, the preliminary winners included a three-way tie for talent between Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentiletti, of Vineland, Miss Stars and Stripes Venessa Baez, of Bloomfield, and Miss Salem County Katie Skwirut, of Salem. That night’s other winners were Miss Central Coast Melissa Hoffman, of Cranford, for swimsuit and Miss Atlantic Shore Carissa Palumbo, of Wayne, for evening wear.

The contestants arrived in Ocean CIty on Tuesday morning and followed a hectic schedule during the week learning and rehearsing the production numbers for the three nights of competition. The musical numbers featured songs by New Jersey natives such as Frank Sinatra, Gloria Gaynor and Whitney Houston.

During the week, the contestants and pageant host Dena Blizzard, Miss New Jersey 1995, all spoke of the state’s resilience following Hurricane Sandy. One of the musical numbers featured scenes of New Jersey, from the turnpike to the lighthouses, to the tune of Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You under My Skin.”

Wednesday night was a highlight for pageant fans as the women took part in the pageant’s annual Boardwalk parade. This year, the theme was Villains Down the Venue. The contestants appeared in a variety of elaborate costumes portraying characters such as Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” and Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:



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