Platforms that Miss New Jersey contestants choose to promote are much more than mere catch phrases or slogans.
"They have to be able to prove to the judges that they are committed to the platform and that it has some meaning," pageant co-Executive Director Lou Barthold said.
The 23 women in this year's state contest have selected a range of issues to champion.
Miss Atlantic County Lindsey Giannini, for instance, has become an advocate against texting and driving. Miss Cape May County Lauren Fogarty is working on behalf of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Miss Cumberland County Ayla Gentiletti has adopted the theme of service above self.
Barthold said the platforms, while not judged individually, are a component of the overall competition.
Each contestant must submit a 300-word essay about their chosen issue, and during private interviews with the six judges on the Thursday of competition week they will likely face questions about the platform they have chosen.
"They have got to convincingly let everybody know how involved they are," Barthold said.
Contestants such as Miss Monmouth County Ellen Chu have opted to focus on issues stemming from their very personal experiences.
"I have congenital hearing loss. I've been wearing hearing aids since I was a baby," Chu said, explaining that she has 30 percent hearing loss.
Chu, 22, is a graduate of Rutgers University with a dual major in information technology and dance. She works for Johnson & Johnson.
She first entered pageants three years ago and at that time, she said, she wasn't aware of the significance of the platform in the competition.
She chose the theme of overcoming obstacles and disabilities awareness based on her own life and now has become devoted to the cause.
"There was a time I didn't have the confidence to speak about it. So choosing this has helped me to become comfortable in my own skin," she said.
She speaks to community groups advocating for support for those who suffer likewise.
"The extra help I received helped me. I've evolved to be an advocate. That extra help levels the playing field," she said.
Her hearing loss, she said, is something she copes with on a daily basis.
At last year's Miss New Jersey competition, for instance, she missed her cue to go on stage during the swimsuit competition.
She wasn't penalized, only embarrassed. People understood, she said.
The current Miss New Jersey, Lindsey Petrosh, said the platforms are important locally and when the next winner heads to September's Miss America contest in Atlantic City.
She promoted volunteerism when she took part in last year's Miss America competition in Las Vegas.
"Platforms are extremely important. I chose volunteerism as my platform because it has always been a passion and a lifestyle of mine," she said.
Barthold said the connection between the contestants and their platforms is most evident during the private interview and on stage, when the contestants are often asked before an audience about their passion.
"It must have meaning to the contestant," he said.
Contact Trudi Gilfillian:
If you go
The Miss New Jersey pageant will take place at the Music Pier in Ocean City during the week of June 11. The public can attend the preliminary contests June 13 and 14 as well as the finals on June 15.
To learn more, visit www.missnewjersey.net