Miss America Absegami

Absegami High School students Samantha Phommalyla, left, and Gabrielle Hughes interview Miss America Mallory Hagan on Monday for the Galloway Township school's television station.

Vernon Ogrodnek

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — While 53 contenders brace themselves for a week of competition, current Miss America Mallory Hagan is winding down and preparing to end her reign.

On Monday, she sat down with students in Michael Piotrowski’s Advanced Media class at Absegami High School, giving them the chance to do a live interview for Gami TV.

Poised and relaxed, carrying her crown in a small case, she made a quick detour to attach the crown before her interview with seniors Samantha Phommalyla, 17, and Gabrielle Hughes, 17. Piotrowski worked one camera and students Justin McHugh, 17, and Ryan Brennan, 17, did backup as the rest of the Media and Advanced Media classes observed.

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Hagan said last week was a bit of a break for her after a whirlwind tour as Miss America. She admitted the constant travel has been both the best and worst part of her reign.

“It’s fun to go new places, but it’s also draining,” she said. “It’s a full-time, year-round job. Everyone knows Miss America. ”

Hagan said she believes her interview skills helped her win the title. Contestants do a private interview in addition to the questions answered on live television.

“Being interviewed is what I was good at,” she said. “And that’s what Miss America does all year: speak and answer questions.”

The students asked about skeptics who think Miss America is just a beauty pageant. Hagan cited the millions of dollars in scholarship funds given out each year, including the $75,000 she earned. She mentioned the focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math education, that is a national platform for the competition.

She won as Miss New York. She said she tried to keep her expenses down by borrowing clothes and gowns.

“Some of the pageant is superficial,” she said. “But contestants win in the interview.”

She is pleased to have been given a chance to speak out on her platform of child sexual abuse, noting she is a nontraditional face for the issue and helped raise its profile nationally.

Students in the audience had what seems to be a typical reaction and one pageant officials are working hard to overcome. Some admitted they expected a pretty but shallow beauty pageant winner and were pleasantly surprised. Some took photos of her with their phones and said she was more down-to-earth, relatable and personable than they expected.

“It is interesting to get to see her in person,” Allie Ciccarone, 17, said.

Piotrowski said the interview gave students a chance to see how they can handle the pressure of a live interview. He said years ago his students were able to interview all of the contestants in Atlantic City, and he’d like to try to do that again in the future.

“If you make a mistake, what do you do?” he asked the class. “You’re all going to make mistakes. It’s how you bounce back that makes an impression.”

He noted how the two student interviewers worked well together and skipped a planned question when Hagan answered it as part of another question.

“I told them you have to be a good listener,” he said. “You can’t just write up questions and ask them.”

Hughes is Miss Teen Galloway 2013. She said she never expected to be in a pageant but entered when a teacher suggested it. She won a $500 scholarship. Her platform is the arts. She hopes to start an Arts Day in Galloway Township.

“Being Miss America is a high goal,” she said.

Some students said they will watch at least some of the pageant Sunday, and do see winning as a major accomplishment.

Hagan said her reign has shown her how much Miss America matters.

“It’s rewarding to be in a position to have an impact on people just by saying hello or shaking their hand,” she said. “People remember meeting Miss America. It’s a huge responsibility and a wonderful opportunity.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:


More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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