OCEAN CITY - Miss Columbus Day Ashley Shaffer was crowned Miss New Jersey 2009 on Saturday night at the Music Pier.
Shaffer, a 22-year-old native of Millstone Township, Monmouth County, will compete in the Miss America Pageant on Jan. 30 in Las Vegas, with the platform "Enhancing Children's Health Through Education and Support."
"I have no idea what's going on right now," an overcome, visibly shaking Shaffer admitted as she accepted hugs from contestants and posed for photos, crown on head and bouquet of red roses in hand. "I'm going to Miss America! I can't believe it!"
Shaffer defeated first runner-up Miss Cumberland County Ashleigh Udalovas, 21, of Millville.
For her talent, Shaffer performed a piece from Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot." She later referenced her performance, sung in Italian, during the interview portion of the competition.
"You have to know and understand the language so you understand what you're singing about," Shaffer said. "It's how you express your emotion."
Shaffer sported a white strapless dress for the eveningwear competition and a coral two-piece bathing suit during the swimsuit competition.
Southern New Jersey was well-represented at Saturday night's pageant, with six women from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties advancing to the top 10. Three of those contestants - Udalovas; Miss Coastal Shore Katie Hope, of Marmora; and Miss Avalon Kristi Lee Pawlus, of Rio Grande - advanced to the top five. Miss Mercer County Katie Berry, of Mount Laurel, Burlington County, was also a finalist.
Parents, friends and pageant personnel sporting contestant buttons and signs packed the Music Hall pier for nearly three hours of contestant performances, group numbers and runway walks.
The talent portion of the evening featured five contemporary vocalists, two opera singers and three dancers. Contestants strode the runway in eveningwear accompanied by the crooning of Frank Sinatra and strutted their stuff in swimsuits to Madonna's "Vogue."
Host Dena Blizzard, Miss New Jersey 1995, moved the show along at a swift pace, filling brief gaps due to technical errors with funny stories accumulated during time spent with the Miss New Jersey and Miss America organizations.
Co-hosts John Zisa, a former "American Idol" finalist, and Miss New Jersey 2006 Georgine DiMaria provided vocal performances.
Miss New Jersey 2008 Ashley Fairfield, of Egg Harbor Township, celebrated the end of her term with several dance performances throughout the evening and a final walk down the runway following a video montage of her year of service.
The Miss America Pageant was broadcast live from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on The Learning Channel.