They represent the most maligned state in the union. So is it any surprise Garden State beauty queens are cursed?
It was the biggest hairspray-coated controversy since Star Jones left The View: Would Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo be allowed to keep her title after a blackmailer threatened to release a series of exploitative photos?
In July came the answer: yes. (The photos were more silly than salacious.) But you couldn’t blame the poor folks at the New Jersey state organization if their sashes were in a twist.
The only Miss New Jersey ever to win the Miss America title outright was Bette Cooper in 1937; she promptly abdicated when her boyfriend dumped her as a result. Miss New Jersey 1984, Suzette Charles, had a promising singing career untracked when she was sucked back into pageant hell to finish out the last eight weeks of dethroned Vanessa Williams’s reign. (More scandal erupted when it turned out Charles was sitting kittenishly in a bubble bath for a magazine photo shoot when she found out she was being called up to serve.)
Even Misses who’ve never gotten close to the big rhinestones have proven tabloid-worthy: 1985 winner Toni Georgiana was taken to court by a rival after it got out that she’d never lived, worked, or attended classes in New Jersey. Details, details! Cherry Hill’s Jennifer Makris, who represented the state at Miss America in 1994, finished third; in a fabulous “I’ll show you” scenario, she stomped off in her stilettos and won the other Miss New Jersey pageant, getting to the Miss USA stage in 1997. (She placed ninth.) This past January, Ashley Harder of Marlton, Miss New Jersey USA, turned in her tiara after learning she was pregnant — no doubt making her prospects in the swimsuit competition seem rather dicey.
For Polumbo, it all may prove a Pyrrhic victory: Miss America’s new TV contract is with the Learning Channel, a network with about, oh, 40 viewers. Which is starting to make Bette Cooper look like the smartest Miss New Jersey of all.