Miss NJ discusses experience at Miss America pageant

<p>Courtesy of Richard Krauss | Cierra Kaler-Jones will continue to hold her Miss New Jersey title until June next year.</p>

Courtesy of Richard Krauss | Cierra Kaler-Jones will continue to hold her Miss New Jersey title until June next year.

Cierra Kaler-Jones disproves the common misconception that pageant girls are catty and rip each other’s gowns backstage.

Kaler-Jones not only found her best friends while competing for the Miss America pageant, but also her future bridesmaids. 

She may have not won the coveted title, but she has managed to dispel many fallacies surrounding beauty pageants. 

When Kaler-Jones first meets people, they tell her she doesn’t strike them as the “typical pageant girl.”

“As somebody who considers herself a feminist, I think it’s a shame that people want to knock down women in leadership positions,” she said.

For the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences senior, being a feminist is about being an empowered female leader, being the best version of herself and finding confidence and a platform to speak her mind.

Kaler-Jones, who competed in the Miss America pageant on Sept.14, found those things and more.

When she was not crowned Miss America on the Atlantic City stage, she realized she was not what the judges were looking for.

“At the same time, I think you learn a lot about resiliency and dealing and coping with defeat,” Kaler-Jones said. “Whether or not Miss America is me, I still get to do the greatest job in the world, serve the greatest state in the nation and I still get to be Cierra Kaler-Jones.”

Kaler-Jones, who will hold the title of Miss New Jersey until June, competed against 52 other young women, all vying for the judges to fall in love with them and crown them Miss America.

Through the pageant, she received $17,500 in scholarship money.

Though her pageant days are over, Kaler-Jones will continue aiming to ensure that more scholarships are made available through the pageant. Another goal of hers is to recruit more minority contestants by dispelling the myth that pageants are for the rich.

Although multiple outfits must be purchased, Kaler-Jones requested and received the money she needed from those who supported her dream.

She was calm, ready and excited in the weeks leading up to the pageant. The first week of the two-week pageant preparation was spent rehearsing for the show, attending dinners and events and signing autographs.

Kaler-Jones, whose parents both work in the struggling Atlantic City casino industry, said the best part of the pageant was giving hope and inspiration to those who are unemployed.

The critical part of the competition is the 10-minute private interview that each contestant does with the judges.

“The interview is pivotal because Miss America is basically chosen in the 10-minute interview,” she said. “They’ll fall in love with you in that interview room.”

Kaler-Jones took 10 precious minutes and made herself vulnerable, opening about her life’s struggles and facing adversity.

“When I thought that I had nothing left to give, I gave it.”

Kaler-Jones did express relief in never having to step on stage in a swimsuit and heels again, sharing that people will always scrutinize and have negative things to say.

“You have to be so in tune with yourself that nothing will sway you,” she said. 

According to thepageantplanet.com, Kaler-Jones is number six on the list of the “Top 10 Swimsuit Bodies at Miss America,” receiving the title “strong is the new sexy.”

That itself is powerful, she said. Another misconception surrounding pageants is the idea of stick-thin girls who starve themselves in order to achieve their pageant bodies.

Kaler-Jones noted the amount of food the girls eat backstage and said the top 10 swimsuit body title is a nice slap in the face to the kids who called her fat in middle school.

“It’s crazy to me because all throughout growing up I was made fun of because I was the big girl,” she said. “And body image is something that I always struggled with very, very much.” 

One thing people did scrutinize was her curly hair, telling her it was unprofessional. Kaler-Jones said people would tell her not to wear her “curly afro.” 

“You’re going out there and being phony if you aren’t representing yourself,” she said.

Suffice to say, she wore her curly hair and was approached by a young girl while volunteering at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, who told her that they had similar hair. As Miss New Jersey, Kaler-Jones strives to remain relatable.

Kaler-Jones was happy to act as a representative of Rutgers and bring some positive attention back to the University, which supported her throughout this whole process.

She offered the advice to the next round of Miss America to stay true to themselves and remain grounded.

“I wanted to go on stage at Miss America leaving a perfect picture of who I was, and who I am going to be,” she said. “You always have to be gracious, always have to be humble and remember where you came from.”

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