COURT HOUSE - Two Court House women, who both shied away from pageants when they were younger, placed in the top 10 of the Miss New Jersey competition, one becoming the statewide winner.
Alyssa Sullivan won the Miss New Jersey title after competing six previous times. Augostina Mallous, 19, was the second runner-up, and the youngest woman to make the top 10.
“I got involved in the organization on a whim,” Sullivan said. “I truly had no idea what it entailed. I was absolutely a pageant skeptic my entire life. I never understood the meaning and impact behind them.
“I entered a local teen pageant because I heard that there was a talent portion, and I wanted a stage to share my love for singing and performing,” she continued. “That was the thing that hooked me. Once I finished my first local pageant, I couldn't get enough. I had found the place I was meant to be. It was news to me that the Miss America Organization wasn't a beauty pageant, but a scholarship organization, where women could find a place to not only better themselves, but to change the world around them.”
According to missnj.org, “Miss New Jersey, along with Miss America, is more than a title, it’s a movement of empowering young women everywhere to dream big, to insist that their voices be heard, and to inspire change in the world around them.”
Mallous said, “Alyssa (Sullivan) and I have known each other for years, and she was the one who actually got me involved in the Miss America Organization when I was 12.
“Our moms talked about signing me up for my first competition, but I remember being super hesitant about it,” she recalled. “I never considered myself a pageant girl because all I had previously heard about these competitions were the negative and stereotypical comments that people still, unfortunately, make to this day.
“I am more than grateful that I decided to compete anyway because I truly wouldn’t be who I am without Miss America,” she said. “I was Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen in 2017, and that year, as a state titleholder, actually changed my life. This organization has helped me to become a well-spoken, well-rounded, and passionate woman who is not afraid to make a difference.”
Sullivan, 25, was class president when she graduated from Middle Township High School, in 2014. Since then, she graduated summa cum laude from Rowan University, in 2021, with a journalism degree. There, she was awarded the 2020 Jack Gillespie Award for Excellence in Journalism and currently works at PHL17, in Philadelphia, as a production coordinator and fill-in reporter.
Mallous’ family owns the Court House Diner, where she is working before returning for her junior year at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, where she is studying journalism.
Sullivan won Miss New Jersey as Miss Seashore Line, a local title within the organization. Mallous was Miss Garden State.
“Essentially, you have to win a local title before you can make it to Miss New Jersey,” Sullivan said. “For a local titleholder, it’s up to you to format your year however you’d like. For me, it went beyond just preparing to compete for Miss New Jersey. I went to various schools throughout the state to promote my social impact initiative, which is called Peer Challenge Commit2Character.
“You serve as a philanthropist throughout your year,” she explained. “Whether I was performing at a nursing home or speaking to girls’ groups about the importance of self-esteem, I always strived to live a year of purpose.”
Sullivan’s social impact initiative is about the dangers of risk-taking behaviors and their ability to derail people's futures.
“Peer pressure is at an all-time high, and activities, such as underage drinking, drug usage, and teen pregnancy, are happening all too often,” she said. “Teens need a positive influence, and that’s where I come in. After all, it wasn’t long ago that I was standing in their shoes.”
Upon becoming Miss New Jersey, Sullivan will compete for Miss America in December, at Mohegan Sun, in Connecticut. Sullivan’s goal as Miss New Jersey is to get a mandatory character education curriculum back in schools.
During the state competition, every candidate has a private interview with the judges to begin the competition, according to Mallous.
“Then, we perform a talent, answer onstage questions ranging from various political and personal topics, and present our social impact initiative pitches,” she said. “I have been a competitive dancer for 15 years, so I’ve always considered talent to be one of my strongest portions as a dancer. In my social impact pitch, I discussed the urgency of the human trafficking crisis taking place in our state, which I’ve become extremely passionate about raising awareness for.”
Mallous said the interview portion is the toughest part of the competition for her.
“As a teen, I had struggled with my confidence during the interview portion,” she said. “Over the years, I have done tons of mock interviews to improve my skills, and it’s safe to say I am no longer afraid to do interviews. Actually, it’s one of my favorite aspects of competition.”
For Sullivan, the toughest part of the competition “has always been keeping myself centered and keeping my mind at ease. I was always someone who focused very much on the end result of the competition week, and I always would become so hyper-focused on the outcome. Everything really begins and ends in your mind and the mind is a really powerful tool.
"I knew going in this year that this was my last year of eligibility to compete for Miss New Jersey, and even though that was very sad to swallow, it also kept me very centered because I went in just saying that I was going to be unapologetically Alyssa, and that I would accept the outcome, no matter what.”
Sullivan said this year was extremely different than any other year she competed for Miss New Jersey because the pandemic happened just a few months before the competition was supposed to begin, pushing it back a year.
“For me, I just wanted to expand upon the mission that I had put out in years' past,” she said. “I was able to turn my social impact initiative virtual and reach even more students throughout the state than I would’ve if I was just going into schools physically. Of course, in addition to my social impact, I was also spending a lot of time in the gym and rehearsing my talent, but my state of mind was always my biggest focus. I embraced God's plan and His timing above all.”
Within 24 hours of becoming Miss New Jersey, Middle Township rallied to throw Sullivan a welcome home parade. Middle Township Committee named July 7 Alyssa Sullivan, Miss New Jersey Day.
“God blessed me with some pretty selfless and amazing humans in my life, and I thank Him every day,” Sullivan said, noting both events were emotional for her. “In each year that I competed for Miss New Jersey, my Middle Township gave a piece of their heart to the process. The journey was every bit theirs as it was mine.
“This community is a beautiful testament to the fact that it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “I may be biased, but I think I got a good one. This small town of mine has a heart bigger than you could ever imagine. There’s something to be said about a town that loves with all their heart and helps raise young women to believe that they are changemakers in every sense of the word.”
“No matter where I go in life, I’ll never forget where I came from. Cape May County is my home, and I am extremely blessed for all of the support that I have been given along my journey,” Mallous added.
To contact Karen Knight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.