Arts & Entertainment

Former TAP Intern Amanda Martinez Finds Her Passion in Pageantry, Community Service

Credits: Richard Krauss
Credits: Richard Krauss
Credits: Richard Krauss
Credits: Richard Krauss
Credits: Richard Krauss
Credits: Richard Krauss

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The life of a college student is multi-faceted. Classes, clubs, friends, social events, studying, applications, jobs and internships take up most of the time, leaving little room for relaxation or even sleep. Yet Pleasantville, New Jersey resident and former intern for TAP into West Orange, Amanda Martinez manages another heaping serving on an already full plate as a student at Montclair State University: competing in Miss America pageants. 

Martinez got her start in 2008 at the age of 13, when she followed her older sister’s footsteps and competed in and won a local pageant called Miss Cotillion. Though winning was an unexpected bonus, Martinez cites participating in Miss Copillion as the moment she knew she would devote herself to pageants.

“I figured out that pageantry is what I wanted to do. Pageantry is what I was into,” she said.

Sign Up for E-News

In 2010, Martinez placed second runner-up in the Miss Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County pageant. A year later, she held the titles of Miss Puerto Rico of Atlantic County and Miss Pleasantville, and had launched herself into volunteerism—an often overlooked yet integral aspect of pageantry.

“A lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know about, like volunteering, doing paperwork, working on personal resumes, interview skills—so throughout the process of competing, I was learning all of these different things that were helping me for my future,” Martinez said. “And that’s why I fell in love with pageantry. It’s not only about stepping on stage and having your hair and your makeup done and looking pretty, but it’s about putting in the hard work that sometimes goes unseen.”

Her growing success allowed her to fly to Puerto Rico to be honored for her community service and volunteer work in her New Jersey community.  Her parents emigrated from Puerto Rico before she was born.

“I was learning about the issues they were facing in Puerto Rico, and I went into their towns and I met with their children and I went to their youth centers. So that was a really great opportunity for me—even though they’re part of the United States, I kind of took my platform nationwide.”

She then discovered a program that would help catapult her to even greater heights: the Miss America Organization, which “exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women and to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community,” according to the organization’s website. Martinez became interested in competing in the Miss America Pageant, but learned that she first must win a local title in her home state of New Jersey and then the title of Miss New Jersey itself before becoming eligible to compete in the national competition. So at the age of 18, she set off with the goal of doing just that.

Right off the bat, Martinez met the challenge of entering the organization at a later age than most of the other contestants.

“These girls had been competing since they were 12-13 years old. I had been competing, but not in the Miss America Organization,” said Martinez. “These girls went through the teen titles, so they had the experience, they knew what the organization was looking for, they knew the rules, they knew the regulations. And here I was, a little bit older at 18, so compared to the other girls it was a late start for me.”

The first task on Martinez’s list was to win a local title. She competed once, and did not place. She competed a second time, and again fell short of the title. Five local pageants later, and she still could not place a check mark on her list.

She began to feel discouraged: “After the fifth, sixth time, I’m wondering, ‘what am I doing wrong? Why am I not winning?’”

After seven losses, one last opportunity came in the form of a mass email to every New Jersey competitor: the Miss Middlesex County pageant to be held in March 2015.

“I realized that this was my last chance to go to Miss New Jersey, and I wanted to go to Miss New Jersey,” Martinez said.

She took time for introspection before committing to the competition, and decided to reach back to her roots and once again harness the authenticity and sincere joy that had helped her win Miss Copillion back in 2008.

She recounted, “I realized that at the end of the day, all you want is a genuine person—someone who’s real, someone who’s down to earth. So I told my family, ‘Listen, I’m going to compete.’ This was my make it or break it. I needed to prove to myself that if I put in the work, that I could win the title.”

Martinez threw herself into preparing for Miss Middlesex County for three months, working on interview skills, practicing dance to present as her talent, going to the gym to be ready for the swimsuit portion and rehearsing every aspect of pageantry every day.

The Miss Middlesex County Pageant Director, Sherrilyn McLaughling-Ryan, offered time at her dance studio for free to aid the girls preparing for the pageant. Martinez jumped at the opportunity and was able to not only practice her dance but learn new moves and techniques from other dancers.

When March finally came around, Martinez was ready to give all of herself to the competition. All of her preparations allowed her to win several preliminary awards at the pageant, including the interview, swimsuit and evening gown portions.

“I left everything I had on that stage,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Is this really happening to me? Is this my moment?”

“Fast forward, and I won Miss Middlesex County.”

Martinez had finally won her local title, and McLaughlin-Ryan became her director.

“She’s got an inner joy. Everybody is different and everybody’s got talent, but Amanda is—the only word I can think of is ‘joyful,’” said McLaughlin-Ryan. “She’s happy, she’s excited to be a part of things, she’s excited to get things done. She knows she can affect change by inspiring people. And she’s engaged; she doesn’t just phone it in. She’s really excited to do things and meet new people.”

There was little time to harp on the success, however, as the Miss New Jersey Pageant was in a matter of months.

“So then Miss New Jersey begins. I have two months to prepare. Some girls have been preparing for Miss New Jersey for a year now, six months, eight months, their entire lives. But for me, it was more that I wanted to do it to see if I could. I just wanted to see how well I would do,” Martinez said.

Martinez competed in the Miss New Jersey Pageant at the Ocean Pier in Ocean City, NJ from June 10 to June 13, 2015. She again poured everything she had onto the stage, but ultimately met the familiar outcome of falling short of the title.

Despite having to end her journey to the Miss America Pageant, Martinez found she had gained a treasure more valuable than a crown.

“I didn’t win, but I can say that I had a great opportunity making new friends and creating a bond with the other girls,” she said. “We call it our sisterhood; it’s our ‘sorority’ in a sense. Everybody’s friends—it’s not like anything you see on TV. We go to lunch together, we go to the mall together, we help each other buy dresses. It’s just like having 25 sisters.”

Danielle Barger is one of these “sisters” who also began competing at 18, leading to a special bond between the two girls. She shares Martinez’s belief that the Miss America Organization fosters strong friendships between the contestants.

“All of the girls that compete in these pageants earn more than interview skills, public speaking skills and confidence; they gain sisters with or without a crown. Once you enter your first Miss America Organization pageant, you're a part of the family in and out of the pageant world. All of the young women I compete with have a special place in my life. Amanda is one of the people that always encourages me to do my best in every aspect of my life and always reminds me that my goals are achievable and to always move forward. Without this organization, I know without a doubt that I would not be the well rounded person I am today and I wouldn't have the bridesmaids to my future wedding that I do today,” said Barger.

Along with gaining friends, Martinez was able to grow her presence as a community activist and expand her volunteer work through competing in pageants with the Miss America Organization.

“It was about winning Miss New Jersey, but it was also about finding who I was. I don’t compete because I want to be pretty on stage, or because I want to do my hair and my makeup,” said Martinez.

In fact, what she holds most dearly is her volunteer platform, “Play Your Part, Prove Your Power.”

She explained, “It’s about community empowerment and creating mentors for our children. When I grew up, my community helped raise me, and I can say that from the bottom of my heart. I had a town who cared for me. I was a little girl growing up in a big town. And there were so many teachers, so many guidance counselors and principals—when you reach out for help, people really do help you. I base my platform around my life because there’s that girl who was once me. And I don’t know who that little girl or little boy is, but there’s that kid who’s looking at a big world and doesn’t know what to do. So I just want to do for someone what people have done for me; I want to give back what was given to me.”

Martinez’s passion for community service is also tied to her identity as a Latina. She aims to motivate young girls who share her heritage to follow their dreams, even if those dreams include accomplishments not often depicted as achieved by minorities. She hopes to inspire young Latina girls to take up pageantry if they want to, and combat the commonly held belief that competing in pageants requires exorbitant expenses.

“A lot of girls don’t know they can do it. They don’t know they can afford it. I want to be that voice to really spread the word that there’s not a lot of us who compete, but if we come together, we can make a difference,” Martinez said.

One way she battles the myth is to compete in her best friend’s prom dress, which she spent only $35 on in alterations.

“To this day I compete in that dress. It’s an absolutely beautiful dress. You don’t always need the new stuff, and that’s something that, once again, a lot of girls don’t know. You don’t have to go out and spend all this money.”

As the director of Martinez’s title, McLaughlin-Ryan manages her appearances, supports her community service events and commends her mission of inspiration.

“We had an appearance in Elizabeth and there were a lot of young girls there. Some were African American, some were Hispanic, so she really connected with them because they looked at her and could see themselves. And that’s so important, for kids to be able to see wonderful things happen for people who look like them. She’s great for doing that,” said McLaughlin-Ryan.

Participating in Miss America pageants not only brought Martinez a solid sisterhood and sense of purpose, but monetary rewards as well in the form of college scholarships. Scholarships awarded by both the pageants and her high school allowed her to pay for a large portion of her college tuition at Montclair State University.

“It’s an added bonus,” she said. “You’re competing to better yourself and to help pay for school. And that’s the thing about competing. It’s not about going out of your pockets to spend all this money on dresses and stuff like that.”

Competing in pageants has also helped prepare Martinez for professional life. In December 2015, she will graduate with a degree in Television and Digital Media with a concentration in Television Production. She one day hopes to become a news anchor and use her deft communication skills, which she attributes to pageantry.

“If it wasn’t for competing, I wouldn’t be as strong at communicating as I am today. And that goes for everyone who competes; they prepare you for life,” she said.

The road to graduation and journalism has been paved with media internships. While Martinez currently works at a radio station, she spent the spring of 2015 interning as a reporter for, where she was able to mix what she calls the “pageant girl” with the journalist by covering community events close to her heart such as autism awareness and school programs.

“TAP really gave me the opportunity to get a lot of experience. I learned to talk to people and become a better writer. When you go into writing or journalism, you have to approach people, and you have to be approachable, and that’s something I learned at TAP. I learned how to communicate better.”

Ever the activist, Martinez also found opportunities to spread her volunteer platform while attending community events, further tying her experience as a pageant contestant with her role as a reporter.

“It’s just like anything else: you’re going there to better yourself,” she said.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Love is in the air...

Come to Sadie's to buy your sweetie the perfect Valentine's Day gift. We have locally made jewelry, vegan perfume, unique valentine cards, scratch off maps for those who travel and other fun gifts - something for every honey. Of course if you are looking for something to wear on your romantic night out or a fun single's night we have that, too.

Saturday, Feb 10, from noon to 3 ...

A Tale of Two Very Different Town Administrator Searches

Both Maplewood and South Orange are looking for new town administrators at the same time, a rare occurrence.

And their approaches couldn’t be any more different.

Maplewood, whose long-time administrator Joseph Manning is retiring May 31, launched its search last month the old-fashioned way: hiring a recruiting firm and letting them do the heavy lifting (or more appropriately the ...


AtlantiCast Medical Minute: Atlantic Orthopedic Institute’s Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Center

On this episode of the AtlantiCast Medical Minute, we’ll take you inside the Atlantic Orthopedic Institute’s Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Center, with the center’s director, Jason Lowenstein, MD.

Video Link:

AtlantiCast Episode 011

Breaking Atlantic Health System news on this week’s AtlantiCast! Plus, find out why Morristown Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in the nation when it comes to recovering from joint surgery, see the newest center for fighting brain cancer and an Atlantic Health System red-carpet premiere!


South Orange Police Blotter - Two Arrested for Robbery in South Orange

February 11, 2018

Adult Arrest - Robbery - Shawn Ray Newsome, a 20 year old Newark resident and a 17 year old juvenile were arrested on Saturday, Feb. 3, at approximately 10:45 p.m. for robbery. Two male victims reported that as they were walking on South Orange Ave near the Newark border, they were approached by three actors (described as black males wearing dark clothing and black masks) who ...

Maplewood Police Blotter - Home Burglary and Two Auto Thefts Reported

January 29 - Burglary; At approximately 3:10 p.m., officers responded to the area of Heller Pl and Orchard Rd on the report of an individual going into backyards. While checking the area, a juvenile approached an officer and notified her that her home on Orchard Rd had just been entered by an unknown male. Officers checked the home and surrounding area, but were unable to ...

Voting Ends Feb. 20 for Discover Jersey Arts People's Choice Awards: 4 Nominations for South Orange

February 17, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Three arts organizations based in South Orange have been nominated for Discover Jersey Arts People's Choice Awards, and South Orange itself has been nominated for Favorite Downtown Arts District.

“We are thrilled that South Orange has been nominated as best Downtown Arts District for the first time," said Bob Zuckerman, Executive Director of the ...

Over 25 Camps Share What's Hot this Summer at the Second Annual SOMA Summer Camp Fair

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Families from South Orange and Maplewood got the chance to learn about more than 25 area summer camps on Saturday, at the second annual SOMA Summer Camp Fair, hosted by Susie Adamson and Bonnie Ramsey of Adamson Ramsey Homes.

At the fair, which was held at Winchester Gardens, parents and kids could meet with representatives from a variety of camps, and learn more ...

Upcoming Events


Sun, February 18, 2:00 PM

Sadie's, South Orange

Macrame Workshop at Sadie's

Arts & Entertainment Home & Garden

Sun, February 18, 3:00 PM

Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, Summit

Come to NJIO's Winter Concert on Sunday, February ...

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, February 21, 12:00 PM

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange

The Purposes and Rhythms of Jewish Living

Education Religions And Spirituality

PARCC Debate in Newark Continues Amid Calls from Murphy for its Dismantling

February 17, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - Ever since New Jersey began using the PARCC exam in the 2014-15 school year, the state teacher's union and other groups have criticized the the standardized test and called for the state to stop using it to assess student performance.

During the campaign for governor last year, Phil Murphy, who was endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association, promised to ditch ...

TV News Crews Descend on Nutley, Schools Closed as Precautionary Measure

NUTLEY, NJ - Hours after official notification about Nutley Public Schools being closed because of a threatening video on Instagram, television news crews descended on the township as the national discussion about school security took a local turn.

Nutley Public Schools and the Nutley Police Department confirmed the situation. The police also confirmed that the individuals ...

Rabid Raccoon Reported in Mountainside

February 17, 2018

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — The Westfield Veterinary Group and Wellness Center today warned clients Friday and posted on their Facebook page that a raccoon in Mountainside has been confirmed to have rabies. 

“Please be very careful with your pets and be sure that they are up to date on their rabies vaccinations,” it said. “If you should ...

Springfield's Cannon Ball House is Open to Public Sunday, Feb. 18, Letter from George Washington and Herbert Hoover on Display

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Hit by a cannon ball, it survived the Revolutionary War. Sunday, Feb. 18, there is the Springfield Historical Society Open House at the Cannon Ball House. It will be open to the public from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.  

In honor of it being Presidents’ Day weekend, two samples of presidential penmanship will be displayed. One is a letter that George ...

Atlantic Health System Earns Spot for 10th Year on Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ List

February 18, 2018

Atlantic Health System, a leading provider of health care in New Jersey, today celebrated a decade of excellence after it was recognized among Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” ranking number 74 in its 10th consecutive year on the prestigious annual list.

It is the only health care delivery system from New Jersey, and the top-ranked New Jersey based company on the ...

Man Charged with Crashing Truck into East Orange Planned Parenthood Clinic

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino and East Orange Public Safety Director Sheliah Coley announced on Friday that Marckles Alcius, 31, with a last known address in Lowell, Massachusetts, has been charged with carrying out a truck attack on the Planned Parenthood East Orange Health Clinic on February 14, 2018, using a stolen bakery delivery truck.

Alcius has been charged with ...

Paper Mill Playhouse Announces the World Premiere of 'Unmasked'

Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Todd Schmidt-Managing Director), recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, announced today the world premiere of UNMASKED, which will feature some of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most iconic work and the stories behind its creation, along with new music and memories from his extraordinary life and career, will open its ...