2008-03-20 / Front Page

Pageant winner's year had its share of ups and downs

Amy Polumbo nears end of reign as Miss New Jersey

Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo of Howell, is resuming her life now that the Miss America Pageant competition is over. However, the remnants of the scandal that once threatened to take her title and tarnish her name has made it hard for Polumbo to trust others.

Amy Polumbo Amy Polumbo "If I could do it all over again I probably would not have competed. I should not have to feel that way about such a distinguished program and opportunity," Polumbo said this week.

Although she said the experience was "wonderful," Polumbo said the situation has made it very hard "to keep my title and is something that follows me like a black cloud."

That part of her experience as a beauty pageant winner has made Polumbo consider the idea of changing her name. Polumbo, a theater major who is due to graduate from Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y., in May, said if she does change her name it will be a career move.

"I will begin auditioning this summer. I would like to get a job because I deserve it, not because my name has already been exposed," Polumbo said.

Polumbo, who is a 2003 graduate of Howell High School, won the title of Miss New Jersey in June 2007 during a pageant that was held at the Music Pier in Ocean City, Cape May County. The thrill of victory quickly took a turn for the worse when an unknown individual informed Miss New Jersey pageant officials that embarrassing photos of Polumbo were on an Internet Web site.

The photos, which Polumbo eventually released, showed her and other young people acting in a gregarious manner. There was no nudity in any of the photos.

Miss New Jersey pageant officials voted to allow Polumbo to retain her crown and to represent the Garden State in the Miss America Pageant, which she did in January in Las Vegas. The title of Miss America was won by Kirsten Haglund of Michigan.

In commenting on the uproar that the blackmail attempt caused, Polumbo said that for the most part, "the media was very good to me, however, there were still some things printed that were not true."

"The interesting thing about that situation was that the pictures had been posted before this all happened, when I was not a part of the public eye and before I knew I had a chance to be a role model," Polumbo said. "The blackmailer chose to pick two of the photos where I was celebrating with a friend on their 21st birthday, which just happened to be Halloween.

"Therewere other state title holderswho also had suggestive photos taken of them partaking in underage drinking. The only difference was that their blackmailer didn't threaten to send it to variousmedia outlets, sponsors, venues, and create graphic captions," Polumbo said.

Despite everything that has happened, Polumbo said she tries to stay positive.

"I know that I ama good person. I amin college, I am on the dean's list and I rarely ever partake in drinking and partying," she said.

Nevertheless, Polumbo said that despite the difficult situation at the outset of her reign as Miss New Jersey, the rest of the experience has been great.

"It was wonderful. I learned that not toomanywomen can say they have competed in the Miss America pageant. It is more likely for a parent to have a son play in the Super Bowl than to have a daughter compete inMiss America," she said.

Although theMissAmerica pageantwas only Polumbo's third pageant she said she tried to make the best of it. She encourages other young woman to pursue the Miss America pageant competition.

"Miss America is the No. 1 provider in scholarship money for women in the world today and it gives women a chance to make a difference," she said.

Although Polumbo did not win the crown, she won the non-finalist talent award worth $1,000, in addition to the $3,000 that each of the contestants took home. Polumbo received $10,000 for winning the Miss New Jersey pageant.

While competing for the title of Miss America, Polumbo appeared in the TLC television show"MissAmerica Reality Check." She said that was a new twist to the competition.

"The show aimed to try and make over theMissAmerica pageant competition. The change was viewed to be both good and bad," Polumbo said. "Alot of people, including some of the contestants, were uncomfortable with some of the changes. I understand the attempt in trying to keep the competition relatable to a younger crowd, but I believe we should still keep the program's traditions alive."

Throughout the entire experience the most important lesson Polumbo said she learned was that "online privacy is an illusion."

"I want people to wake up. Privacy is diminishing. I believe that soon no one will be able to be impulsive and have funwith their friends. I am trying to teach people not to make the same mistake I made," she said.

Polumbo is preparing for her senior showcase nextmonth inNewYork City. She will be a keynote speaker for an Internet safety symposium to be held in Ashville, N.C., in April. Polumbo will be speaking to legislators and educators about the importance of Internet safety.

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