Not just a beauty pageant


Photo Credit: Stephanie Ferrari Beaudoin

Stephanie Ferrari being crowned Miss New Jersey 1998. Ferrari was crowned in her favorite dress out of all the outfits she wore.

In front of a Broadway-style vanity, one with big circular lights lining above the perimeter of its mirror, Stephanie Ferrari stood. She was a small town girl who wanted to make it to the stars, according to her Glen Rock High School yearbook.

But an actress standing in front of a vanity was all she was.

Everyday she would stand in front of that vanity putting on her stage makeup for show after show. Everyday she hoped to go back to school and take more acting classes, but she never had the money. On one of these average days, Ferrari decided to strike up a conversation with a fellow actress while getting ready for the show. She mentioned going back to school and how it was too expensive. The fellow actress’ response surprised her. She suggested that she enter a pageant.

“A pageant?” Ferrari said incredulously. “I’ve never done a pageant in my life. I don’t wanna do a pageant. I’m not a pageant girl.”

The girl, however, made the negative tone in Ferrari’s voice disappear, as she went on to tell her how she was runner-up to Miss New Jersey the year prior, won $3000, and was currently taking acting classes. Ferrari was intrigued. She wanted to do everything she could to get the money for school, even if it meant joining the pageant world.

But how could a girl with no pageant experience go on to win a state title? With two four letter words: hard work.

Hard work is what helped Stephanie Ferrari win Miss Bergen County, with the help and support of many friends and family. The people who surrounded her gave her the pageant background she never had before, and they let her have some creative freedom. She chose the song that she would perform and the clothes she would wear, but there was always a hand on her back, guiding her.

Little did Stephanie know that the next step in her pageant career might knock that hand right off.

Photo Credit: Alyssa Kitz
Stephanie Ferrari’s section in her senior year yearbook. Ferrari attended Glen Rock High School.


Hard Prep

Ferrari’s diligent attitude never left her. It didn’t matter if it was the consecutive days of singing the same song, or working out to get fit for the bathing suit competition, or even the nerve-racking intensity of mock interviews, Ferrari always put her best foot forward. All of the hard work she was putting into the pageant showed much maturity. So much so, that her guiding hand began to gradually vanish.

As her guiding hand got lighter and lighter, Ferrari looked back at a high school experience for help. At Glen Rock High School, Ferrari modeled in the apparel and accessories competition in a meet for the DECA club. That experience made her more comfortable with walking down a run-way and posing for hundreds of people.

The freedom Ferrari had was very similar to the amount she had in the Miss Bergen County pageant. She got to pick the song she would perform and the clothes she would wear. Finding the right song was tough. She was in between three and would sing them over and over again. This experience differed from Miss Bergen County because she knew exactly what to sing then, but the stakes were higher now. After a lot of contemplation, she finally chose one of the most popular songs at the time, “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.

As for the clothing, her mother would go shopping with her to find dresses, or costumes, or swim suits that Ferrari felt good and confident in. Although there were many outfits for her to wear, Ferrari’s favorite was a red lace gown. The long sleeves came slightly off her shoulders and the train following her as she walked made her feel extremely elegant.

Preparing for a pageant was not just singing, trying on gorgeous gowns, and getting fit. There’s more mental and emotional preparation than anything else.

Mentally, Ferrari had to prepare for the interview portion of the pageant. Mock interviews were set up as practice. People that Ferrari was comfortable around would shot questions at her in a rapid fire manner, like a machine gun.

“They would just have me stand there and they would shoot a lot of questions at me. Questions out of the blue or questions regarding my platform,” she explained. “It was really good practice preparing for the interview because for the interview you have six judges and you walk in and they are all staring at you and it’s pretty intense.” 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Ferrari Beaudoin
Stephanie Ferrari sings “My Heart Will Go On” for the talent portion of the pageant. Ferrari competed in the Miss New Jersey 1998 pageant.

Emotionally, all Ferrari needed was positivity and support from the people around her. Everyone around her was open to the idea of pageantry except one, her mother.

“I was against it. I did not know about them. I just thought [pageants] were tacky,” her mother, Beryl Ferrari, said. Eventually, as time went on, her mother got involved and helped Stephanie immensely. Once she received her mother’s support, Stephanie noticed that everyone around her genuinely wanted her to reach her goal.

However, the person that supported and motivated her the most was herself. At the time of preparing for the pageant Ferrari lived in her childhood home, back in Glen Rock. She spent most of her time in her childhood bedroom. If you were to walk in there during this time in her life you would see, along every wall and mirror were multiple colored Post-It notes. Each had a different goal or motivational saying on it.

Ferrari recalled the notes years later: “Practice this song 6 times a day and work out this many times a day, read the newspaper every day so I was up on current events.”

She said, “I would write my goals down, and I would stick them on the walls so I could see them everyday.” 

Preparation seemed never-ending. Two weeks before the actual pageant, all the girls competing traveled to the Ocean City Music Pier for daily dress rehearsals. The pageant was more like a production, a show for the audience’s entertainment. For Ferrari, it was a chance to continue her education. However, this chance came with a price. Besides being on stage, doing dress rehearsal all day, the contestants had to show up to places or events of the companies sponsoring the Miss New Jersey pageant. That’s all that happened in the two weeks there, same average stage, same sponsors. But, the day of the competition the stage was not as average, it was like a monster.  


The Day

Nerves shot through Ferrari’s body. Her anxiety was not unique, everyone felt the nerves in the air. The key to not letting that feeling show on stage was simple, be calm and confident. That was easy for Ferrari since the excitement overpowered the feeling of nervousness in her. The familiar and comfortable backstage area now seemed foreign to Ferrari. This was due to the slight panic in the air.

“When you had a really fast costume change, it was panicky. If someone couldn’t get their hair right for their talent they would panic,” she said. However, the Broadway-styled backstage also brought an electric thrill. “It was very exciting and we all had little robes while we were getting ready with curlers in our hair.”

Photo Credit: Stephanie Ferrari Beaudoin
Stephanie Ferrari introduces herself to the audience at Miss New Jersey 1998. Ferrari won only one previous pageant, Miss Bergen County.

Although there was tons of tension in the air, Ferrari described the feeling of the day as being overall positive. This wasn’t just due to Ferrari’s personal confidence and the fact that her family was in the audience, but also the feeling of comradery.  “We became so close, all the girls became really close. We supported each other, we laughed together, we cried together,” Ferrari explained.

Even the girls who were fiercely competitive still could push away the nerves. They definitely did not go away when it was time for the girls to first step onstage.

“I was nervous definitely but there was an adrenaline rush going through me and just hearing the audience, looking at the judges, I really enjoyed it,” Ferrari said, describing her first time on the Miss New Jersey stage.

As this final night continued and Ferrari advanced further and further on in the competition, her family and support system believed she had a better chance of winning. “By the end of the last night I thought she had a darn good chance,” her mother said about thinking Ferrari would win.

The events of the night came and went too quickly. However, for Ferrari the talent event could’ve gone on forever. After all the time and effort she put into perfecting her song, it was no surprise that Ferrari was confident and felt good about her performance, which is somewhat surprising. Ferrari remembers that often, she and other girls wouldn’t be happy with how they performed.

For Miss New Jersey specifically, Ferrari’s biggest competition, Robin Delory had an amazing singing voice. She was not phased by Delory’s amazing talent though, and still was confident after her own performance.

There were many more events than just the talent one. One of the events that is tied to a backstage memory for Ferrari is the swimsuit competition.

“When you are in the bathing suit competition there is stuff called butt glue and you spray it on your bottom so your bathing suit sticks, so when you walk it doesn’t ride up. I always remember us cracking up spraying it on each other. It was very funny,” she said.” 

Due to the backstage shenanigans and her confidence, Ferrari hadn’t been phased by how far she had come. That was until she realized that she and one other girl were the only two left on stage. That girl on stage next to her was Robin Delory. Most thought that Delory would win due to her previous experience in pageantry. However, there was no knowing whose name would be called that night.


I have heard from many people that it is rare to win your first Miss America local,” Ferrari said.

The announcer stood on the stage with Ferrari and Delory behind him. The tension built as Ferrari looked out upon the thousand member audience and bright lights in front of her. She focused in on the tall, elegant glass windows looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly, all silence was broken when one name was reverberated throughout the Ocean City Music Pier. It was almost a slow-motion moment. There was clapping and cheering but all Ferrari could hear was the clacking of heels down the stage. Suddenly, reality hit and the world moved at a normal pace.

“My reaction when I heard my name was priceless! I was so shocked, but so honored to have had been chosen out of such an amazing group of young women,” she said.

After the tears dried from Ferrari’s eyes, she realized her family was up on stage with her and cameras flashing left and right. She realized her sister and mother were crying as well. Ferrari could only describe it as “surreal, very surreal.”

Once all the celebrating was over, Ferrari returned home. However, she was not prepared for what she would return home to.

“Having all of these cameras constantly on me and then the newspapers that would call the house everyday and the news stations, I had no idea,” she said.

It was a part she did not particularly enjoy. She mentioned getting weird letters from unknown people, receiving calls on the daily, and constant knocks on the door. It faded away but felt like an eternity.

Immediately after the press died down, Ferrari had to begin preparing for her next pageant, Miss America, not to be confused with Miss USA. 

Ferrari held the title of Miss New Jersey for the next year, and it brought many more special experiences. 


Pageantry Today

Not everyone in pageantry has the same story as Ferrari. In fact, her’s is quite rare. Most start at a young age, like Celinda Ortega, the current Miss Bergen County.

Ortega began doing pageants at the young age of 8. She did not start pageantry because she wanted to, she started because she was invited to. “The way I got started in pageantry was a bit random. I received a letter in the mail from National American Miss, inviting me to compete at the state pageant in 2004. Based on the flyer it seemed very intriguing. I was also looking for a summer activity to look forward to, so I asked my mom to sign me up. After some research and thought, we decided to give it a go.  We believed it would be a good way to help me get out of my shell, and that’s exactly what it did,” Ortega explains.

Photo Credit: Celinda Ortega
Celinda Ortega introducing herself at the Miss Bergen County 2017 pageant. Ortega’s Miss New Jersey pageant will take place in the same location of Ferrari’s.

Ortega has participated in many pageants and two pageant systems. “Prior to getting involved in the Miss America Organization, I competed in and earned a national title from the National American Miss system.”

Ortega is a very empowered woman with a very positive outlooks on most topics. When asked how and if pageantry changed in the past 10 years for the better she responded with, “Most of the prestigious pageant systems started back in the early 1900’s, where the competitions were primarily focused on looks. I have noticed that now, the focus is shifting to inner beauty. Pageants nowadays want the face of their organization to be intelligent, committed to service, have a strong career path, and a captivating personality.” She loves that pageantry is looking at inner beauty more and more nowadays. Community service is also a big part of Ortegas life. This is a good thing because so is the Miss New Jersey Organization. “We are proud of the success of all of our Local Contestants and Miss New Jersey’s. Each of them is a shining example of the power of volunteers that are dedicated to community service,” according to the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation.

Besides both being previous Miss Bergen County’s and competing in Miss New Jersey, Ortega and Ferrari have much more in common. One of the similarities that stuck out was the fact that Ortega almost chose the same song for her talent as Ferrari. “Stephanie Ferrari stuck out to me especially, since she lives so close to me and I almost chose the same talent she did (My Heart Will Go On).”