UPDATED: Leary a semifinalist in Miss New Jersey USA pageant

SPARTA. Last year, Cameron Leary represented Sussex County. This year, she was representing Sparta.

Sparta /
| 23 Jun 2024 | 09:46

Sparta resident Cameron Leary was one of the 16 semifinalists in the Miss New Jersey USA pageant held during the weekend in Parsippany.

This was her second year competing in the event.

Last year, she represented Sussex County. This year, she represented Sparta, where she has lived since she was about 5 years old.

Jabili Kandula of Berkeley Heights won the title of Miss New Jersey USA on Sunday night, June 23. She is a private pilot and associate editor of Aviation for Women magazine.

During the pageant at the Hilton Parsippany, the 125 contestants had 2 1/2-minute interviews with the judges Friday, June 21, then took part in the swimsuit and evening dress competition Saturday, June 22. At the end of those, the group was narrowed to 16 semifinalists.

Those 16 competed in swimsuits and evening dresses starting at 6 p.m. Sunday. Five finalists - Kandula, Jenna Abdelqader, Ivy Harrington, Lili Meloul and Rashmi Naik - each answered a question onstage before the runners-up and winner were announced.

The winner will go on to compete in the 73rd Miss USA pageant, which will be held Aug. 4 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Miss USA then competes in the Miss Universe pageant.

Held along with Miss New Jersey USA pageant was the Miss New Jersey Teen USA pageant. Representing Sparta in that contest was Angelica Morales, a sophomore at Sparta High School.

First pageant last year

The 2023 pageant was the first one that Leary had entered and she didn’t know what to expect.

Since then, she has spent almost every day training to compete and feels much more confident than she was last year. ”I’m ready to take the title this year,” she said in an interview before the pageant.

”Last year, I was a little bit more reserved, and this year, I’ve really come out of my shell and solidified why I want to represent New Jersey at Miss USA.”

She’s always dreamed of going to the Miss USA pageant, “but I used to think that a title-holder couldn’t be someone who struggles with their mental health.”

”The reality is so many women feel that they must suffer in silence and put on a strong face. What I’ve learned is that true strength is in vulnerability.

”Even though I’ve had past struggles with my mental health, right now I’m capable and ready to be the next Miss New Jersey USA.”

Leary, who works at Lakeland Bank as a commercial loan servicer, has become a board member of the Sussex County chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is training to become an official speaker for NAMI New Jersey.

She recently visited 15 classes at the three preschools in Woodland Park. If she becomes Miss New Jersey USA, she plans to triple that number during her one-year reign.

She also will continue to host workshops in mental health first aid.

”But most importantly, I will always be a voice for those who are struggling silently like I once did because I want to show you can turn that pain into passion. Because strength and resilience is what defines you and not your past struggles.”

Published author

Leary also has become a published author. Her book, “Me Time,” a guided journal for people who may be struggling with their mental health, was published last fall. There is one edition for teens and adults and another for children.

The book has tools and resources as well as pages with fill in the blanks to help readers get started journaling.

She now is working a fictional children’s book that deals with confidence and mental health.

”I’ve always been a writer ever since I was a kid. I have always been very dramatic too and very descriptive. So writing has always come very naturally to me.”

She was in theater at Sparta Middle School, then was a cheerleader at Sparta High School. Her senior year, when she was varsity captain, the team went to nationals.

”So hopefully I compete on the national level for a second time,” she said, referring to the pageant.

Leary said she is excited to see the friends she made at the pageant last year and “hopefully make some more new friends.” About three-quarters of the contestants will be new this year, she estimated.

There is a party Saturday night for all the Miss New Jersey USA and Miss New Jersey Teen USA contestants. “It’s almost 300 girls,” she said.

Tickets are $60 for the preliminary judging Saturday and $70 for the final competition and crowning Sunday.
On both days, the Miss New Jersey Teen USA competition is held before the Miss New Jersey USA competition.
The pageants will be held in the ballroom at the Hilton Parsippany.
For information, go online to missnewjerseyusa.com/mainevent/
Winners of the People’s Choice Award are guaranteed a spot in the semifinals.
Each vote costs $1 with a five-vote minimum.
Vote online until 11:59 p.m. Saturday at missnewjerseyusa.com/miss-contestants/
I will always be a voice for those who are struggling silently like I once did because I want to show you can turn that pain into passion. Because strength and resilience is what defines you and not your past struggles.”
- Cameron Leary, who will represent Sparta in the Miss New Jersey USA pageant