Seventeen-year-old Smithville resident Amanda Ross has competed in pageants since she was in eighth grade, but none have been as important as her next.
On August 18, she will compete with 53 other teens from every state in America, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands to be crowned Miss America's Outstanding Teen.
"All the girls going into this competition are all pretty much outstanding since they are all representing their states," Ross said. "It's such a wonderful opportunity to meet all the new girls, see what they're like and make new friends."
Ross was crowned in January.
Her talent, which she has been studying since she was two, is dance—specifically ballet, which she studies six days per week during the school year and usually studies at camps every summer (this year she was unable to attend dance camp because of her Miss New Jersey's Outstanding Teen obligations).
"I first started dancing doing regular jazz and everything. As I got older I had a complete fascination with ballet, the history of it, the technique itself," she said. "It's always a challenge and I like challenges."
Ross' platform is autism awareness. Her younger brother, Jake, was when she was in sixth grade and he was three years old. Having now been Miss New Jersey's Outstanding Teen for nearly six months, Ross has had the opportunity to discuss the issue and has started a blog.
"It's been truly rewarding being able to raise awareness for autism," she said. "I want to reach out to other siblings and help get them involved, inspiring them to go out and speak out about it."
Ross attends the Performing Arts Academy at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology, where, in the upcoming school year, she will choreograph her own ballet as a senior thesis. She hopes to one day dance professionally, but also to study criminal justice and attend law school.
Ross was recently recognized and congratulated by the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders for her work as Miss New Jersey's Outstanding Teen and for being "an outstanding ambassador for the citizens of Gloucester County."