Cinnaminson High School senior wins Miss Teen New Jersey USA

Charnae Payne will go on to compete for Miss Teen USA later this year.

Seventeen-year-old Cinnaminson High School senior Charnae Payne had never been in a pageant before she competed for and won Miss New Jersey Teen USA. She just wanted to do something a little bit different to celebrate her 17th birthday — she never expected to win the entire competition.

“It just came in the mail one day and I thought I would try it out,” Payne said. “The experience was just so unexpected. I didn’t go into it expecting to win and it was my birthday weekend so I thought, why not? It couldn’t hurt to do something new for my birthday. ”

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Miss Teen of America is not a beauty pageant. It’s a scholastic-based, invitation only pageant for female students ages 13–18 that focuses on academics, personal achievements, leadership abilities and other talents. The six judging criteria are interview, achievement and service, personal development, scholastic record, general awareness, and personality, projection and poise.

According to Payne, the interview portion of the pageant is designed to determined how clearly and concisely competitors can answer a question on the spot. She added that the questions weren’t so easy, but she was able to articulately answer four questions in the three minutes she was interviewed.

As for the part everybody associates with a pageant — the stage walk — Payne commented that it’s not as simple and easy as it sounds. Contestants are supposed to project who they are as a person through their walk, which can take some practice, especially when it has to be done in an evening gown and high heels.

“It’s more so about communicating without actually speaking,” Payne said.

Payne added that she didn’t prepare very much for the pageant, but plans to prepare more for Miss Teen USA in November, especially the on-stage question that tends to focus on a popular issue. For Miss New Jersey Teen USA, Payne was asked what she believes the consequences should be for students who cheat.

“I said that it’s not fair to other students and that everybody should have a fair chance,” Payne said, also adding she doesn’t believe testing is necessarily an accurate way to determine a student’s intelligence. “Some students might just not be good test takers.”

Payne spoke very highly of the competition, commending the organization’s focus on brains instead of beauty.

“It was great to have something that highlighted things that I was so passionate about,” Payne said.

Payne has always been dedicated to keeping her grades up, despite her many extracurricular activities. She does community service with her high school’s Interact Club as well as participates in Yearbook Club, choir and Multicultural Club.

Payne says one of her favorite things about the pageant was getting to meet girls of all ages and walks of life. She was able to be an influence to younger girls while also gaining valuable insight from older girls getting ready to head off to college.

Payne still has close to a year until she heads off to college herself, but she’s already starting to polish her applications. She recently wrote her application essay and is working with her teachers to perfect it. She still has to take her SATs, which are two weeks before the Miss Teen USA pageant.

Payne is planning on going into pre-med and wants to eventually be a neurosurgeon. She’ll be sending multiple applications, but her dream school is Princeton University.

In regard to what she gained from participating in the pageant, Payne feels much more confident in herself now.

“I think I gained, most of all, more self confidence. I’ve been more confident, but especially with the singing portion and having the opportunity to sing on stage. Singing in choir, you’re trying to match your voice to form one voice with everyone else. But singing alone, it’s just you. That was one thing I got out of it,” Payne said. “Also, just learning about girls from other stages of life and feeling that it is OK to be smart and be a female.”

When Payne isn’t at school or participating in extracurriculars, she enjoys singing, baking and helping her mom throw small parties.

Upon her victory, Payne received a $1,000 cash scholarship as well as travel and accommodations for the national Miss Teen USA pageant in Minneapolis, Minn., this November. Additionally, she received $250 for a Special Olympics inclusion event to be held at Cinnaminson High School early next year. Miss Teen of America has an alliance with Special Olympics that focuses on making sure social inclusion is the norm regardless of ability or disability.

If she goes on to win it all, Payne will receive more than $20,000 in scholarships, prizes and awards as well as the official title of Miss Teen of America 2017.

Payne is looking for local businesses to sponsor her in the Miss Teen USA pageant. Anyone interested in sponsoring can email for more information.

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