Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There she is, Miss America...There she is, your ideal... Memories that I will remember FOREVER

After writing the title for this blog, it is crazy to think that I indeed did have a Miss America Journey.  How incredible it is to think that I had the opportunity that ALL young girls dream about to compete on the Miss America stage.  The Lord never ceases to amaze me with the opportunities He continues to give me, and for that I am forever grateful.

My experience in Las Vegas can be summed up in one word, surreal.  There were many times I remember just stopping whatever I was doing, and looking around and wondering, "how in the world am I here?"  I can honestly say that I would not have traded my 6 years of preparation for this moment for all of the money in the world.  Yes it gets frustrating and disappointing when you put your heart and soul on the stage in hopes that a judge can see your worth... and then you fall short; however, it was all a part of the wonderful plan that the Lord had for me.

As I arrived at the airport in Birmingham on January 4th, there were many family members and friends there to wish me luck.  I know that without that small token of appreciation, my flight would have been filled with many more butterflies.  It was such a heartwarming moment to feel that I had the support of not only my family and friends, but also my state as I left to compete for Miss America - I will remember that moment forever.

Wednesday night, Nan and I arrived at the Planet Hollywood resort and Casino only to check-in, report for a fitting, and eat a very late dinner before calling it a night.  The schedule of Miss America is very demanding and the wanted us all to get a good feel of it throughout the week to prepare each and every one of us for the job of being Miss America. Needless to say, I slept very well that night.

Thursday morning we had to officially check in with our Hostesses and get our wardrobe in the Artistry tent.  I find it very ironic that my Hostess for the week was Michelle, a school teacher.  God was just showing off at this point. This tent, or dressing room, that Artistry provided was our home away from home.  It was set up in such a manner that there were makeup mirrors for everyone and a clothing rack that was shared by 3 contestants each. There were snacks, drinks, and most importantly COFFEE available for us on a daily basis.  NOTE: I was not a coffee drinker until this year :-)

Thursday afternoon I got to meet my roommate for the week and soon to be Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler from Wisconsin.  We got along better then I ever could have dreamed we would.  She and I were so similar it was WONDERFUL!  We laughed a a lot and joked about each others accents.  We talked about our families, friends, states, and hometowns. We grew so close that by the end of the week, it seemed like we had known each other forever!  Laura was a JOY to live with.

Thursday night we had what is called the Arrival Ceremony where we were all able to sport our fashions from Express.  I enjoyed seeing everyone and their individual style, as well as meeting all of the other contestants one last time before the week got too hectic.  Immediately following the ceremony we had a kick-off party to talk about pageant week and get ready for what was to come. This was our last day to catch our breath before we began flying through the remainder of the 9 days in Vegas.

Friday morning, we had a big pancake breakfast with the wonderful folks of IHOP.  They set up a special breakfast for all contestants and some children form a local CMNH.  We were able to mingle with the patients as well as learn all about the art of making the perfect pancake.

After filling our bellies with all sorts of delicious breakfast foods, we went to our first rehearsals of the week.  We learned multiple dance routines that would come in handy later on in the week.  We learned that day that we would be filming the opening number on location at 7 different tourist attraction around Vegas.  Needless to say I was pumped!

After a LONG day of rehearsals they took us to a very prominent and classic showing of the Phantom of the Opera.  We were able to travel to the Venetian to see this wonderful production.  I had never seen this show before and I was incredibly excited to see it for the first time in VEGAS.  The only thing I regret is taking off my shoes during the show, because my feet were so swollen afterward that I couldn't get my shoes back on to go up on stage and take pictures with the cast.  Oh the life of a beauty queen...

Saturday was a very special day for me.  It was my 25th birthday!  I cannot think of a better way to spend such an important birthday than being in Las Vegas at Miss America.  First, we had rehearsals in the ballroom.  Then, the select group of contestants who were filming at the Hoover Dam were dismissed for the remainder of the day for filming.  The Dam was such a breathtaking view and one that I will absolutely remember forever. Upon our return to the tent with the other contestants, the dressing room Hosts presented me with a birthday cake and the girls sang to me.  It is amazing how close we all got in just 2 days of being together.  It was a very special moment that I will remember forever.  We got back just in time to get ready with the other contestants for the annual Fashion Show at a local mall.  The runway comes out from underneath the floor and rises up above ground level.  It was such a cool event where we were able to meet the public and sign some autographs.  One of the coolest moments was when I was on the runway, the emcee mentioned that I graduated from Auburn University.  Someone in the crowd responded by yelling "War Eagle". I was surprised and excited all at once.  I got to meet this person during out autograph session.  She was a young girl who competed in the Outstanding Teen pageant and was able to receive a scholarship from AU which she was using starting next fall.  What a small world.  After the fashion show we were taken to Buca de Beppo, an italian restaurant in Vegas.  The food was amazing and we had many photo ops during dinner.  The best part of dinner was when the girls sang "Happy Birthday" to me and brought me a GIGANTIC dessert. It was a GREAT day, and one the I will not soon forget.

Sunday was a CRAZY day! We left the hotel at 6:15 am and didn't get back until after 11:00 pm.  We went from location to location filming for the Parade of States that aired on Saturday night.  We started at the Bellagio Hotel...

... then we were off to La Rev at the Wynn...

Then we got to take a quick lunch break at Simon's Restaurant at The Palms.  Simon, the chef and owner, has been on food network with Bobby Flay many times.  Lunch was wonderful!

The next stop was Ghost Bar at The Palms, and wow was it cold being that far up in the clouds...

After Ghost Bar we went to Freemont Street.  This was a really cool place where the public got to stand by and cheer us on.  This was a neat experience...

And the last stop of the day was the pool deck at the Cosmopolitan...

Monday we started the day with rehearsals for the first time in the PH Theatre.  I also had my interview Monday evening so I was doing some last minute preparations for my interview.  Speaking of my interview, things went really well, if I do say so myself.  I was asked things like " What makes you a real woman",  "Who will win the National Championship game", "Have you ever quit something that you have started", "What would be the first thing you would ask Obama if given the chance", "How do you feel about the government telling you who you can marry", "Why should we pick you", and "Who all is coming with you to Miss America".  The variety of questions was a little all over the place, but that is the kind of interview that I appreciate.  I truly do think that judges got a good sense of the real Courtney Porter, and I felt confident that I had shown them what I had to offer.  I was the third interview from the end of the day, so I am assuming they were more than exhausted.  It definitely came across that way to me.  Some of the judges seemed more interested that the others, but that is usually how a panel is.  I had a couple of minutes to decompress from my interview before changing for dinner at P.F. Chang's with the other contestants.  That night being the night of the BCS Championship game, I was more popular than I was the rest of the week because everyone wanted to talk to me about the game.  That was pretty neat.  Anybody who knows me knows that I love me some football!!

Tuesday was upon us before we knew it...... This was the first day of official on-stage competition.  I knew as soon as Tuesday got here, the week would FLY by and I was right.  Tuesday morning I had talent rehearsal which went really well.  We got to run through our talents twice each and make sure that we had a good feel for the stage and our performances.  The crew definitely went above and beyond the call of duty to help ensure that we looked and sounded out best.  I truly appreciated their eyes and ears for details.  It is the little things that matter!

After getting all of our rehearsals under our belts, we were dismissed to have our hair and makeup done.  The people of Joelle's Salon, Mandie Powell and Dona Bullock came with me and were my glam squad.  I could not have asked for a better group to help me get ready for competition.  Then we were off to the show, and before we knew it we were at visitation with our families.  It was so great to see my family and friends.  Their support meant the world to me and I would not have made it without them.

Wednesday was more of a  relaxed day.  I had on-stage question.  We got to go on yet another photo shoot at Paris for yet another promotional shoot.  We had a great time singing and dancing for the camera.  Then, yet again, it was off to hair and makeup for another night of preliminary competition.  

Thursday came around and I was ready to get in that swimsuit and evening gown.  This was the last opportunity I had to show the hard work that I had dedicated to this once in a lifetime event.  I cannot thank my trainers at One-to-One enough for helping me become the most fit Courtney that I could be.  Also, Miss Ann Northington of North Oaks helped me look beautiful in my evening gown.  I wouldn't have been able to compete at such a level without our wonderful sponsors.  

Friday was  a day full of rehearsals..... We had to block the stage for television cameras and that took the majority of the day.  Although we didn't have a prelim competition that night, we still had a Miss America Crown Celebration.  This was a memorable event where we got to be recognized with our State Executive Directors and enjoy live entertainment, along with dancing and mingling with other state delegations.  This was a fun night to forget about competition and really embrace the relationships that had developed throughout the week.

Saturday was an emotional day to say the least.  I woke up knowing that I had done all that I could have done in my power to make my mark.  I knew that I had worked as hard as I could have, and I felt at peace about everything that I had put on the stage.  Of course, I wanted to hear my name called out on stage that night, but I knew that if it wasn't in God's plan for me to place that I was still ENOUGH.  I had to believe that with all of my heart.  I suppose the Lord had big plans for me that night...

I remember backstage before the parade of states started, I got chills and started tearing up.  It was hard to believe, but I was about to walk on stage, be on national television, represent my state of Alabama, and hopefully make everyone proud. I made it a point all week to wear my mom's angel pin in every outfit on stage so I felt close to her all week.  I could hear her voice in my head telling me that she was so proud of me.  That was the only way that I got through the night, because I was so anxious.  Little did I know the surprise Saturday held for me.

As most of you know, they announced the top 15 and I was more than excited to hear my name called out amongst the finalists...

We got to compete in swimsuit and then there was a cut from 15 down to 12. Well as I am standing on the stage in my swimsuit holding the hands of the other 14 finalist I knew that I was going to be ok either way.  My only goal was to do SOMETHING on Saturday night so the people of the state of Alabama could see me compete in at least one area of competition.  As the finalists were being called out, I started to accept that it might be over for me.  Then they called out Miss Oklahoma, the last of the 12 finalists.  As I pulled Hailey Miss NC and Elizabeth Miss VA in for a hug, Chris Harrison and Brooke Burke threw out the bomb that shocked us all... 

I never dreamed that they would make the contestants chose one of us to go back into the competition.... All week my prayer was that I had been the real Courtney with these wonderful girls so that they left Las Vegas truly knowing who I was and what I was about.  I hoped that I was able to let my light shine through my words, actions, and relationships with the girls all week.  If that were the case, then Miss America was going to be a success.  Well, as the girls were asked to line up behind the contestant they wanted to I could just feel a sense of peace.  I had no clue what was happening behind me, but I just felt at peace.  Either way, I was excited that I had done the best that I could.  Well next thing I know, I see a swarm of girls coming in front of me to hug me and tell me how proud they were of me, and then I heard Brooke Burke say "Make sure you are standing still because this looks really close"... My immediate thought was I hope they are counting all these girls in front of me too. We may have a miscount.....  Then Brooke Burke called out my name and state as the contestant to move on.  I was ECSTATIC!

This meant the world to me and now looking back on it it makes me teary-eyed.  At the time, I didn't get to process what had happened because I had such a quick change into evening gown.  After evening gown, was talent.  I put on my talent costume and ran my dance at least 10 times in my head while waiting to hear my name called out...... But that never happened.  I honestly wanted to dance on Saturday more than anything, but that wasn't in the cards for me. I then had time to go back into the tent and gather my thoughts.  I remember looking up and saying "Well Momma, we did it".  I was proud of myself, a little disappointed of course but happy with what I had done.

The last event of the night was the crowning of Miss America.  I remember walking out on stage during that last commercial break and making eye-contact with my sweet Daddy.  He looked at me, raised up his sign with my face on it, and then looked away.  At that point, I started crying for the first time all week.  I am so thankful for my Daddy and his never ending support throughout this journey.  I know the week was hard for him as well as my sisters because we all knew there was something that was missing all week.  That something was my Momma.


I remember hugging Laura, Miss Wisconsin, my wonderful roommate right before crowning.  She kind of chuckled anxiously when I hugged her neck and all I could tell her was "Breathe, this is it Laura." She looked at me, shook her head, and took her place in line with the other top 5.  I cannot explain how proud of her I am.  She was such a joy to get to know throughout the week.  She is encouraging, helpful, silly, serious, admirable, passionate, relevant, intelligent, stunning, and absolutely WORTHY of the title of Miss America 2012.  I think I speak for the entire class of Miss America contestants when I say we have a lot to be proud of in Laura and support her 100%.

This experience is one that I know will be on the list of top three experiences for the rest of my life.  I don't think I will ever be able to repay the people who were in my corner helping me prepare for such an event.  I am not going to name each of them individually at this time, but please know that I am more than thankful for the support and encouragement that I have received over the year.

To sum it up, it is surreal that I was able to meet such wonderful people, establish such lifelong friendships, accomplish a monumental dream of mine, and make my mother, family, and state proud.  Thank you, Alabama, for allowing me to be your representative at Miss America - These memories I will remember FOREVER.

Isaiah 40:31