Miss Colorado comes home without national crown, but not empty-handed
September 19, 2015
The day after she won the second runner-up title in the Miss America Pageant, Miss Colorado and Windsor resident Kelley Johnson was exhausted, but not disappointed.
Yes, she would have loved to have taken home the crown.
But with the national attention the pageant got and the viral status her monologue in nursing scrubs attained, she's happy about the influence and exposure her message continues to garner.
"I was just so honored to be chosen and then to continue to go that far," Johnson said.
By Monday afternoon, the video of her monologue about her experience as a nurse had more than 3.5 million YouTube views.
"(The monologue) was incredibly risky," she said. "I don't think everybody thinks that talents like that go that far, but I really believed in it from the start."
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While she received some criticism for the decision to stray from more traditional talents — like singing or dancing — she's seen hundreds of thousands of comments about the positive impact of her story, which focused on a patient of hers with Alzheimer's.
"As a family, the experience (of Miss America) would have been great," said Gene Haffner, director of public relations for Banner Health North Colorado Medical Center and Johnson's stepfather. "But in a lot of ways we have the best of all worlds, and her message has unexpectedly blown up."
Johnson said she hopes the monologue will remind those who watched the show and those streaming it in the days after to appreciate and thank the nurses in their lives and give those in the nursing community a greater voice on a national level.
"It's really cool to see the nursing community has a promotional voice," said Johnson's mother, Julie Johnson Haffner, the executive director of the Banner Health McKee Medical Center Foundation.
Recognition for her cause — leading a healthy lifestyle and educating people on their own health needs and challenges — is not the only lasting effect of the preparation and competition before Sunday.
Throughout the competition process, Johnson received $37,000 in scholarship aid — $20,000 for her win Sunday, $5,000 for a STEM award, $3,000 for being a Miss America contestant, $1,000 for academics and $8,000 for Miss Colorado — which allowed her to completely pay off her student loans from nursing school at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
"It's just insane, and it's such a blessing," Johnson said. "I don't even know how many thank-you notes I can write."
She said she hopes to use the money that would have otherwise gone to loan payments for travel after her time as Miss Colorado ends in nine months.
Ideally, Johnson said she would like to get back into nursing somehow. She also said she hopes the many media requests to come will include an invitation to The Ellen DeGeneres Show to meet her idol, DeGeneres, who she said she thought should be on the $10 bill during the competition.
But in addition to scholarship money and exposures, Johnson formed lifelong friendships with her fellow contestants.
"I was really close with a lot of women who I will, no doubt, be close to the rest of my life," she said.
So close, in fact, Johnson laughed, many of them could end up in her bridal party and meeting her future kids.
"It was definitely competitive towards the end of the week, but as the night went on, they were still cheering us on, and it was really humbling to make these real and true friendships," she said.
Johnson and her family, including her stepfather, mother and siblings, will return to Colorado today, where she will begin her time preparing for public appearances as Miss Colorado.
She is scheduled to appear at the American Cancer Society Cattle Barons Ball on Saturday in Greeley.