Sgt. Stevens Named 'America's Choice'
January 30, 2008
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Army News Service, Jan. 30, 2008) - Utah Army National Guard Sgt. Jill Stevens' quest to capture the crown as the 80th Miss America ended with a flurry of pushups on the stage of the nationally-televised pageant Saturday.
Stevens, Miss Utah, did find satisfaction from winning the "America's Choice" part of the competition which made her one of the 16 initial finalists. A panel of celebrity judges eliminated her and five others following the swimsuit competition, the first event during the final night of the pageant televised live on cable's TLC.
"I think it made a stronger statement than winning Miss America," Stevens said the following day. "To be America's Choice is an honor. To me, I won last night.
"The competition, where they get their top 15, happened during the week and I knew I was not getting top 15 because I did not perform up to my potential. I am my worst critic and when I prepare for something, I usually deliver. It was horrible and I knew my only chance was to hopefully get America's Choice. As they went through the top 15, I totally understood why I was not up there, but then when they announced me as top 16, America's Choice, it was surreal."
The Army's "G.I. Jill" immediately assumed the front leaning rest position and gave the audience at least 10 pushups after host Mark Steines announced that she would not be one of the 10 finalists.
"Wisconsin and I, the state next to me, decided let's do pushups and it was wonderful, and then I guess all the other girls dropped down too. I loved that. It made a statement. I think it added some depth. It was fun," Stevens said.
Stevens was named the last of the initial 16 finalists because of the America's Choice competition that permitted the public to vote for a favorite contestant. It is believed that many National Guard Soldiers and other servicemembers voted for Stevens.
"It really was just such an honor. The military is one big family and to be supported by them was a huge help, as well as the many people around the nation that I've known or I didn't even know who heard my story and voted for me."
Stevens walked off the stage with a smile and a wave to join the other contestants who the judges had eliminated. She received a $4,000 scholarship.
"I think I have shown that you can be a woman and a Soldier," said Stevens, an Army Guard medic who served in Afghanistan between November 2003 and April 2005. "You can be feminine, but you can also get down and dirty and have fun being a Soldier and serving your country."
According to pageant officials, Stevens was the first Miss America contestant since 1992 to be affiliated with the National Guard. Had she won, she would have become the first Miss America to have served in a combat zone.
"Being chosen as America's Choice shows that Jill is a special person and that America supports our Soldiers," said Brig. Gen. Jefferson Burton, the Utah Guard's newly-appointed assistant adjutant general-Army. "We are very proud of Jill. She has handled it all very well."
She plans to begin working as a nurse when her reign as Miss Utah ends in July.
Kirsten Haglund, Miss Michigan, won the 2008 Miss America crown, which she will wear for the next year, and a $50,000 college scholarship.
(Staff Sgt. Rebecca Doucette works for the National Guard Bureau and Elizabeth Lorge is an Army News Service correspondent. Their reports were combined for this article.)