Miss America 2006 Reflects on a Year of Service

Jennifer Berry Will Relinquish Crown During 2007 Ceremonies in Las Vegas

Editor’s note: The 2007 Miss America Pageant airs live from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Monday (Jan. 29) at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.

As Jennifer Berry has learned during the past 12 months, being Miss America is a huge honor, but it’s also a full-time job. These days, Miss America travels approximately 20,000 miles a month and is in a different city or town every 24 to 48 hours.

As Miss America 2006, Berry has embraced and somehow endured that schedule during what she will always remember as one of the busiest years of her life. With somewhat mixed emotions, the Tulsa, Okla., native will relinquish her crown when Miss America 2007 is decided on Monday (Jan. 29) in Las Vegas.

In a recent interview with CMT Insider’s Lisa Lee, Berry talked about her whirlwind year and what she’s looking forward to in the months ahead.

CMT: The day is drawing near. How do you feel at this moment — knowing that your reign is almost over?

Berry: It’s very bittersweet. Part of me is excited to get back to a little bit of normalcy and to be able to hand this opportunity to another young woman. I’m excited about that. But at the same time for me, it’s not the end of one year. It’s really the end of six years. I started competing five years ago. That whole phase of my life will be over, but I’m excited to move onto the next thing.

Do you remember normal after such a crazy year?

No. There are times I go home and I just want to go to Walgreen’s and I’m excited to drive. My mom never drives. She goes, “I know you want to drive because we’re driven everywhere.” … You go home and you miss the little things, like driving your own car, so I remember it, and I’m excited to go back to it.

You’ve done just about everything and have probably met a million people. What has been the best part of being Miss America?

Working on my platform — which has been incredibly rewarding for me — and being the only Miss America with the platform of building intolerance to drunk driving and underage drinking and the only Miss America to be a national spokesperson for MADD. I’ve hopefully touched a lot of lives and saved a lot of lives this year and made an impact on the country.

But the other thing that is really memorable to me are my visits with the military and my work with the USO. Miss America has a long-standing relationship with the USO, and I was privileged to have those opportunities this year to visit soldiers and their families at the Walter Reed and Bethesda hospitals and really actually be in the midst of war and be able to see what happens when these soldiers are sent home from Iraq. Most Americans don’t have that opportunity to walk up and shake a soldier’s hand and talk with their family and actually see it firsthand. For me, that is something that I will always remember.

And I know a lot of people were excited to meet you this year, but who were you excited to meet?

I’m from Oklahoma, so it’s pretty obvious that I’m a country music fan, so I was just so excited when I won Miss America because I knew we had such a great relationship with CMT and I was going to have so many wonderful opportunities. So going to the CMT Music Awards, going to the CMA Awards, I remember just being in the midst of such incredible talent and people I’ve admired my whole life. At the Charlotte’s Web premiere, I got to meet Reba. … Just to have those opportunities to meet people I probably never would have met, especially the country music artists. I get star-struck just like everybody else.

After experiencing so much in such a short time period, what will you miss the most about being Miss America?

I think just the variety of opportunity. Everybody asks, “What’s a typical day like?” And I say, “There is no typical day.” I think that’s what keeps you going. I think that’s what’s exciting about it. It’s not mundane at all. One day you’re on this side of the country, and 24 hours, later you’re on the other [side] doing something totally different. And I think I’m going to miss that [and] the response of walking into a room and hearing the crowd be so excited to see Miss America. And I still don’t think I even comprehend that I’m Miss America. I’ll be passing the crown on and never really have got it in my head. I think I’m just going to miss the excitement and the variety.

What will you not miss?

I will not miss the plane rides. I will not miss living out of two suitcases. You know, it’s ironic. One day you know we’ll be at the Ritz-Carlton and the next day we’ll be in the Holiday Inn — and I’m still washing all my clothes in the sink wherever I am. We may be at this five-star hotel, and we’re down on our hands and knees washing our clothes. The glamour, yeah. The glamour that’s not really there. I won’t miss that, and I definitely won’t miss being away from my family and my friends and just being in one place. I always say room service is great, but I miss going to the refrigerator and making a turkey sandwich.

Everyone thinks of Miss America as being so glamorous. Part of that glamour is the crown. Is it comfortable?

It is. It’s very comfortable, actually. It’s very light. Now, the funny thing is: The box that it comes in is very heavy and very hard to carry around. The crown itself is really the staple and the vision and the tradition that everyone knows. Another exciting thing that I’ve loved this year is being able to crown little girls who come up and meet me and just see how excited they are and the looks on their faces when they’re wearing the crown. Because I can easily remember just like it was yesterday being that little girl that looked up to Miss America, and that’s something I tried to hold onto this year.

Can Miss America ever have a bad hair day?

I have, and they haven’t taken the crown away yet. … I always say, “I’ve got to go transform into Miss America.” I’m the girl who likes to wear stretchy, comfy pants, a baseball cap and no makeup. So I do try to maintain the look of Miss America, but you definitely have bad hair days. You have days where your schedule is so busy that you may not have time to wash your hair. You just have to roll with it.

What’s next for you? You have aspirations to go on to graduate school, right?

I do. I’ve been blessed to make a lot of good relationships that will carry over this year. … I’ll get to do a lot of appearances and continue. … In the fall, I plan to finish my degree. I have $50,000 left to finish my education, so the door is wide open, and I’m just thrilled to take all of the opportunities that are out there. It’s interesting. When you end your year as Miss America, it’s kind of like you’re standing under a cloud of a bunch of different directions you can go in, and you kind of just have to wait and see where you are led to. I’m excited about that to see what comes next.