The season 14 finale of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team airs tomorrow, Oct. 25, at 9 PM ET/8 CT on CMT.
Kelli Finglass had a life plan, and it didn’t involve the most prestigious and renowned cheerleading and dance squad in the NFL.
“I was going to be in international marketing for UPS, with my first assignment being a driver!” Finglass told CMT.com with a chuckle.
Yet here she is more than twenty years later, passionately leading the charge and making magic happen on and off the field as the Director of the world-famous Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Fate always has a way of putting us right where we belong, doesn’t it?
Finglass is warm, spunky and completely open and candid as we take a walk down memory lane to her first DCC audition at 19 years old.
“I heard an ad on the radio for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders auditions and I thought, ‘All right, I’ll try that. I probably won’t make it, but I’ll try it.’ And so, I did, and I drove to at the time Texas Stadium and when I drove up, I’ll never forget just this sea of this parking lot full of huge blonde hair, ’80s, everybody looked like Farrah Fawcett. These larger than life people, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the wrong place.’”
Finglass’ road to the DCC is much like that of the candidates she now mentors and coaches: a small-town girl who fell in love with dance and chased that dream throughout her college career, wondering just how far she could take it.
All the way to 100,000 screaming Cowboys fans, turns out.
“Once I was in it, I was in it forever,” she said. “I mean, immediately it became a way of life for me. We all became very close friends, I immediately had a roommate and I actually transferred colleges because of it.”
“It became everything to me.”
Finglass danced with the group for five years, and fun fact: she was the only DCC allowed back on the team without repeating auditions and training camp.
And it wasn’t just her talent and tenacity that won favor with her superiors and her peers; she was also a refuge for the girls, a confidant and key advisor from day one, and that role continued for Finglass even after her retirement from the field.
“For some reason, I was named the ambassador!” she said.
Big changes came for the Cowboys Organization in 1989. Finglass hung up her uniform, DCC Director Suzanne Mitchell also retired, visionary entrepreneur Jerry Jones became the Cowboys’ new owner, and questions about the future of the squad rose for the remaining cheerleaders. After the veterans made a house call to Finglass’ apartment one night, she decided to take action to alleviate their concerns.
“I went to meet with Jerry Jones on behalf of our alumni cheerleaders. Everybody was kind of in a stir about what happens next,” she recalled. “I spoke with him, and kind of voiced some of the concerns. And then, later that week they called me and said, ‘Well, would you want to come work for the cheerleaders?’”
See fate stepping in?
“And again, as I said, I’d just accepted a job. I was very excited about international marketing, but my passion in my life just said, ‘Yes.’ So, I did, and I was the assistant director with Leslie Haynes for a season. Then I worked in the Cowboys Marketing department for a season, and then was asked to go back to the cheerleading department and run it full steam in 1991.”
Since becoming full Director, Finglass has taken the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders to new heights and global fame. National and International television appearances, fan experiences, countless USO Tours for our troops overseas, modeling, swimsuit calendars, merchandise and of course, CMT’s fourteen-year long run of the hit series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, which Finglass executive produces.
“We had this interest in our audition process,” she said. “The audition itself is pretty elaborate and extensive and comprehensive, so that’s when the idea and the conversation started, like, ‘Hmm, maybe we should do a TV show or something…’”
“All these reality shows are popping up, maybe there’s something that can maintain the integrity of the cheerleaders, and show the world what we know: that all these girls are coming from all over the country and they’re so talented, and there’s so much more than what one would see just at a football game.”
Once again, Finglass saw the potential and just went for it—and it paid off.
“I have what I think a lot of young people coming out of college have: you’re just fearless,” she admitted.
“You don’t know what the word ‘no’ means,” she said. “I had my first staff meeting, I’ll never forget: I walked into the meeting, and it was all department heads. Our Owner Jerry Jones was there, our head coach Jimmy Johnson, and several of the others, too. I had just this spiral full of ideas, and I’m sure they were used to a meeting where people said, ‘Ah, everything’s good this week.’ And I started rattling off all my ideas, and it was two pages worth of things I wanted to do with the cheerleaders. I probably get some eye rolls, I don’t know. But those two pages have all come to life,” she revealed.
And more pages fill up with each day that Finglass and her choreographer Judy Trammell are at the helm of the ship. It’s a friendship and professional partnership that not only gets the job done, but also shines brightly and sets the tone each season.
“Judy and I are like spouses now,” Finglass said with a laugh. “We’ve grown so much together. I can be myopic and extremely focused and driven, and Judy is more that ‘relater’. She’s trying to make sure everybody’s happy and I’m trying to make sure we’re getting everything done and we’re getting it all right.
But through the years, we’ve definitely rounded out each other’s corners and when we make decisions, we definitely talk behind closed doors, so to speak. And when we present whatever the decision is to the group, it’s unified.”
“I mean we’re like parents, she and I are probably better spouses and parents than in our own personal lives, because we know we’re supporting each other when we come up with a decision. I think we respect each other a lot.”
More than the uniform, the white boots, and the dazzling smiles, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are high-achievers and powerful, educated, thoughtful, kind and successful women. They’re role models—an inspiration for those eager to know the balancing act of family, a career, and a wild, all-American dream.
And they’re just getting started. With an exciting new roster of talent, a new season of performances and appearances, a brand-new Christmas show, the Cowboys Christmas Spectacular, and a host of other plans and dreams on the table, Finglass is ready to kick things up another notch, raising that glass ceiling even higher.
“That’s why we wear boots,” she quipped.
Watch Finglass and Trammell in action when the season 14 finale of Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team airs Friday, Oct. 25 at 9 PM ET/8 CT on CMT.