By Andy Kent
Special for MiamiDolphins.com
Former Miami Dolphins cheerleader LauRen Merola is getting ready to try her luck in Las Vegas, only she won’t be anywhere near the poker tables.
Merola will be taking the stage April 11 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino as Miss Pennsylvania in the Miss USA Pageant, hoping to be crowned by 2007 Miss USA Rachel Smith at the end of the evening.
The Miss USA Pageant has supplanted the Miss American Pageant as the marquee beauty pageant in America and will be broadcast live on NBC in front of a nationwide viewing audience. For Merola, this is a chance for her to tap into some of her experiences as a Dolphins cheerleader when she regularly performed in front of 75,000 fans at Dolphin Stadium.
“When I started cheering, my first game was such a rush,” said Merola, who didn’t start entering pageants until she was 14. “But this is very comparable. You’re representing another organization so it’s just like being a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, and in reality it’s kind of the Super Bowl of all pageants. There is a lot of media attention being a public figure as a representative of a state and a role model for young women everywhere. The Miami Dolphins have helped me prepare for this level of competition at Miss USA.”
Contestants are required to be at least 18 and not yet 27 years old. Each contestant from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will be judged in three categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview. The winner of the Miss USA contest goes on to represent the United States in the Miss Universe Pageant, and the gala event is a joint venture among executive producer Donald Trump, NBC and veteran television writer and executive producer Phil Gurin and the Gurin Company.
Merola departed Philadelphia last Friday for Las Vegas and was given the celebrity treatment by Miss Pennsylvania Director Randy Sanders as she left the downtown Hyatt and made her way to the airport. Once inside she was the center of attention as she boarded the plane and she is eager to soak in the atmosphere and share her experiences with her family, friends and Dol-fans through her exclusive diary for MiamiDolphins.com.
“It’s very exciting for LauRen. When she started she was 19 years old, a young, pretty little girl that came in to try out for cheerleading,” Dolphins Sr. Director of Entertainment, Dorie Grogan said. “She wasn’t a strong dancer but she had this sparkle, and to see her now, this beautiful woman that’s going to be in the Miss USA Pageant, she’s already Miss USA to me. From the first day, I knew that she was special and unique and that she would always strive for perfection.
“I think it’s extremely prestigious and I’m honored that she’s there now, she is not only representing Pennsylvania but all Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders past, present & future. She is a perfect example of what a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader is. She is a beautiful and intelligent woman who has a love of dancing and entertaining and of course a love of the Dolphins.”
Grogan and Merola stay in touch and exchange e-mails, Merola is one of the Miami Dolphins Cheerleader Ambassadors who work on game day at Dolphin Stadium. Grogan will be busy the night of the pageant reviewing the final candidates from the 2008 cheerleader auditions, which are being held this Saturday, April 5 at Dolphin Stadium from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In order to prepare for the Miss USA Pageant, Merola had to do a lot of preparation, beginning with the state pageant. She related a sentiment that has permeated throughout the pageant community where it is said that for a parent you have a better chance of having a son compete in the Super Bowl than you do a daughter compete in Miss USA.
“I work with an interview coach that helps me to communicate my point of view effectively.” Merola explained. “I have a politics coach as well that I work with, so I have the best of both worlds there. I expect more political questions than most states as the Pennsylvania primaries are April 22 and the pageant is April 11.”
Another aspect of her job as a Dolphins cheerleader was the community service aspect, and Merola was very involved so she feels that experience helps her. But overall, she believes that she belongs on the stage with the rest of the contestants and is taking a football player’s approach as far as not just being satisfied to have made it this far.
“As far as competition goes, I feel good going into it this year,” Merola said. “I’m not nervous about anything; I’m excited more than anything. You work so hard for swim suit, evening gown and interview that you’re really excited to show off what you’ve done. I plan to do a lot of networking while I’m in Vegas.”
There will be 10 celebrity judges scoring Merola and the other contestants, led by Paul McCartney’s ex-wife, Heather Mills. She will be joined by Rob Schneider, Joey Fatone, Kristian Alfonso, Amanda Beard, Christian Siriano, Shawne Merriman, Ken Paves, Kelly Carson and George Wayne.
Stay tuned to MiamiDolphins.com for LauRen’s exclusive diary.