April 19, 2011

Miss Maine USA chooses family over title

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

That's when NBC -- which owns the television rights -- decided the pageant would fit best into its network schedule. Johnson, who won the Miss Maine USA crown in late November, was six weeks into her reign before learning of the conflict.

click image to enlarge

Emily Johnson, left, won the Miss Maine USA title last November, taking over from 2010 winner Katie Whittier, center. First runner-up Ashley Marble, right, assumed the title when Johnson bowed out after learning that the date of the national pageant conflicted with her sister s wedding.

Tess Johnson photo

"That was the only date the entire year I couldn't do it," Johnson said. "For a while, I was bawling my eyes out. I was so devastated."

A graduate of Greater Portland Christian School who majored in interior design and sang in the school choir at Baylor University in Texas, Johnson is an accomplished pianist who, until last summer, had no experience with beauty pageants.

A friend from her church had passed along Johnson's name to Randi Preis, a stay-at-home mom in Gorham who coaches contestants. Preis hosts an annual competition called Maine's Next Top Model and invited Johnson to take part.

"She just had this kind, sweet, sincere way about her," Preis said of her initial impression, "and this fantastically warm and approachable personality."

Johnson also stood 5-foot-11 and carried herself with confidence and that made for an attractive package.

"She was definitely reminiscent of a runway model already," Preis said, "even without any training."

Johnson, who grew up in South Portland, won the modeling competition last August. Her reward was a full sponsorship by Preis to compete in a pageant. When plans for a smaller pageant fell through, Preis convinced Johnson to enter the Miss Maine USA pageant, and Johnson won.

"It was kind of a shock and a surprise to me," Johnson said. "She trained me well."

Her reign was in its second month when Davis called with news of the national pageant being pushed back to June. Through multiple conversations they had become friendly, with Johnson describing her close-knit family and her boyfriend back in Texas.

After a weekend of prayer and introspection, Johnson informed Davis of her decision to give up the title, the prizes, the appearances, the trip to Las Vegas and whatever else might follow.

The new Miss Maine USA is the first runner-up, Ashley Marble, the former University of Southern Maine basketball star. Marble, who lives in Cumberland, is the third straight former college basketball player to wear the crown, following Katie Whittier in 2010 and Ashley Underwood in 2009.

Whittier was fourth runner-up in the national pageant, the best showing by a contestant from Maine. Underwood is currently in the cast of the CBS television series "Survivor." Both played basketball at the University of Maine in Orono.

Marble, 26, was Miss Teen Maine as a 15-year-old at Woodland High School and attended UMaine on a volleyball scholarship before transferring to USM. She is now a personal trainer, basketball referee and Zumba instructor.

"It's funny, because all three of us lived in sweatpants and wore a pony tail with our hair slicked back and a pair of sneakers," Marble said. "But you know, I actually like being a lady. I get to wear heels and dresses. And yet, deep down, it's still a competition. We're still competing."

This was Marble's first pageant in 11 years; her last year of age eligibility provided the incentive to get back in shape, to be a living role model for what she preaches. She was cross-country skiing on the trails of Twin Brook in Cumberland when Davis contacted her about Johnson stepping down. Next month, Marble is hosting a golf tournament at Val Halla Country Club to raise money for her expenses in Las Vegas.

She's also made several appearances at Special Olympics events and on behalf of the Maine Children's Cancer Program.

Johnson, meanwhile, has returned to Texas to be with her boyfriend and look for work in interior design.

She said she is at peace with her decision and wished Marble the best of luck.

"It definitely would have been an unbelievable experience, having a dress designed for me in New York City and all kinds of girly fun," Johnson said. "But I am a former Miss Maine and always will be. They let me keep my crown and sash and the sparkly box it came in."

She's also eagerly anticipating her sister Crystal's wedding.

"This year is looking different than I ever expected it to look," she said. "But I couldn't be happier."

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