Staying Authentic To Yourself

This week we are rewinding to a conservation I had with my fellow competitor and friend, Kelley Johnson. We sat down for a chat back in early 2020, and the podcast never got published — until now!

Kelley is the former Miss Colorado America 2015, as well as the former Miss California USA 2018! 

I met Kelley and roomed right next to her at the Miss USA competition back in 2018! Since then, Kelley has gone on to continue growing her career as a registered nurse and public speaker! She was even a guest on Ellen!

At the time of this recording, Kelley was finishing her doctorate in nursing, all while running the marketing department and serving as the Chief Nurse Advocate for a travel healthcare company called Wanderly. And if that wasn’t enough, she is the host of the ScrubsMag TV podcast where she interviews regular nurses accomplishing incredible things!

Miss Colorado 2015 stopped by the Ellen set.

Kelley’s love for nursing and healthcare runs deep. She made headlines for her monologue at the Miss America competition in 2015 when she stood on stage in her work scrubs and discussed the profession and its importance. Her decision caught the attention of Joy Behar and Michelle Collins from The View who poked fun at her decision perform a monologue. This caused the show to receive a lot of backlash from their audience, nurses in particular and resulted in some sponsors pulling their ads from the show. 

Her desire to become a registered nurse stemmed from her experience when she lost her father to colon cancer at a young age. During his time in the hospital, her father received excellent and supportive care from his nurses — making his end-of-life journey as comfortable as possible. This impression stuck with Kelley and when she reached college, there was no second-guessing what career path she wanted to take. 

“We [Kelley and her sister] just saw how wonderful they treated our family and they were there for us during this horrific time in our lives and we just wanted to do that for other families. So for me, it was kind of easy, I’ve kind of known my whole life. I’ve loved math and science and I wanted to take care of people…” 

But don’t let Kelley’s caring nature fool you. She’s a fierce competitor. She served as captain of her collegiate volleyball team. Just like so many of the girls I have competed with, interviewed, and coached, athletics plays a big role in their lives. Ultimately, a lot of similarities exist between the two and I believe that being a former or current athlete better prepares women for the pageant stage. 

Kelley Johnson stops by the set of Dr. Oz.

“I think the transition from one to the other was amazing for me because it gave me that sense of competing still… Giving up that competition level of my life [college volleyball] and then going into pageants where it’s so different like you’re not doing sports, but you’re still competing was just something like a natural seamless ease for me. I think you know Tori, that when we’re competing people get really nervous and when we’re competing in pageants it’s just so much easier because I had done it. I had already been on that kind of a stage [volleyball].” 

Obviously being such a great athlete and having success in pageantry requires a lot of self-confidence. However, today, that can be in short supply for a lot of us. We all struggle with it from time to time, but Kelley has some encouragement to share for those who are lacking the confidence to enter or compete in competition. 

“I think one thing you have to decide is how badly do you want it? If this is something that you really want, then there’s a lot of steps people can take to kind of learn that self-confidence and learn those sorts of things. I think that there are various coaches out there that can help you with that and you have to kind of find the right one for you. I think that the best thing anyone who’s never done a pageant could ever do for themselves is reach out to somebody that’s a former who relates to you.” 

Amen! I know I speak for Kelley and myself here in saying that our DMs are always open, and we are here to help any girls that are looking for some quick encouragement and guidance during their pageant journey. 

Kelley wants to remind girls about to embark on their pageant careers to remember that their success isn’t dependent on their evening gown, swimsuit, or perfect interview form. Instead, it’s all about remaining true to yourself. 

Miss California 2018 makes the Miss USA Top 10

“What I am saying is that having the best gown, or the best body, or being the absolute best interviewer is not what’s going to help you win. It’s going to be that you come off completely authentic and that you’re just yourself…” 

During pageants and in life, we’re all going to face obstacles, heartbreak, and failure along our path. Mentally and emotionally dealing with these setbacks can take a major toll on us. As a healthcare professional, Kelley is a big advocate for therapy. 

“For me, a lot of times I’m struggling I look to therapy. I think having someone you can talk to is so important. I think far too often we bottle up our emotions and we compartmentalize our problems and we say this sucks and this sucks and we put it in a box and we put that on the shelf. Therapy really helps you kind of unpack it and actually deal with it… Having someone to talk to is so so amazing and through those struggles too, it’s kind of just always making healthy choices.” 

So if you’re debating if pagentry is for you, or if it’s going to be a positive experience, trust me and Kelley — it’s worth it. 

“I think pageants are absolutely wonderful for young women, I think as many should compete and should participate. They’re so wonderful. Just always remember to just truly, truly stay true to yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be thinner or pick a longer gown or pick a different color or say this is your answer… To somebody who’s wanting to compete or is competing, I never won because I was doing what someone else told me to do… I think you should just be authentically yourself.”