TheaterScene.net had the unique opportunity to sit down with Ms. Miller and talk about her journey and life in New York; her greatest memories and lessons from being Miss Outstanding Teen USA; and how Sgt. Stubby gives the gift of hope to audiences.
TheaterScene.net: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first catch the performing bug?
I was really shy as a kid, and started doing community theater in Beaumont, Texas and fell in love with it there. I went to school for business and have a marketing degree and now do technology and marketing for a real estate company. After living and working in Dallas, I had the opportunity to move to New York and started auditioning here. About three weeks after I moved here, I went to an audition for John Tartaglia’s [Avenue Q, Shrek] Imaginocean!, so my first role was a puppeteer role. That was my first show, and from there booked The Berenstain Bears and then went on tour with them.
TS: What piqued your interest about Sgt. Stubby?
I love that it’s a take on a historical story that not many people are familiar with. I had never heard of him, so learning about it was thrilling. I love dogs and am also a history nut — so it was perfect! It’s exciting, being a piece of new work, that as actors we have a chance to shape how the show looks and see what it becomes as a finished product. Also, for many of us being our first show in New York, getting to see our name in the Playbill was amazing!
TS: Tell me more about your character, Penelope, and the cast experience.
The cast is wonderful – we are truly a family and super supportive of one another. My character is Penelope, a cocker spaniel, and is a little sassy and totally love-struck by Stubby. She’s a little desperate for Stubby to fall in love with her. Stubby leaves shortly after, so many of her admissions happen to the air [laughs!] and she hopes to send that love across the ocean to him. It’s a very cute love story.
TS: Can you tell me about some of the audience reactions?
I think the main thing that we hear is that the show is about hope and doing what you think is right for your country. I keep hearing that the storyline is a good reminder of what it means to be an American. Anything can happen and everyone can be successful – you can be a stray mutt and win a purple heart. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from – – we’re all Americans and must fight for our country.
TS: I’ve heard that you have a very unique talent…
I’ve been watching Miss America since I was very little, and my sister and I would get dressed up every year in crowns and gowns and banners and I saw Miss Pennsylvania, Marla Wynne, in ’92 or ’93 and her talent was ventriloquism and I fell in love with it, and decided that I wanted to learn to make my Barbie’s talk. I went to my bedroom and sat in front of the mirror and figured out how to talk without moving my lips. I then got my first puppet at around age seven and started performing, but it all started watching Miss America.
TS: Take me through your journey before winning Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
I started learning more about what the program was about as I got older, and saw that it is all about service, style, scholarship, and success – those are the four points of the crown. I was realty drawn to the fact that they prioritized scholarship and service. When I was 13, I started, and had interview training and fitness training and learning how to balance a school schedule with appearances. It took me four years and on my fourth try – Miss Teen Texas is when I won and I was 17 – it was the very first that they had Miss America’s Outstanding Teen and I was the first winner. I couldn’t believe that it was happening! I learned a lot about myself and trusting the belief that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.
TS: How has the program grown since the time of your reign?
We’re currently about 12 years out with the program and it’s taken off considerably! There are so many more scholarship opportunities, including full-rides. It’s incredible to witness the growth and meet the next generation of young women. Our original vision was to make it a kind of sister program to Miss America and uphold the same values and traditions and we are so pleased to see the vision remain true.
TS: Looking to the future, what else embodies the dream for you?
I love doing new work because you really are the very first person to ever touch the role. When I was recording the song, “My Hero,” I had the freedom to try different things. I would love to continue doing new work and another item on my bucket list is to be part of an original Broadway cast recording – I want to be that person that someone is listening to on their phone and be that inspiration for them to realize their dreams!