Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.
Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson epitomizes class.
During the 2016 Miss America pageant Sunday, Johnson was asked which woman's face should appear on the $10 bill beside Alexander Hamilton. She made the judges smile with her answer, telling them, "The person that I would put on the $10 bill would be Ellen DeGeneres. I think that woman is so amazing. Not only is she kind, not only is she intelligent, not only is her entire platform speaking tolerance and equality for all, and kindness, but she's able to be funny without insulting someone, and I think that is an incredible feat."
As a result, DeGeneres invited Johnson to join her on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, airing Thursday. "They gave you 20 seconds to answer that question. You probably had more nice things to say about me. I'm going to give you five seconds, all right?" the host told her guest. With the timer ready, Johnson said, "This is an absolute dream come true for me. This woman is so intelligent. She's kind..." The buzzer sounded, so DeGeneres gave Johnson five more seconds to finish her thoughts. "I think it's so amazing that she brings families together and gets them to their jobs with cars, is a complete philanthropist..." After the buzzer sounded again, DeGeneres joked, "Well, we don't have time for all the nice things I do."
Jokes aside, Johnson said it's been a whirlwind week.
"After they called me for second runner up, I was thrilled but I was shocked. I didn't think that I would make it that far. I was just so blessed by that. Then they said, backstage, they go, 'You might have a chance to be on Ellen DeGeneres.' And I started crying! I was like, 'Oh, my God...This is so great,'" she recalled. "I was in so much shock, because I did a monologue, so I didn't know if I'd make it that far."
Ah, who could forget the monologue that spurred the #NursesUnite movement?
Without naming Joy Behar or Michelle Collins, who apologized Wednesday for mocking Johnson's talent on The View, the host said, "The monologue got a lot of attention, too, because for the talent portion, a lot of people twirl batons or roller skate or play piano. I don't know what they do, but they do some kind of what the talent is, but you did a monologue. You're a nurse. Why did you choose do that?"
Johnson said "a lot of people" advised her not to do a monologue. "It's very unique, but I am a nurse. And that's my talent, taking care of people and caring about other people. And so I wanted to give the nurses that don't have that voice and that recognition of just somebody going up there and just being a little bit different and unique. And I talked about a patient that I took care of who had Alzheimer's—and I know that that hits home for a lot of people and it's not something that's really easy for people to talk about—and I thought, 'You know, I want to go up there and I want to be authentic. I want to be Kelley. And if I'm ever going to win Miss America I want to do it being myself.' And I'm a nurse!"
"I love that you end saying you're not just a nurse," DeGeneres told her guest. "That's a very important job and you're doing a very important thing, and you care about those people, which I loved."
"Thank you. I really do care a lot. It was just so much fun to perform that," she said of the monologue. "To see it trend on Facebook and Twitter, especially to bring all these nurses together and have everybody standing up for our profession and giving them the voice that they deserve—they work so hard and they are life savers—that's all the message I wanted to give. It's about them; it's not about me."
Thanks to the Miss Colorado and Miss America pageants, the 22-year-old nurse was able to pay off her student loans. With DeGeneres' help, Shutterfly gave Johnson an additional $10,000 so she can attend graduate school.