According to her on-stage introduction last night, Marisa “is originally from North Dakota. She graduated from Princeton University with a History degree, and she was a 2009 Redskins ambassador.” She’s in the foreground left of the picture above, with long red hair.
When I covered the final cuts for the Redskins Cheerleaders last year, I went big picture and described the event and the process and all of that. This year, I thought it would be more interesting to focus on the experience of one of the finalists, talk to her before the finals and — win or lose — afterward, talk to her friends and family if present, and just get a sense of what it was like. I’m a bit of a reality TV junkie, to my undying shame, and I figured this would be a little bit reality TV-esque. Later, that whole line of thought would start to seem a little ironic, but it was good enough hook to go in with.
And, obviously, Marisa was the finalist that I selected. Despite being from North Dakota, she considers herself a Redskins fan. “I’m definitely a Redskins fan,” she said. “I didn’t get into football until I got to D.C. — no professional football in North Dakota.” When she’s not striving to join a professional cheerleading squad, Marisa is a law student, focusing on energy law. As if that’s not difficult enough (“It takes up a lot of time,” Marisa acknowledged), she’s spent the last week learning the routines and practicing for last night’s final.
But to even before we get to that, we have to go back to the end of last year’s finals.
The Disappointment In 2009
Marisa had made those finals — you can see her in the background of this picture from the end of last year’s performance, just before the judging. As I described last year, the finalists go from there to the downstairs changing room. It’s a cramped space, and not a particularly soothing spot to wait in, but that’s irrelevant. Because it’s all waiting at this point. The dancing’s done, the pageantry’s stopped, and all the group can do is wait for the judges to finish deliberating.
The veterans wait with — if not calmness or ease, at least some practice at the waiting part; Marisa was in the back with the rest of the rookie aspirants, all mingling and all visibly nervous.
Once the judges have reached their decisions, the numbers of the accepted finalists are called over a loudspeaker. Marisa’s wasn’t among them. So she sat in the cramped dressing room as the 40 members of the 2009 Redskins Cheerleaders (and four alternates) ran up a wrought-iron spiral staircase, figuring that was it.
“It was here last year that I found out I was not on the squad,” she told me last night. “I didn’t know about ambassadors. Basically, right afterwards, I just took away that it had been a really fun experience. The veterans know what you’re going through, so they try to make it as relaxing and as smooth as possible. And the staff is really supportive. Basically, I was really sad last year, but the call from The Ambassadors made me happy.”
Marisa Explains The Ambassadors
“It’s a group of about 31 women, and we hang out with the fans in the Touchdown Club, the Tailgate Club, and the suites and club level,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to be with a great group of girls interacting with a great group of fans, and it was a really good introduction into cheerleading. It’s a really good segue.”
That experience, combined with most of a lifetime doing ballet, gave Marisa a head start on preparing for this year’s finals. Stephanie Jojokian, director and choreographer for the Redskins Cheerleaders, also co-runs Capitol Movement, a DC-area dance/outreach community, and Marisa was able to dance with them as well.
So coming into the 2010 auditions, she had a bit of a better idea what to expect.
“I know what to expect,” she acknowledged before last night’s Finals began, “but this team especially always makes sure that every girl comes back bringing something better. So in the sense that I’ve done it before, yeah, I knew what to expect. But in another sense, I’m always trying to improve. I’ve worked this past year on getting sharper movements and dancing really big, because in the stadium you — obviously — need big moves.”
She shrugged. “I know I worked hard to do my best, so that feels good, knowing that I’ve prepared. But at the same time you just never know.”
The 2010 Process According To Marisa
I showed up last night for the finals, but that’s roughly analogous to only watching this weekend’s NCAA Final Four and Championship Game after skipping the first four rounds of the tournament. Marisa and the rest of the finalists had been actively working toward this for a month.
“It started a month ago with prep classes,” she explained, “which aren’t judged, but they’re an opportunity to learn some dances and get more into the style. So that’s kind of fun, that you get to do it for a month rather than just one weekend and it’s over.”
Marisa continued, “Judged auditions started last Saturday with preliminaries; I’m not sure how many girls came out, but there were a lot. That continued through to Sunday with more cuts, we learned more dances, and then Sunday afternoon they started with the finalists learning everything for today.”
That means the finalists implemented an entire multi-part performance in four days of work. While working other jobs — or, in Marisa’s case, continuing her law school studies. And the routines weren’t something you could just pick up in your spare time. “Sunday was from 10-6,” Marisa said, “and then Monday through Wednesday we got there at 6:00ish until about 11:00.”
She looked around the still-empty theater, and I asked if she was more nervous or more excited. “It’s definitely both,” she said. “I think all the girls are feeling that right now, because we have no idea what’s gonna happen. I actually haven’t really performed in a long time, so it’s really fun to just get back onstage. We all just love to perform.”
I Try To Make A Reality TV Analogy, With Mixed Success
It seemed to me that having been eliminated (so to speak) from last year’s Finals might’ve changed the way Marisa related to the contestants on reality TV shows, and I wasn’t totally wrong. But it actually changed the way she thought about the behind-the-scenes drama of reality TV altogether.
“When I watch American Idol,” she said, “I feel for the contestants more, putting themselves out there. At the same time, I feel like everyone’s so supportive here. Maybe that’s true of reality shows also, but I feel like they get catty. I guess reality shows just make us think it’d be like that, but it’s really not. Everybody’s really supportive, everybody’s trying their best.”
(In case you’re curious: She was rooting for Andrew Garcia this season, but has shifted allegiance to presumptive front-runner Crystal Bowersox.)
“This part isn’t new this year,” Marisa said as she headed backstage to get ready for the event, “but it’s always nerve-wracking no matter what. “
Then the Finals happened.
The Finals Happen, In Video Form
The folks from Redskins Broadcast Network were onhand covering the event, and their producers were kind enough to assemble some footage of Marisa’s evening.
The short version, in case you didn’t watch (or guess from the title of this post): Marisa performed well and was named part of the 2010 Washington Redskins Cheerleaders.
A Cheerleader’s Fiancé
Marisa had quite the cheering section present, not necessarily in size — it was only six people — but in general ebulliance. Also, in signs.
“The signs were a group effort,” they assured me. “We did them at work today.” (Then they listed exactly where they worked — which was not an arts and crafts center or signmaking shop — and told me it would be fine to include. I’ll pass, just in case they’ve misjudged.)
The only male in the group was Marisa’s fiancé David. He works for “a private equity firm” and is from Virginia, but met Marisa in college.
“She was a big-time [ballet] dancer and we were at college together,” he said, when I asked how they met. “I was like, ‘How can I meet hot girls?’ and I was like, ‘Well, if I join the dance group, then all the girls will be really attractive.’ So literally that’s what I did, and literally that’s how we met.”
So for everyone interested in marrying a Redskins cheeleader, take notes. And dance lessons. “I’m living the dream,” he said. “I’m okay.”
David seems pretty comfortable with the idea of almost 100,000 people watching his wife dance, mainly because it’s what she wants do. “I’m really excited for her,” he said. “It’s something she really wanted and I think she’s gonna be great at it.”
In fact, the hardest part for David was pretty much over. “She made it to the finals last year,” he noted, “and going back in is pretty impressive and pretty courageous.”
David was a pretty amiable, upbeat guy, clearly excited for his wife-to-be, and the only thing the he rejected completely was my suggestion that there was any comparison between Marisa and the contestants on American Idol, because, he said, “she actually has real talent.”
Then Marisa emerged from the dressing room, her friends ran over shouting “Oh my god, you’re a Redskins cheerleader,” and David presented her with a bouquet of flowers. “I could hear them while I was onstage,” she told me a little later. “They were nice and loud.”
“It’s really awesome,” she said. “I’m still in shock, I think. I’m still not sure it was my number that they called. Even in the waiting room, I just did not know. All the girls up there, I could totally see why they might pick them. So I guess they were choosing based on negligible differences.”
I was going to ask a follow-up reality TV question — yes, in hindsight it looks like an irrational obsession, but it made sense at the time — when Marisa was called away for more congratulations and a few photos with someone. Someone, in fact, far more qualified to satisfy my obsessive comparison between that event and reality TV.
The Somewhat Ironic Twist To This Reality TV Stuff
Lieutenant Commander Andy Baldwin of the U.S. Navy was one of the judges of last night’s event. He’s a physician, a triathlete (and soon-to-be ultramarathoner), an Ambassador for Navy Medicine, and seems to be an all-around pleasant guy. He was also the Bachelor in season 10 of ABC’s popular reality show The Bachelor. And it so happens he’s friends — or, more accurately, “friend-of-a-friend” — with Marisa.
Redskins Cheerleaders Director of Marketing Melanie Coburn “asked me to do it a few weeks ago,” Baldwin told me, “and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be in town. Why not?’ I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. What else am I gonna be doing that day, rather than watch 54 cheerleaders try out for the best football team in the world? I actually had an invite to go to the Caps game — see Ovechikin, and I love the Caps — but seeing some the Redskins cheerleaders … it was an easy decision.”
Baldwin was complimentary of the event, of the contestants, of Marisa, and especially of the Redskins Cheerleaders organization. “I get approached to do lots of things, but I’m pretty choosy on what I do,” he said, when I asked if this was just a normal perk of having been The Bachelor. “Having had some friends that were Redskins cheerleaders, and what they do with the armed forces and the support they give to the troops and their families, I really respect and appreciate them. Being here is just my way of saying thanks.”
(In fact, the only people that the scrupulously polite Baldwin wasn’t completely complimentary of were the Redskins themselves. Turns out he’s a fan, and — like many fans — he’s feeling a bit frustrated. “I hope some of the talent that I saw tonight will rub off on the team,” he said, and voiced the opinion that the team should select an offensive lineman in the upcoming draft. “They need to protect Campbell so that he can have some time in the pocket, and they need to open holes to get Portis through.” Sounds good to me.)
Meanwhile, the point of this entire digressive episode is that I was finally able to get a concrete answer to my reality show comparison from a veteran of one of the most popular reality shows on television. And the verdict went in my favor, which was something of a relief. “It was very much like a reality show,” he said. “The whole rejection thing was the hardest part of the show I was on; I never had any idea it was gonna be that difficult.”
Marisa, still elated, laughed when I pointed out that she hadn’t mentioned her acquaintance with The Bachelor when I was making labored reality TV comparisons. “I never watched The Bachelor,” she said, “so I didn’t even know who he was when I met him.”
Marisa’s Final Thought On The Whole Thing
Before Marisa and her friends set off to celebrate her good result, I asked her what her final thought on the evening was, especially as it compared to the way the same night had ended a year earlier. And even as happy as she was, it was clear that last year had made a firm impression.
“I just have a lot of respect for people who put themselves out there and don’t make it,” she said. “I won’t forget that feeling, even though I feel good right now.”
Huge thanks to Marisa and her friends for putting up with my incessant questions and apparent fascination with reality TV on one of the more exciting evenings of her life.
Tags: andy baldwin, auditions, cheerleaders, final cut, marisa, redskins cheerleaders, the bachelor
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