Marissa Garrison isn’t sure what the next few months have in store for her, but one thing is certain. She’s come a long way from Little Miss Liver Mush.
In 2017, as the winner of Miss North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen — the junior pageant associated with Miss America — Garrison traveled the state speaking to groups of kids, large and small.
“I connected with a lot of younger audiences,” she said. “I just kind of spread the message throughout my year, showcasing to teens that they can get involved in their communities. You have the power to make a difference.”
Her duties as the state’s Miss Outstanding Teen included giving an inspirational message to the aspiring beauty queens vying for the title of Miss Liver Mush.
“It was at the Liver Mush Festival (near Asheville),” she recalled. “They had $1 liver mush sandwiches and they also had a pageant, and those girls really wanted to be Little Miss Liver Mush.”
That’s not to downplay the work that Garrison did as Miss Outstanding Teen. She traveled the state, often making three-plus hour trips four days a week to speak at events, all while juggling the responsibilities of a normal high school junior.
She used her platform to raise awareness and money for causes related to organ donation, including the Children’s Miracle Network. She also got the chance to make holiday care packages for troops overseas.
“I did that alongside Richard Petty,” she said. “It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Now graduated from high school, Garrison is setting out on a quest that will likely top working with King Richard on the coolness rankings.
At the end of July, she will set off for Texas to try to accomplish her lifelong dream of joining the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.
“I applied starting in January. So this has been six months in the making,” she said. “But really I’ve wanted this since I was 6 or 7 years old.”
Garrison will join 19 other hopefuls at the cheerleaders’ annual training camp, looking to land one of the coveted spots performing on the sidelines alongside the veterans.
The quest is depicted on the reality show “Making the Team,” and Garrison expects to be featured on this year’s season of the show, assuming filming isn’t derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
She’s already beaten the odds just to get a ticket to Dallas.
Normally, the Cowboys cheerleaders conduct all rounds of auditioning at AT&T Stadium in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but the pandemic scuttled those plans.
“They had to do it all virtually,” Garrison said, “which they’d never done before, and I’d never done either.”
After applying, she received a call from a greeter for the squad, who explained what the process would be like. They also wanted to double-check that Garrison was aware that the job would be in Texas since she was applying from so far away.
Garrison got in touch with several current and former members of the team to do more research on what would be expected of her.
“You never know the first time you audition for something how it’s going to go,” she said. “You don’t know what’s in the judges’ heads, what they want. Especially with me being only 18. You don’t know if they’re going to want to take someone who’s only 18 to training camp.”
The first step required her to do a 60-second freestyle dance video and a 20-second spoken introduction. She also had to fill out a long application that included essay questions.
“It really felt like a college application when I was filling out all the information,” she said.
That put her in a very large pool of hopefuls.
“They told us they got 1,545 applications for that step,” she said. “That’s more than usual because they were doing it virtually.”
Her video went out on May 2 — “The day that it opened,” she points out — and she got word on May 18 that she’d made the first cut.
Not many girls did. She was one of 69 applicants to advance to round two. The team sent her a complex set of choreography to learn and perform on video.
“I think I counted and there were 25 different eight counts,” she said, “which is a lot for choreography.”
She also had to show off the famous Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader kick line. And she had to do it all back-to-back.
“We had to do the choreography, do the kicking, and we had one full video to showcase everything, to show we had endurance and could maintain power and performance during the entire routine,” she said.
More than half of the remaining pool of applicants were cut during that round, and Garrison was one of 30 girls to advance to the interview portion.
“We had a four-minute video call where they asked about my accomplishments, things I was proud of, my community service background, stuff about leadership positions,” she said. “They’d never met us in person, so they needed to know who we are and make sure we were committed enough to see this through and go all the way to Texas.”
On June 12, she got word that she was Dallas-bound, one of 20 girls chosen to continue on the quest to become part of football’s most prestigious dance team.
She still may not ever get to put on the boots and pick up the silver and blue pom poms, but she’s made it farther than 1,525 other hopefuls, all by following the advice she gave the Little Miss Liver Mush girls three years ago.
After spending a year telling kids around the state that they could make a difference, Garrison followed her own advice.
“I definitely wanted to give it a shot,” she said, “because you never know when it’s going to be your time.”