She maintained her bronzed complexion with "a lot" of tanning lotion.

Denny perfected her hair and makeup skills by watching video tutorials on YouTube.

As a result, she assembled an array of beauty products. Top on her list was Big Sexy Hair, a brand of hair spray and moisturizing hair serums.

Denny said a hairstyling session at Soft Images Salon in Frederick, which was Denny's official hair sponsor, was most important.

"When I go on stage, I want my hair to look perfect," she said.

Pageant life

Denny found her fellow contestants quite collegial.

"We definitely bonded," she said. "These girls are amazing. Once you talk to them and hear their story, you really start to appreciate them as people. That is something."

In particular, Denny clicked with her roommate, Miss Montana, Sheridan Pope, who Denny called "hilarious" and the "class clown" of the group.

Still, "in a competition like this you have to consider everyone a competitor. It's mostly about yourself. The most important thing was making sure I did the best I knew how to do. I had to go out there and give it my all."

That also meant sacrificing a favorite food the night of the finals.

"Because I'm a singer, I couldn't eat pizza because of the dairy and my throat," she said. "But the minute it ended, the very first thing I did was to eat a piece of pizza; I just grabbed a piece and ate it in my gown."

The night of the finals, Denny said her confidence began to increase.

"As it went on, I thought I could make [the] top five. And I could win," she said. "Of course, that did not happen. But I did get the chance to sing on national television. It was a dream come true."

In the audience, her mother stood with other parents.

"It was a good night," said Sheryl. "We're very happy with where she placed."

Denny said she could see her supporters while competing, which was a comfort. "Knowing that so many people were watching me and supporting me felt good," she said.

Behind the scenes of the live broadcast, Denny recalled a frantic pace. "We had about two to three minutes between," she said. "We had to change and go."

After Denny sang, the magnitude of her accomplishment sank in.

"I ran back in the dressing room and yelled, 'I got to sing on national TV,' " she said.