By Jessica Lovell
With her red carpet appearance only days away, Guelph native Denise Steffensen doesn’t yet know what she’ll be wearing for her close-up encounter with the stars.
“Everything’s pretty much a surprise,” said Steffensen in a telephone interview from her Jacksonville, Florida, home.
Steffensen, née Gallina, and her four friends are going to be right near the action when the 85th Academy Awards takes place on Sunday Feb. 24.
The five women are the winners of Kelly Ripa’s Girls’ Night Out Oscar contest – a prize that includes a five-night trip to Hollywood, red-carpet side seats as the stars arrive at the Oscars, and tickets to an after-party production of Live with Kelly and Michael.
“I was on maternity leave and I saw it on TV,” said Steffensen. “I kind of joked with my friends and said ‘Hey, we should enter this.’ ”
They decided to go for it, entering just before the contest deadline and not really expecting to win, she said.
While some contest hopefuls had sent in elaborate videos, “we just sent in a letter and two pictures and we got a call back from the ABC producers,” Steffensen said, noting how surprising the experience was.
It’s likely the women’s story that clinched the win.
“We’re a group of (U.S.) navy wives – the wives of Navy pilots. We’ve known each other for 12 or 13 years,” said Steffensen. “All of us have to move this summer, and none of us get to move to the same place.”
Steffensen met her husband one summer while on vacation in Texas where she was visiting her sister, a nurse who had found work there. They were married at the Church of Our Lady, but since that time she has had multiple moves.
Her next home will be San Diego.
The navy wives that she’s befriended along the way will soon all go their separate ways. In their letter for the contest, they stressed how much they rely on one another to survive life as military wives, and they made a plea for one last “girls’ night out” together before they have to say “see you later.”
Their next step was a Skype interview with the show’s executive producer, Michael Gelman. They were told they were finalists, but they were told not to get their hopes up, said Steffensen.
When Ripa walked in during the interview, they soon learned that they were more than just finalists.
They were told to keep the news a secret, but were allowed to tell immediate family, so they could make arrangements for child care, said Steffensen. The secret was soon leaked. “My brother put it on Facebook and everyone was like, ‘Yeah right, no way’ ” she laughed.
Once the news was announced on the show though, people had to believe it. “We’ve been on the show pretty much every day,” said Steffensen, adding that she’s since heard from people she hasn’t seen in 15 years.
She was able to secure time off from work, and her mother and aunt were flying down from Guelph to babysit her three kids. Her flight was to leave for Hollywood Wednesday morning.
“We know we’re saying in west Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard,” she said. They expect there may be a spa day included in the itinerary, but otherwise much of the trip is still a mystery.
They know they will be at the red carpet. Then during the awards, they will watch the show from a dinner party elsewhere. They also have VIP tickets for the after- Oscar show.
But what Steffensen is most looking forward to: “Getting away, sleeping through the night,” laughs the mom. “And possibly meeting George Clooney.”
She has no Oscar predictions, but one hope. “I would like to see Zero Dark Thirty win for best film,” she says. “I think it’s a good story and there’s a navy connection for us. Our husbands were over there for so long.”