In just a few days, Emily Hart will be leaving Las Vegas.
She hopes it will be with a Miss USA crown.
But whether or not she wins that title Sunday, the brown-eyed, blond Miss Indiana-USA says she'll soon be hanging up her tiaras.
At 26, the Roanoke resident says she could compete in Miss USA, a preliminary for Miss Universe, for one more year. But she's got other things to do.
Namely, helping run the new Two-EE's Winery on U.S. 24 between Roanoke and Huntington – a place she and her fiancé, Eric Harris, opened May 25 after four years of planning.
"This is my grand finale pageant," Hart says. "I've told them at Miss Indiana-USA that this is my last year, and that I'm not coming back."
Unlike the Miss America system in which Hart competed for five years, Miss USA doesn't have a talent competition. But Hart hopes her experience going into business at a relatively young age will put her in good stead with the judges.
After all, the pageant's big boss is Donald Trump.
"It's so unusual. I think it's going to set me apart. I'm 26, and I've started a business," Hart says. "And the fact that I opened it just before the pageant shows how I'm committed to it."
Hart's commitment to Two-EE's so far has been designing its sleekly contemporary interior. Her first pageant win was as Miss IPFW 2007 when she was studying for an interior design degree. She also worked for local resident Cindy Friend's interior design business for five years.
At Two-EE's, big windows allow customers at two tasting bars to see into the wine-making facility. Hart designed walls and flooring in shades of gray accented with metallic finishes. Clear pendant lights hang from the ceiling.
Windows also look out on the winery's start-up vineyard, and the building's unusual exterior makes use of netted gray stone front walls. Her fiancé suggested the idea after seeing a similar building online.
"We wanted something that would catch people from the road," Hart says.
Hart entered the pageant world after performing in dance recitals from the time she was in preschool. She also performed with Homestead High School's musical theater group and show choir before graduating in 2006.
"I've been onstage as long as I can remember," she says.
When she competed in the Miss America system, she says, her talent was playing the piano. But she was quite happy to join the Miss USA system because playing always gave her a major case of nerves.
Walking in 5 1/2 -inch stilettos in a long dress? Piece of cake. Playing the piano when the keys had been "helpfully" polished? Potential disaster, she says. The thought of making an irrecoverable mistake playing "gives me chills," she says.
Hart says she most enjoys modeling evening gowns in Miss USA pageants, which also include a swimsuit competition and an onstage interview question.
She says that unlike many Miss USA competitors, she doesn't have modeling as a career ambition, although she says she has done a few small modeling jobs on the side. She also makes personal appearances as Miss Indiana-USA.
Hart says the $1,500 in scholarships she won as part of the Miss America system helped pay for her education and was a big reason she started competing.
Competing in Miss America pageants also made her a lifelong friend in Katie Stam from Seymour, who became Miss Indiana and Miss America in 2009.
"She's a dear friend of mine. I remember rooming with her (at the Miss Indiana pageant). I told her, 'I think you're going to win this, and when you do, I'm going to watch you at Miss America.' And she did, and I did," says Hart, who adds that Stam asked her to play the piano at her wedding. "In front of 500 people. That was nerve-wracking," Hart says.
"She is my big role model. She is an amazing person. Her focus and concentration when you're talking to her is amazing. … She makes you feel you're her No. 1 concern, and nothing else is going on in her life, and she has a lot going on in her life, when you're talking to her."
Hart says she'll wear a pink evening gown that she bought at a shop in Elkhart for Miss USA. The rest of her pageant wardrobe will be provided.
A feature of the pageant this year is that the winner in fan voting automatically becomes a semifinalist. Hart's fans can vote 10 times a day per email address until Saturday at www.missusa.com or on Twitter @RealMissINUSA.
The pageant will be televised at 9 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
Over the years, Hart has won several pageant titles, including Miss Fort Wayne, Miss Three Rivers Festival and Miss Heart of Indiana, "which I always thought was funny, because of my name, Emily Hart," she says.
But now the winery is her prime interest. She says it got its start after her fiancé became intrigued by her father's winemaking hobby.
"I joke that that they went down to the basement one day to make wine and haven't come back up since," she says.
Eric and Emily worked for a time at Satek Winery in Fremont. His parents invested in the new winery business, she says.
Her dad can often be found holding down the tasting bar.
Now that the building is finished, she's planning a future as the winery's chief party planner. Two-EE's can be rented for private, fundraising and corporate tasting events, and several already have been scheduled, she says.
"Party-planner, that's another one of the hats I wear around here," Hart says with a smile. "I have quite an extensive hat rack."
With room for, just maybe, one more tiara.