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September 16, 2014

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Evening of Dreams unforgettable with proposal and military reunion

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Tom Donoghue/www.donoghuephotography.com

Photographer Tom Donoghue, who is covering the 2010 Miss America Pageant from start to finish, had a busy Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, that included the PH Towers Westgate opening, the Evening of Dreams gala, Marie Osmond, Gretchen Carlson and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam’s engagement to Brian Irk, her boyfriend of four years.

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See all of the Sun's 2010 Miss America Pageant coverage.

Tom Donoghue: 1/29/10

Photographer Tom Donoghue, who is covering the 2010 Miss America Pageant from start to finish, had a busy Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, that included the PH Towers Westgate opening, the Evening of Dreams gala, Marie Osmond, Gretchen Carlson and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam's engagement to Brian Irk, her boyfriend of four years. Launch slideshow »
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Photographer Tom Donoghue, who is covering the 2010 Miss America Pageant from start to finish, had a busy Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, that included the PH Towers Westgate opening, the Evening of Dreams gala, Marie Osmond, Gretchen Carlson and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam's engagement to Brian Irk, her boyfriend of four years.

Click to enlarge photo

Photographer Tom Donoghue, who is covering the 2010 Miss America Pageant from start to finish, had a busy Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, that included the PH Towers Westgate opening, the Evening of Dreams gala, Marie Osmond, Gretchen Carlson and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam's engagement to Brian Irk, her boyfriend of four years.

The 2010 Miss America Pageant’s Evening of Dreams gala was an emotionally charged night like non other, and it was capped off with a storybook ending for a pageant princess at Planet Hollywood. On the final evening of her reign, 2009 Miss America Katie Stam’s boyfriend Brian Irk went down on bended knee, produced a stunning square diamond ring and proposed to Katie!

Katie said after the proposal: “I’m shaking! I can’t tell if it’s as much as it was when my name was called for Miss America, but I’m lucky to have the right man. He’s a keeper. I couldn’t be happier. I had no idea at all this was going to happen! It’s a Miss America first. I will never forget it, and ‘Unforgettable’ will now always be our song.”

It all took place onstage at the Evening of Dreams before a sold-out crowd of 700 people including former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, and former Miss America and actress Lee Meriwether. Former Today host and Miss America Phyllis George had been scheduled to perform but instead was rushed to a dentist for emergency surgery for an infected cheek bone that required extensive root canal work.

Katie and Brian’s parents were in attendance, but neither had any idea that he was going to propose. The college sweethearts have been dating for four years.

Only I as evening emcee, a select few Miss America personnel handling the gala and photographer Tom Donoghue knew what was going to happen. I teased Katie with questions about the song “Unforgettable” she should have sung but instead was suffering from Vegas throat. I had her speak the two verses that meant the most to her about relationships and invited Brian onstage to join in a toast to her “unforgettable” personality and year. At that point, Brian popped the question, and as Katie teared up, she said yes, and the audience erupted in cheers.

Tom told me: “For those of you who had the privilege of meeting Katie through her year, these photos should strike an emotional beat in your heart. … I got to know her through my camera accompanying her to the Super Bowl, Taste of the NFL, Planet Hollywood and other events. Katie will always be a princess in my heart.”

The evening, opened by Miss America Organization Chairman Sam Haskell III, also took on a military theme in honoring our troops, featuring Miss Americas who visited the troops overseas and including families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. There were some tearful moments, particularly when I overheard one little girl whispering to her mother, “I wish Daddy was here,” and her mother responded, “He is.”

Flamingo headliner Marie Osmond, en route to her show with brother Donny, was a surprise guest. She thanked the Miss America Organization for raising $4 million in the past four years for the Children’s Miracle Network that she co-founded.

Miss America President and CEO Art McMaster handed out various awards, and CMN President Scott Burt presented Katie with a special sculpture trophy for her hard work. Another emotional moment came when Sam invited Commander Buck Henry up to the stage to be reunited with the six former Miss Americas who he’d taken charge of when they recently visited U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Said the Commander Henry: “They were the bravest and the best. They were loved for every moment of their tour. You could see the light shining in our soldiers’ faces.”

Gretchen conducted a panel interview asking each one of the Miss Americas for their highlights from the trip. Many teared up as they told heartwarming and heart-chilling stories. Again, the ballroom erupted when Sam promised Commander Henry that Miss America wants to make it an annual morale booster for our troops. We’ll have the report of their front-line camp visits next week.

Former Miss America Ericka Dunlap, who made it to the finals of the most recent The Amazing Race on CBS, performed the national anthem and a track from her debut country album being released this May. I introduced Ericka as the only woman who has and ever will rappel headfirst down the 63 stories of Mandalay Bay. It was the most frightening challenge during the CBS series.

“It was something I’ll never forget. How I did it I’ll never know. I simply fell over from the roof into space -- and prayed. I’ve never scaled a building before, either right side up or wrong side down. It was just a harness between me and no longer being me.”

One side note: Our photographer Tom will be reunited with his son, a Marine serving in Iraq, next weekend in Florida when he escorts the new Miss America to the Taste of the NFL charity event at the Super Bowl. Tom will be photographing them there, and Vegas DeLuxe will have the photos.

Earlier yesterday, Katie and the 53 Miss America contestants helped David Siegel and Mark Waltrip cut the ribbon in opening their beautiful PH Towers Westgate at Planet Hollywood. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Holly Madison also were on hand, as was our esteemed Editor Don Chareunsy, who filed his own report while I was at the Evening of Dreams rehearsals.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.