COLUMBIA — Some couples spend months and years planning their wedding. One Columbia couple could have theirs planned and paid for in six weeks.
Melissa McMillin, 21, and her fiancé, Jeremy Gebhardt, 22, are finalists in the Modern Wedding contest on NBC's "Today" show. They are in competition with three other couples for the chance to have their wedding planned by viewers, paid for by "Today" and broadcast live from New York on Sept. 30.
The couple with the most votes wins the wedding.
Vote online through Facebook, or over the phone by texting "2" to 622639.
“I’m pinching myself to believe it’s true,” McMillin said.
The winning couple, selected by viewer votes, will be announced Wednesday morning. Voting ends Tuesday at noon Central time.
Part of the application process included submitting a video, which Gebhardt did from Afghanistan, where he is stationed as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force. In the video Gebhardt talked about the couple's current living situation and how they met.
"It was very sweet of him. Very romantic," said Kate Garrett, McMillin's roommate and a maid of honor.
McMillin and Garrett are going to New York for the announcement. Gebhardt will not be back from Afghanistan until early September.
The prospect of having the wedding planned by "Today" viewers excites McMillin. Each week, viewers will vote on every aspect of the wedding, including the rings, cake, outfits, reception and honeymoon.
McMillin and her mom have watched the show since she was 15, and they always looked forward to the wedding segments.
“I don’t think I have the right to be choosy when someone is giving me a wedding,” McMillin said.
With Gebhardt in Afghanistan and McMillin studying nursing at Central Methodist University, the couple has had to put extra effort into making their relationship work. They use Skype to communicate once or twice a day.
“We want it to work, so we go out of our way to make sure the other one feels like nothing is missing,” McMillin said.
This is Gebhardt’s second deployment. He has been gone since March, but he sends flowers and cards from Afghanistan.
“I never feel his absence,” McMillin said.
Garrett said she admires their relationship because the couple is able to take advantage of their time together.
“The relationship everybody wants is the relationship they have,” she added.
Finalists were announced Monday morning. Mary McMillin, the bride’s mother, watched "Today" from her first-grade classroom in Fairview. The segment aired as her students arrived for class, and she told them a little bit about what was happening.
“It made me a little teary,” she said.
Steven McMillin, father of the bride, said while it is difficult to adjust to his only daughter preparing to get married, he is excited for her. He enjoyed watching the video of the couple on television.
“It’s sort of a whirlwind deal,” he said.
Melissa McMillin said that if they don’t win the contest, they will still have all the experiences to look back on.
“Lots of times these deployments can really drag out,” she said, and the contest has made them excited and given them something to look forward to.
Gebhardt will be home for two weeks in September before going to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. The couple will wait until June 2011 to get married if they don’t win.
“They have been through the unthinkable, and to come out and be in a wedding on the 'Today' show is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Garrett said.
Even if they do not win, Garrett added, she knows that McMillin and Gebhardt will remain positive.
“The most exciting thing is that we are going to be married,” McMillin said.