Overnight celebrity: Katherine Webb aims to prove she's 'more than just a pretty face'

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 23, 2013 

Miss Alabama USA 2012 Katherine Webb says she didn't plan a pop-culture takeover.

"I didn't purposely sit there in that spot in the stands for the camera to look at me. Nothing was pre-planned," Webb, who was raised in the Columbus-Phenix City area, said in a recent phone interview.

She's referring to the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship, where she watched her boyfriend, starting quarterback AJ McCarron, play for the University of Alabama. Webb, 23, is an Auburn University graduate.

The big moment came when ESPN sportscaster Brent Musburger remarked at length about Webb's beauty.

The results have been measurable in the pop-culture world. Webb has gained a deluge of new followers on Twitter and she has a verified account -- a sign she's a major public figure. She's approaching 270,000 Twitter followers. For those keeping score, McCarron is approaching 156,000.

She appeared in the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and covered the Super Bowl for "Inside Edition."

She also became a celebrity diver.

Webb is among the cast members on "Splash," a reality TV diving competition that premiered March 19 on ABC. She survived the show's first cut and dedicated a dive to the man who helped make her famous.

"Thanks, Brent Musburger. This dive is for you," she said on camera.

The financial compensation that came with "Splash" was a big draw, Webb said, citing the debt she incurred while competing in pageants.

"I would love to give back to my family as much as I could as well as really sustain a living for myself," said Webb, who previously held a management position at the Chick-fil-A in Midland, Ga.

Money wasn't the only thing that drove her decision to do "Splash."

"I just really wanted to show America that I was more than just a pretty face," Webb said. "I'm on the show to do dives. I'm not on the show to show off my body."

'Real country girl'

Webb swears there's more to her life than glamorous photo spreads.

"I'm just a down-home, real country girl at heart," she said.

Her mother, Leslie Webb, uses a similar description, calling her daughter a "down-home, sweet girl." In a Miss USA 2012 YouTube video, Katherine listed skeet shooting as one of her favorite outdoor hobbies.

She wasn't always confident in her looks.

"I was always the tall, awkward girl and I looked different," said Webb, who graduated from Northside High School in Columbus. In addition to her height, she dealt with vitiligo, a skin condition that can lead to a patchy appearance.

She elaborated in a recent Vanity Fair piece that called Webb a "modern-day Cindy Crawford."

"It's kind of ironic that I'm in this position that I'm in now, because I grew up as the ugly duckling," she told Vanity Fair.

In addition to parents Alan and Leslie of Phenix City, Webb has three siblings: 26-year-old David, and 19-year-old twins Matthew and Laurie. Leslie Webb said that from early on, she thought Katherine would end up in the spotlight.

"We knew that something was going to happen. We just didn't know what, or when, or how," she said. Looking back on the last few months, Leslie Webb summarizes, "It just happened so fast."

In late December, Katherine Webb confirmed her relationship with McCarron. On Twitter, she posted a holiday photo of the couple.

It came as McCarron and Alabama were preparing to play Notre Dame in Miami for the national title.

In an interview nearly three months later, her mother debunked any "showmance" skepticism.

"It's definitely a real relationship," she said. "AJ has such a tender heart."

The romance made headlines because of the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry. People wondered if Auburn graduate Webb would root for Alabama.

What's the current status of her football allegiances?

"For right now, since I'm dating the quarterback, I need to cheer for Alabama," Webb said.

The future

Some reminders of Webb's local roots remain in the Chattahoochee Valley. Chief among those: promotional materials for Direct Optical Center in Columbus, where Webb has been a patient for years, according to general manager Craig Davis.

She filmed the Direct Optical Center commercial during her time as Miss Alabama USA, Davis explained, adding that his perception of Webb hasn't changed amid her time in the national spotlight.

"She remains her classy self to me," Davis said.

His advice for Webb is simple. "Be very careful. That's the only advice that I would have," Davis said. "Be extremely careful and conscious of what you do."

Webb knows she has critics.

"A lot of people say that I became famous for no reason," she said.

That's not true, Webb counters. "I won Miss Alabama USA and that is a huge accomplishment in itself. ... I packed up my things and I moved to Los Angeles, not really knowing what was going to happen or what I was going to do. But that takes enough guts in itself to do," she said.

What's next?

She wouldn't mind a hosting stint similar to her Super Bowl gig. "If something like that comes along, I probably would take it again," said Webb, who placed in the top 10 in the Miss USA 2012 pageant.

She's more ambivalent while discussing the possibility of a long-term TV career.

"I haven't done acting yet, but I'm learning that television is not something that I want to be a part of. It's a cutthroat industry and you have to be willing to sacrifice yourself to an extent to really give what they want and I'm just not willing to do that," she said.

Webb says she has limits on the opportunities she'll take.

She said she'd refuse an offer to pose in Playboy.

"I come from a great Christian family. I was raised with great morals. I would never, ever, ever put myself in a situation like that to really sacrifice who I am and what I believe for a little bit of money and a little bit of fame," she said.

It reinforces another one of Webb's major aspirations: being a role model for younger women.

She'd like to be in a position to travel and share her story about the insecurities she faced while growing up.

"I'm ready to come home and then travel and work when I need to," Webb said.

She said she'll probably move to Tuscaloosa, Ala., McCarron's home base. Yes, they're still dating.

"The distance is always hard," said Webb, who is in California, where "Splash" is filmed.

But overall, she says their relationship is strong.

"It couldn't be any better," she said. "We're handling everything in stride and we're crazy about each other, so everything's great."

Is marriage in their future?

"That's just something we're taking day by day. It's hard to predict the future," she said. "Of course I wouldn't be with someone that I didn't see a future with, so we'll just see what happens."

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