The votes are in and TODAY viewers have decided: Melissa McMillin and Jeremy Gebhardt will wed next month on Rockefeller Plaza — and on national television — as excited fans and well-wishers look on.
“I am so excited right now!” Jeremy said live via satellite from Bagram, Afghanistan, as the news was announced on TODAY Wednesday.
The young Missouri couple — separated for years because of Gebhardt’s tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan — earned the most votes on Facebook to become the recipients of TODAY’s annual wedding giveaway and gala on the Plaza.
Every detail about the Sept. 30 wedding will be decided by TODAY viewers. In the weeks leading up to Melissa and Jeremy’s big day, viewers can continue voting and choose the rings, wedding dress, tux, reception venue, bridesmaids’ attire, cake and honeymoon destination.
The process began Wednesday as Avril Graham, executive fashion and beauty editor for Harper’s Bazaar, showed Melissa the wedding ring choices in Studio 1A. “They’re all so beautiful,” Melissa exclaimed.
“I think they’re all gorgeous,” Jeremy agreed from Afghanistan. “Any of these would be more than I could ask for.”
Melissa and Jeremy are thrilled to have been chosen for TODAY’s Modern Love Wedding. When submitting videos along with their application, they said such a wedding would be a dream come true for them after living apart for so long under such serious circumstances. When Jeremy isn’t deployed in the Middle East as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, he’s stationed in Anchorage, Alaska.
“We have waited three long years for each other and I’ve dreamt of the day that I can finally say, ‘Hi! I’m Melissa Gebhardt,’ ” Melissa, 21, said in her video.
Jeremy, 22, actually surprised Melissa by using Skype to apply for the wedding competition all the way from Bagram, Afghanistan.
“Neither of us are very computer-savvy, so she thought all hope was lost,” Jeremy said in his video. “But I took it upon myself to make a video and fill out an application.
“If anyone deserves this, it should be [Melissa]. ... I can’t tell you how many tears she has cried or how many nights she has lost sleep worried about me or waiting for me to come home. I love her with all my heart.”
The competition was tough this year because all four of the finalist couples were exceedingly likable. Also in the running were:
- New York natives Lauren Ulatowski, 29, and Greg Merante, 29, who danced on their video and played air guitar — (or, more accurately, a broom) — to the Hall & Oates song “You Make My Dreams Come True”;
- Texas Cowboys cheerleader Shatera Kennedy, 33, and Marcus Allen, 41 (not the professional football player), a happy couple who met serendipitously at a local drugstore, and
- David McKay, 23, a Dublin, Ireland, native who earned a soccer scholarship that brought him to Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss., where he met his future fiancee, Pennsylvania-born Genevieve Tallarico, 25.
In the end, though, viewers fell in love with Melissa and Jeremy’s story. The two met at a choir performance in high school in Columbia, Mo. Jeremy still recalls the moment he noticed Melissa, “a beautiful girl that I had never seen before.” Friends told him he had no chance with her, but he was persistent.
“After two months of constant badgering, she finally agreed to go on a date,” Jeremy said.
Melissa, a senior in college, is attending nursing school in Missouri. She said that even from such a great distance, Jeremy regularly helps and supports her in large and small ways.
“He sits on Skype with me every day to help me study for my nursing exams, pick out the perfect shoes for my upcoming birthday party or prep for a big job interview,” she said in the video she submitted to TODAY. “He never fails to show me how much he loves me, and I truly do love him.”
A modern-day wedding
TODAY’s tradition of throwing a wedding on the Plaza for one lucky couple is now in its 11th year. This year’s “Modern Love” wedding will truly be a modern-day wedding, in large part because of the role technology is playing in it.
TODAY partnered with social-media giant Facebook this year with an eye toward making it easy for viewers and fans to communicate with the show quickly and provide prompt feedback about wedding-related segments as they air.
Between now and Sept. 30, people can vote on various wedding details via both TODAYshow.com and Facebook. Votes submitted through TODAYshow.com will not require a Facebook login.
The partnership with Facebook also made it particularly easy for couples to apply for this year’s TODAY wedding. All they had to do was apply on Facebook and upload their videos; gone are the days of needing to mail in video submissions.
In the run-up to Jeremy and Melissa’s wedding day, viewers also will be able to use their phones text their wedding preferences to the show.