McKenzie Carey wore a purple dress with a frilly pink skirt and purple flowers on her white shoes for a dance routine at a pageant in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, earlier this month.
But it wasn't tap skills or the poof of her skirt that caught the Internet's eye, making a video of her routine to Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" go viral after it was posted on YouTube earlier this week. It was the fact that her father — previously not a big participant in his daughter's years of pageantry — who in his jeans, T-shirt and red baseball cap twirled the 12-year-old who can't walk herself around on stage.
"We got standing ovation from everyone," Tammy Carey, McKenzie's mother, told TheBlaze Friday. "There was not a dry eye in the place."
Carey and her daughter started doing pageants together when she was 5 years old. They were something that McKenzie, who has mitochondrial disease and is in a wheelchair, can do and it was a bonding experience for the two of them. Carey said her husband would attend the shows, but wasn't too involved outside of that.
Then, two months ago, she directed him to do a dance with McKenzie so the girl could have a routine like other girls in the pageants who do dances on their own.
"There was a director at this pageant who invited us to come to Pigeon Forge, all fees paid," Carey said. "It was a glitz gadget. We’ve never done glitz. We’ve never done the make-up. We've never done all that."
But it was this pageant that produced the touching video between 'Kenzie' and her father. Watch the footage:
While Carey said she and her daughter do pageants because she think she has the ability to win, her husband's reasoning now is a "whole different story."
"He does it to inspire people," Carey said. "We are just so overwhelmed it has reached as many people as it has."
Now, any time McKenzie hears one of her dance songs, Carey said she expects her father to start dancing with her.
At this most recent show, McKenzie won "Most Beautiful," "Most Beautiful Jackpot," which Carey explained is an overall award, and "Director’s Choice Queen."
In her relatively young pageant career, McKenzie has won 15 titles in "regular" pageants, "not special needs pageants," Carey said. She said she enters McKenzie into these pageants, in addition to some special needs versions, because she thinks "McKenzie has the right to be there."
Though McKenzie's development was delayed as a result of the disease that impacts the organelle that produces energy for her cells — she couldn't roll over on her own until she was 4 years old and couldn't hold up her own head until she was 5 years old — Carey said with treatment she has made progress over the years.
"We are just blessed," Carey said. "We have our hope and faith in God. He’s got a plan for her — he’s got a special plan for her."
Next up, Carey said McKenzie is competing in a pageant around July 4. Then, in August they will be heading to Nebraska for the National Miss Pageant.
And what of those pageants you see on TV shows? Carey said they pick only the worst to show you.
"Those were the most compassionate people you would never meet," she said of McKenzie's most recent pageant.
Read more about McKenzie's story on her website.
This story has been updated to correct that "The Climb" is sung by Miley Cyrus, not Katy Perry as originally reported.