LAS VEGAS — When Mariah Cary was crowned Miss Muscatine in 2012, it was the beginning of a reign that would put her only a few steps behind Miss America on the runway this year.

Cary, 21, who was crowned Miss Iowa 2012 on June 9 in Davenport, became the fourth runner-up Saturday night in the Miss America pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas after performing for a world-wide audience.

She was still catching her breath a day later.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “I was very proud to be able to represent Muscatine and Iowa.”

Nearly 100 of the Burlington native’s family, friends and supporters, including her mother and stepfather, Suzanne Cary-Lunsford and Tobias Lunsford, and her father, Leon Wilson, all of Burlington, came to Vegas to watch her.

Although she was competing against the contestant who would be crowned Miss America, Mallory Hytes Hagan, 25, of New York, the two “got to be extremely close,” Cary said. Both of them tap-danced for the talent portion of the pageant.

“She called me ‘Minnie Me,’ and said I was a younger version of her,” Cary said.

Throughout the competition and after the crowning, the two exchanged hugs and words of encouragement, gestures that Cary said were genuine.

Cary looks forward to spending more time with Hagan in the future. As part of the Miss America court, Cary said one of her roles is to provide support for the reigning Miss America at various events across the nation, especially those close to Iowa.

“We’re her foundation,” Cary said.

Cary also has answered some calls requesting that she speak or perform in various venues in the future.

She said she is grateful for the response, and those calls are helping her take a pageant slip-up in stride.

Near the end of the pageant, Cary was asked whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational use.

Initially, Cary indicated that she supported marijuana use only for medical purposes. But at the end of her answer, Cary said she thought marijuana should not be used for anything but recreational use and health care.

“I think everyone knows what I meant,” Cary said. “But I’ve taken some heat for that.”

Cary, who attends Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, found the incident especially ironic because her career goal is to become a pharmaceutical sales representative.

Cary’s other future plans include being a mentor for other Miss Muscatine and Miss Iowa contestants.

“I told them all, I’m one phone call away,” Cary said during a phone interview with the Muscatine Journal.

She also looks forward to watching footage of the pageant.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “I can’t remember everything that happened last night.”

Cary also planned to tour Las Vegas for the first time since arriving there the week before. Because of security, the contestants were asked to limit their activities to the sprawling Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino before the pageant.

This was Cary’s first visit to Las Vegas, but she didn’t feel homesick. The usually sunny city got a little dose of Iowa weather as an Arctic front brought some unseasonably cooler weather Cary’s way.

“It’s chilly,” she said as she and her mother prepared for a day on the town. “About 40 degrees.”