The pressure was rising, the chances of winning six figures were getting more remote, and La'Sherrie Butler-Hogan, a Texas mom of two, was feeling worried under the bright lights of the "Deal or No Deal" stage. Then she broke out into song. And it helped her win $165,000.
"I've been singing since I was a little girl," Butler-Hogan tells CNBC Make It. "It was an escape for me because I had a lot of little issues coming up with my family: My mom was [involved] in church and my dad was, you know, not in church. So we were split up sometimes.
"I would always, kind of, stay in the bathroom or in my room and sing," she recalls. "And I just started being very passionate toward singing because it seemed like that was my only outlet. Music was everything to me. Music made my soul fiery … when nothing else could help me."
So when pressure began to mount during the game, Butler-Hogan went back to what kept her grounded growing up: "Singing has really helped me through my whole life," she says. And it helped during the game, too.
Butler-Hogan had a choir join her in belting out some crucial selections, which she says relieved stress and created some "good energy."
Of the five cases left late in the game, three were six-figure amounts, another was worth $10,000 and only one was valued under $100. Still, she says, the last few openings were "really scary."
"I was afraid because I didn't want to come back home with nothing. There was a lot of excitement, a lot of fear, but I wanted to make sure we got what we came for. I wanted to win on some level," she says. "I didn't want to come home with $5 or $300. I didn't want to come home without anything. I needed to ... make some financial changes."
On her next turn, Butler-Hogan decided to play it safe. She accepted a deal from the banker for $165,000.
Taking a more conservative approach is not uncommon. In fact, it's what host and executive producer Howie Mandel says he'd do.
"In my mind," Mandel tells CNBC Make It, "if I showed up for 10 minutes and somebody said, 'The banker is now offering you $15,000'? Deal. You're handing me $15,000! There's a chance I could tank on the next couple of openings, there's a chance I'll never see the million dollars."
And, as Butler-Hogan puts it, "I didn't want to mess up."
Butler-Hogan isn't bummed that she didn't win $1 million. "Well, of course, I would've loved to have won more," she says. "But you I feel like … 'Hey, if we could come home with this much, we are going to stop.'"
She's at peace with the results: "To me, it's like I got my prayers answered. That's what I wanted. In time and in season, I'll get everything that's mine. I'm definitely going to get it. But, you know, it came together the way it was supposed to," and "I am just exited for what happened."
She plans to spend some of the winnings on family. She'll also put some toward paying debt and funding her baking business, Amazing Occasion Custom Cakes, which she started five years ago with her husband, Adrian: "We've got to piece it out so we can make sure it grows."
Her business isn't the typical bakery. "I'm called the 'singing cake baker,'" Butler-Hogan says. "I do 'Happy Birthday' when people come in. I sing a very long note to 'Happy Birthday'. We're about putting the 'C' in cake customer service. We believe our customers are first and we do pretty much whatever, whenever and however they want it done.
"I take calls all times of night, all times of day," she adds. In fact, "I was taking calls when I was there with you all on my break time. I think it's an honor and privilege for someone to like and love what you do. I can't explain the feeling when people love what we create."
She's hopeful that the show will her boost the brand of her business: Right now, most traffic "comes through word of mouth. But I've got a feeling that it's going to really take off."
Butler-Hogan also plans to give to her nonprofit, the Fabulous Women's Support Group, which she says feeds about 50 to 60 children per day: "It's a lot on me, but I'll get it done."
Her advice to anyone who comes into a windfall: Be responsible, and be kind: "Sit down with your finance person as soon as the check comes in. Go over everything you need to work on your credit. Do not go out and just start spending and being crazy."
And with anything that's left over, she says, "try to help out those who may have less than you."
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