Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blog on hiatus. Book on the way.

This blog is currently on hiatus as I prepare the book which has arisen from my travels. Thanks to all the queens (four pictured with me at left), their families, and festivals who helped make it possible. The book is titled The Rhinestone Sisterhood and will be released by Crown in April 2010. When more details are available, I'll post here and at

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's not just the Miss queens making a difference

Elizabeth Landry (top photo, left), Susan Dore (right), and Tatum Dore (center) show the role that festival queens of all ages play in their community. Elizabeth is the Woman Okra Festival Queen and the Woman Honeybee Festival Queen, while Susan is the Mrs. Okra Festival Queen, and little Tatum is the Tiny Miss Cracklin Festival, T’Nincy Courir de Mardi Gras, Toddler Duck Festival Queen, and Baby Ray*la*ne XI; together, they brought Christmas presents to all of the children at the Ronald McDonald House. Elizabeth and Susan also teamed up to raise funds for the family of Austin Bryant (pictured below), a four year-old with cancer who is undergoing chemotherapy while awaiting a liver transplant. They raised over $2000, in addition to collecting food for the family and baby clothing for Austin's baby brother Dallas, born last week.

Mardi Gras is timeless

The 2008 Southwest Mardi Gras Queen, Danielle Herrell, met a senior queen and her court at an Assisted Living Mardi Gras ball in this picture taken by her mom. (This is one of my favorite photos.)

Mardis Moments with the Cracklin Queen

Brittany Soileau, Cracklin Queen, began her Mardi Gras celebrations by attending two Mardi Gras pageants, where her snapshots captured traditions old and one new: the making of a masque (seen here with the Teen Catfish Queen) and the decorating of Mardi Gras trees, a newer and slightly tongue-in-cheek ritual that extends the shelf life of Christmas trees.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Swamp Pop Music Festival Queen at Queen of Queens

Megan Waguespack, the Swamp Pop Musical Festival Queen, is a girl with a crown and a mission. Her festival raises funds for Cystic Fibrosis and Megan’s been hard at work attending Bowl-a-thons, Great Stride Walks, Golf Tournaments, and other events for the cause. Since “cystic fibrosis” is hard for children to say, the CF Foundation came up with an easier alternative: “Sixty-five roses,” a phrase which has also become its logo. When Megan arrived at Queen of Queens, her festival surprised her (top left) with a bouquet of sixty-five roses to wish her well and honor her work. The theme of Queen of Queens was LAFF goes to Hollywood, as you can see in Megan’s best red carpet pose with Oscar (far right) and at the costume party, where she was one of the Marilyn Monroes (bottom left, with fellow Marilyn, Miss Beauregard Parish Fair Kacey Brister). This was Megan’s first trip to Queen of Queens and she placed in the Top 15, earning the coveted red pin (center). She and the other finalists shared a prayer of thanksgiving and a plea for calm nerves before the onstage interview portion of the evening; it was the kind of positive moment that shows the best spirit of festival pageants.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Queen of Queens Costume Party

The 86 contestants delighted the Friday night LAFF convention crowd by dressing up as Hollywood characters. These photos, taken by Dayna Willis, show (clockwise from top left) Crawfish Queen Nonnie Berard as Lucille Ball, Washington Catfish Queen Heather Hickey as Cruella Deville, Cattle Queen Kristen Hoover as Jessie from Toy Story, Miss LA Cajun Food Gabrielle Theriot (Willis's daughter) as Mulan, Strawberry Queen Jeni Abrams as Dorothy, Frog Queen Chelsea Richard as the WB Frog, Miss Allen Parish Fair Rose Woodward as Cleopatra, and Celtic Nations Heritage Queen Winter Duhon as Scarlett O'Hara.

Miss LA Cajun Food keeps up with the many moods of Queen of Queens

Gabrielle Theriot, Miss Louisiana Cajun Food, shows the
presto-change-o nature of Queen of Queens weekend,
in which she began with a 1950's look, went professional
for interview, donned a Mulan costume for the LAFF Goes
to Hollywood party, and then glammed up for the pageant.
(Photos courtesy of Dayna Willis.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Miss Washington Catfish at Queen of Queens

Former Queen Ray*La*Ne and 2008 Miss Washington Catfish,
Heather Elise Hickey shows the span of activities included in Queen of Queens:
from the casual 1950’s drive-in party (which she is dressed for in the photo
with her catfish door decoration), to her turn as Cruella DeVille at the Hollywood
costume event on Friday, and then on to Saturday, which involved preparations for
the big night and the chance to make a dazzling entrance in red. Though she’s sad to be
giving up her current title in a couple of weeks, she already has been chosen to re-join
the Rhinestone Sisterhood: in May, she becomes Steamboat Queen, her third opportunity
in as many years to serve Louisiana’s festivals. (Photos courtesy of Heather Elise Hickey)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Queen of Queens: Update

I will not be posting my own photographs of the wonderful LAFF Convention and Queen of Queens weekend, but will post photos taken by the participants and sent to me. This way they can show their own personal experiences of the events. For Top 15 and other awards, visit .

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mardi Gras: An Amazing Mystick Krewe

The evening winds down with dances led by the costumed Krewe, who call out audience members for seven special dances, leading to boogeying by all. DC Mardi Gras is truly one of the most unforgettable events of any Louisiania queen's year (and the same may be said of all of us fortunate enough to attend).

Mardi Gras: I love a parade

Things get really unbelievable when the King's float separates from the stage, the back "wall" of curtains splits apart, and a half dozen parade floats appear in the ballroom, leading to a bead-throwing frenzy, with all the bands and krewe members joining the floats in a forty-minute loop.

Mardi Gras: Crowning glories

The festival queens sit onstage above the ball's King and Queen (this year a father-daughter duo), and add glamour to the scene, while enjoying festivities themselves. Shown here are Strawberry, Rice, Crawfish, Troubadour, and Yam queens, with the Troubadour queen in a hoop skirt so big she had to sit over her chair instead of on it.

Mardi Gras: Hail to the Queens, II

The queens were often cheered on by attendees from their own parishes. Cattle Queen Kristen, Gonzales Jambalaya Queen Jenna, Queen Cotton Brandy, Dixie Gem Peach Queen Jennifer, Fur & Wildlife Queen Lauren, and Frog Queen Chelsea are shown taking their turns in the spotlight, with especially raucous supporters for Fur and Frog. (Note: If I have mixed up any queens, please do correct me.)

Mardi Gras: Hail to the Queens, Part I

The final dignataries presented are the festival queens, who glide through the ballroom led by krewe members carrying signs proclaiming each girl's name and festival. I was unable to get good shots of all the queens (and I sincerely apologize to those not pictured), but they all deported themselves well at the ball, earning applause from the crowds. Seen here: Strawberry Queen Jeni, Rice Queen Devin, Crawfish Queen Nonnie, Troubadours Queen Elizabeth, Yambilee Queen Meghin, and French Food Queen Kayla

Mardi Gras: Princesses on parade

Representing every region of the
state, princesses in white gowns and
gloves promenade before the crowd
on the arms of male relatives, earning
applause especially as they pass
contingents from their hometowns.
Qiana Monique Champagne and her
stepfather (top) were the picture of elegance
as they made their rounds.

Mardi Gras: Geaux Tigers

No single event of the evening matched the moment the surprise guests were announced: the LSU marching band. Grown men stood on their chairs, jockeying for position to take pictures with their cell phones, and the masses sang along as the band paraded through the ballroom playing fight songs.

Mardi Gras: Let me...and me...and me entertain you

The Mystick Krewe keeps
the party grooving by
providing endless entertainment:
from a dixie-land brass band to a
to a swing orchestra to a Marine
marching band, this year from

Mardi Gras: Let's get this party started

Once the queens are in place in the waiting area,
thousands of guests fill the ball room for the
extravaganza of the year. Several hundred colorful masked Krewe members get the ball rolling in a party
that lasts five hours.

Mardi Gras: A mother's work is never done

With a mantle fanning out like a peacock, a crown more than a foot tall, and a heavy scepter, the Gumbo Queen
Kayla Troxler had enough to focus on, so it was up to her Mom to carry the weighty train as the queen moved from location to location.

Mardi Gras: All caught up

Before the ball, SWLA Mardi Gras Queen
2008 Danielle Harrell discovered that her
crown was so tall, it was smacking into the
crystal light fixtures.

Mardi Gras: Hurry up and wait

It's a long wait and a chilly one for girls in sleeveless gowns. Grand Isle's Ariel Terrebonne huddles inside her own skirt as she passes the time.

Mardi Gras: History in hand

The Orange Festival Queen and Rice Festival Queen,
both representing festivals more than a half century old, compare their scepters while waiting. The Orange scepter has been passed down for six decades.

Mardi Gras: Puttin' on the ritz

Queens dress in evening gowns and their full festival regalia for the event, preparation which often takes assistance (as the Yambilee Queen here helps cinch Queen Cotton into her mantle). The girls often compare their festival finery, including the full trains, which are often elaborate, including the Shrimp & Petroleum and Frog trains shown here.

Mardi Gras: Ladies in waiting

After two days touring Washington, the queens ready for the big event: the Ball. The Queens must assemble several hours before they actually make their entrance before several thousand revelers. A long hallway is lined with chairs bearing their names and titles.

Mardi Gras: Meet the Governor

Before departing, the queens meet the Governor and First Lady at the mansion. Bobby Jindal is a rising star in the Republican Party, so they have may have stood shoulder to shoulder with a future president. (Photo courtesy of Governor's Office)

Washington Mardi Gras

One of the greatest traditions for festival queens in Louisiana is the chance to participate in the Washington DC Mardi Gras of the Mystick Krewe of the Louisianians, a 61 year-old tradition run by the son of its original founder. 25 festival queens at a time, with another set of festivals attending in alternate years, represent the parishes in the nation's capital for 4 days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spotlight on Bayou Teche Bear Festival Queen

If you’re the Bayou Teche Bear Festival Queen, sometimes you trade your sash for a life jacket--after all, the home base for your festival is a rich, ecologically diverse Bayou. Heather Lynn Phillips, the current queen, is seen here on the Bayou with an agent of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The college sophomore has spent her reign traveling to other towns and parishes to talk about the threatened species, including educating children on the do’s and don’ts of interacting with a bear in the wild.
One event from her festival weekend is the Oyster Eating contest (shown here, middle and bottom), which Heather makes look blissfully easy, but proved a challenge for a Queen Mom who tried hard to be a good sport. (Note, at very near right, the clown who competed still wearing his make-up!) Heather was joined by visiting Teen and Miss Queens from the Farm Bureau, Cajun Hot Sauce, and Cypress Swamp festivals for the events held in beautiful Franklin, known for its cypress tupelo swamps, live oaks, and antebellum architecture.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Spotlight on Miss LA Cajun Food Fest

Gabrielle Theriot, Miss LA Cajun Food Fest, comes from a royal family: her 4 year-old sister Macy (on Santa's knee) is Petite Miss LA Honey Bee Festival Queen and her mother Dayna (not shown) is Mrs. Queen of the Pines for the St. Helena Forest Festival. (Even Gabrielle's grandmother participated in festival pageants as a girl.) Kaplan, the hometown of Gabrielle's current festival, is part of Vermilion Parish, which she says is known “the most Cajun place on earth.” Beyond her festival (which features cook-offs and live music), Gabrielle’s duties include at least 20 events as a visiting queen and regular attendance at Chamber of Commerce meetings in Kaplan. This is her first time as a Miss Queen, but she was Teen Crawfish before this, and says she chose which festivals to compete for based on her favorite foods--not a bad idea, at least if you've ever tasted the food down here!

Spotlight on Miss Luling Boutte Fall Festival

The queen of the newest festival in Louisiana is Robin Sons, the first Miss Luling Boutte Lions Club Fall Festival. The Fall Festival is a weekend-long spirit booster and benefit, from which all proceeds go to the Louisiana Lions Camp for children with mental and physical challenges, diabetes, and pulmonary disorders. Robin travels the state to introduce people to the new festival, as you see her doing (bottom left) at the Gumbo Festival in Chackbay, but she also must travel an hour each way from home in Berwick to preside over events in Luling, like the Halloween social (bottom right). This summer, the 19 year-old joined other visiting queens as a guest of honor at the New Orleans Zephyrs Ballpark Beauties night.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spotlight on Erath Miss 4th of July Queen

Having represented various festivals since she was 16, 23 year-old Allyson Boudreaux (driving the truck bottom left) is officially in her last reign as a Miss queen on the festival circuit. For her final title, as Erath Miss 4th of July Queen, she made it her mission to focus on American troops during her year of service. As she explains, "I joined with a non-profit organization called Soldier's Angels. With them, I do everything from saying farewell to units being deployed to visiting Veterans Hospitals. I'm in the process of doing two projects: trying to get over 1,000 signed 'Thank You' cards sent to soldiers; and working on 'Operation Mardi Gras 2009,' to bring Louisiana Mardi Gras to the soldiers deployed overseas. The 244th Louisiana Guard unit out of Hammond will get together on Mardi Gras day, in Iraq, and put on a Mardi Gras parade 'Louisiana Style' for the other soldiers not from around here." (To learn more visit the website at .)

Shown here are some of the Erath 4th of July festivities, including water fights between the fire crews from neighboring towns. As queen, Allyson presents the winners with their trophy and a ceremonial red stick that gets passed on year to year. Joining her is the current Queen of Queens, Brandi Stout.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spotlight on LA Honey Bee Queen

The Louisiana Honey Bee Festival is unusual among state festivals in that it doesn’t honor one town, parish, or industry but rather the fight against children’s illnesses. Started in memory of Heather Williams, a girl who died of leukemia, the festival’s events (including a vintage car show) all raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and, with other similar fundraisers in the state, bring in about $400,000 a year. The current Honey Bee queen is another Heather, 19 year-old Heather Gonzalez. Among her activities since her October crowning, she attended attended the Festival of the Bonfires (where she had her face painted in honeybee pride), and the Westwego Festival, where she met local mascot Mr. Ray
--an inflatable fireman with a real person inside--and clowned around with visiting royalty, pretending to save her banner from the jaws of an alligator with the St. James Parish, French Food, St. John Sugar, Orange, and Strawberry queens.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Spotlight on the Louisiana Tournoi Queen

Leigh Phillips of Sulphur is Queen over one of the most colorful and historic Louisiana events, Le Tournoi. This tournament traces its roots back to the town’s founding by its first mayor, a major from Napoleon’s army who was enamored of the French tradition of knights in armor riding horseback and fighting with heavy lances. For most of the 19th century, Ville Platte held similar tournaments four or five times a year as major sporting events, which faded in popularity at the dawn of the 20th. Le Tournoi returned mid-century, eventually becoming a feature of the Cotton Festival, and has continued to this day, with knights on horseback racing a track while trying to spear the most rings; the winner receives his prize from the Queen and together they reign over the evening’s ball. As is clear from these photos, Leigh, the 60th Louisiana Tournoi Queen, is no slouch herself when it comes to horses--she can ride to her own rescue! And that's not the only arena in which she excels: she was named Calcasieu Parish Student of the Year in 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spotlight on the Cracklin Queen

An important cultural event for St. Landry Parish, the Port Barre Cracklin Festival is a weekend-long celebration of my favorite Cajun snack. (Alas, Cracklins reveal the dirty little secret behind all the best food down here: anything that tastes this sinfully delicious can’t possibly be good for you.) Local girl Brittany Soileau, crowned Miss Cracklin Festival Queen in November, presided over a weekend that included a parade, live music, prize drawings (above left), and a Cracklin Cook-Off, all to raise money for the local Lions Club. After the festival, the high school senior took to the highway to attend other festivals as a Visiting Queen, enjoying the camaraderie of spending time with her Rhinestone Sisters, including Teen Catfish queen Lindsey Burghdoff (above right).