Ride a bull. Chat up a Senator. And get your homework in on time. It's all in a day's work for a festival queen. If you assume all pageant queens are airheads, then welcome to the alternate universe of America's smart and sassy festival queens. With titles like Catfish Queen and Swine Queen, and royal duties ranging from leading parades to kissing frogs to doing PR for local industries, these hardworking girls represent the best of American community spirit. The Rhinestone Sisterhood takes us deep into the world of small-town festival queens to capture the true story of four "sisters of the sash"--the Frog, Fur, Cotton, and Cattle Queens of Louisiana--on a year of community service and girl power in the least likely places.
David gives an overview of the book:
Chelsea Richard is crying. A tiny thing, a sparrow wrapped in pink silk, she is visibly shaking, not with sorrow or anger, but frustration pure and deep. She bolts out of the pageant interview room, her eyes filling rapidly as if each step she takes pumps tears. Seconds ago, three judges finished grilling her about why they should place a crystal-studded crown on her head tonight, why they should trust her—as opposed to one of the other four girls lined up—to represent their festival for the coming year. The actual pageant isn’t for hours yet, but her make-or-break moment is already over. That interview, which alone counts for fully half of her score, is the only chance she has to make a distinct personal impression on the judges without her competition in their line of sight. She spent two years dreaming of how to handle that moment—and now she’s sure she’s blown it.
At just over 5 feet tall, and weighing less than 100 pounds, Chelsea’s slim frame displays anxiety in the way a reed trembles in the face of a strong wind. None of the pageant volunteers approach her to offer comfort, knowing what would happen if they did: the eternal gossip—that every pageant is rigged—would have new kindling. Like the other girls, Chelsea is here for the interview alone, no parents or friends yet in tow to soothe her. She tries to get control of her feelings, to stop the tears simply by blinking them away, and fails. “I messed it up. Why can’t I just say what I’m feeling?” Her voice is nearly impossible to hear. “I need this.”
What she needs, what she desires enough to risk such loss and pain, is to be Frog Queen.
It’s a prospect appealing enough to convince five girls to don two-and three-piece business suits on this cloying 94-degree August day. They have gathered for closed-door interviews here at the Rayne Civic Center and RV Park, the last place you’d think to look for a little sparkle. The building oozes municipal practicality, the very essence of anti-glamour: a pale mustard auditorium which doesn’t so much rise as squat wide on its flat tract, surrounded by a sun-baked terrain punctuated with hook-ups for Winnebagos and Airstreams. Just inside the front entry, a set of double doors hides the room where three panelists sit behind a long folding table interviewing the slim slate of contestants who hope to become the public face of the Rayne Frog Festival, the four summer days which are the centerpiece of the Louisiana town’s civic identity.
Her town’s titles mean something to Chelsea: she was Frog Derby queen before she was Miss Rayne. But this is the big one, the title she wants most. This same weekend, she could be competing for a festival title in another town—the Duck and Gumbo pageants are today, too— but she doesn’t want just any old crown: It has to be Frog. So she does what she can: she dries her eyes, straightens her suit, and tries to put on a brave face, joking about the kind of inspirational mantras she adopted the first time she lost. “ ‘Everything happens for a reason’ was what I told myself last year. I guess I’ll just have to Google a new line tonight.”