Could I be Rose Queen?
Samantha, 17, who always dreamed of being on the Rose Court, finally got her chance to try out.
Every year my mom, dad, brother and I drag ourselves out of bed and curl up on the couch to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade. I’m up first, begging my dad to buy doughnuts. We comment on every float—good, bad or ugly. I always insist that the Rose Court float is the greatest. The girls on the Court have that special “spreading the butter” wave, perfect smiles and blinding crowns. They always look like delicate porcelain dolls to me; their makeup so precise as if someone had painted it on. They hold bouquets of roses, which seem too perfect to be real, and wear ball gowns. I dream of riding that float.
My mom always talked about how she had made it into the Top 25 two years in a row and that my dad’s sister, Judy, was a Rose Court Princess. When I was 7, I met some Rose Princesses. One fixed a rose sticker on my shirt and I knew right then that I wanted to be like her. I wanted to make a little girl’s day by simply handing her a rose. I know it sounds kinda cheesy, but I felt like being a Rose Princess was my destiny.
Rose Court tryouts were in the middle of September. It was finally my chance to try for a spot on that float, in that ball gown, wearing that outrageous crown. Roughly 1,200 girls tried out for this year’s court, but I thought I had an advantage because of my family legacy. It was cool to feel like I belonged somewhere. I didn’t have to compromise who I was to fit in, the way I felt I had to when trying out for sports or dance teams.
They want girls who could be role models
Rose Court members have to present themselves well, by looking nice and speaking in front of an audience. I was confident that my personality could win the judges over, and if not that, my smile would definitely do the trick. It was pretty weird to be judged by a bunch of strangers, but at least I didn’t have to perform a talent or model a swimsuit. The tryouts are open to all unmarried women who live in the greater Pasadena area, and who are seniors in high school or full-time college students, with at least a 2.0 GPA. I felt like I had a pretty good chance. I do a ton of community service, I play sports and I’m an artist. I also get good grades. The Rose Court is all about inspiring young girls and being a role model. That’s what I like doing and I had waited 17 years for my chance.
For the first day of tryouts I wore a rose-colored sweater, charcoal-gray pinstriped slacks, which were ironed to a crisp, and high heels. I looked in the mirror as my mom de-linted me and I made sure everything was just the way it had to be to make the perfect impression on the judges.
The tryouts were held at the Tournament House—a huge white house with tons of roses in suburban Pasadena. As my mom pulled to the curb to drop me off I asked if she was coming with me. It didn’t make me feel any less nervous when she looked at me like I was crazy, laughed, and told me that I would do great. She reminded me that being myself was my best bet.
I thought I was going to faint while I waited in line for two hours sweating in the 90-degree heat. My hair kept getting caught in my number “355” tag as I turned to look at the few hundred other girls in line. I saw only a handful of other blondes, which was good, because most of the courts I remembered had a blonde, a black girl, an Asian girl, a Latina girl and some brunettes.
It was a good hour before I got to sit down and give my inexperienced-in-high-heels feet a rest. Each girl had to stay in order by number as people in bright red coats directed us all over. Last year’s Queen told us that “Everything will be fine if you just be yourself.” This advice meant so much more coming from her rather than my mom.
I tiptoed to a seat near the judging panel, careful so my stupid heels wouldn’t sink into the grass. I had only 30 measly seconds to tell the judges why I wanted to be in the Rose Court. I stood tall and smiled as I recalled chowing down on doughnuts watching the Rose Parade every year, dreaming of the day when I would get a chance to ride on one of those floats.
I was flattered as photographers snapped photos and a writer from Los Angeles Magazine interviewed me. We all waited in line for a photo to be developed and then got a “goody bag” filled with freebies on the way out. The first interview was a breeze, and if all of them were like this, then I felt like I definitely had a shot of making it to the final seven.
On Tuesday morning my mom text-messaged me to tell me that I had made it to the quarterfinals. I half expected it considering how well the interview went and my family history. The other half of me was screaming inside. Now that I had made it past the first round anything seemed possible.
The next step was the interview for semifinals three days later. There were about 250 girls competing for 75 spots. I returned to the Tournament House where I was led to a small room. About 20 girls waited in “the room” at one time. It was totally weird to socialize with girls I was competing against. We introduced ourselves and smiled as we told each other what schools we went to. We were super nice to each other’s faces but I knew once I turned my back I would be carefully examined from head to toe by every eye in that room. I’m not going to deny that I didn’t size up a few girls, too. Most of them were pretty, to say the least, but there were a few who were ridiculously gorgeous. I envied the girls with dimples and the ones with longer hair than mine. I envied the girls who didn’t need a touch of makeup and the ones with perfect complexions. We were all mostly the same height but there were a few who had to be 6 feet tall. At 5-foot-3, I envied the tall girls, too.
After an hour, a woman called my number and explained that I would have a minute and a half to answer as many questions as I could. I’ve watched too many seasons of Survivor, so I knew that a game plan was a must. I wanted them to know that I played sports and knew how to work as part of a team, that I was chairman of Assisteens, a local charity group in Arcadia, and that I was an artist and a writer. I didn’t have anything scripted; I was going to be myself.
‘What three good-natured qualities do you possess?’
The doors opened and I walked to the little red X on the floor. I crossed my hands behind my back and fidgeted with my ring. The 11 judges were seated in a line and immediately fired questions at me. My left leg shook as I tried to answer. They asked me who I admired most and why. I immediately said that I admired my mom the most because she had a difficult childhood but she persevered and was able to pay her way through college. The second question went along with the “Our Good Nature” theme of the parade, by asking what were three good-natured qualities I possessed. I said that I was caring, challenging and confident. I was so nervous that I said the first three adjectives that popped into my head.
After I finished my interview I noticed the writer from Los Angeles Magazine. He asked me more questions and congratulated me on having made it to the next round. It gave me a huge confidence boost when he said he had a good feeling I would be returning. But when I got home I was so worried. I felt like I hadn’t had enough time to give the impression that I wanted. How were the judges supposed to get to know the real me in 90 seconds?
Three days later I found out that I was a semifinalist. I had tried to prepare myself for a letdown, so I was shocked when the letter came. I’m not the type of person who dreams about becoming famous or going to the perfect college, but I wanted to be a Rose Princess more than I had wanted anything in a long time. I began to walk down the halls at school smiling at everyone while practicing my wave. I must have looked ridiculous but I was totally serious about it.
I returned to the Tournament House three days later and was led to “the room” once again. Waiting the two hours for the interview to become one of the top 25 was the worst. At the end of this interview, which was also a minute and a half, the judges asked me a series of yes or no questions. They asked me if they could cut my hair (of course they could), if their makeup stylists would be allowed to put makeup on me (yes), and if I was prepared for the huge time commitment (definitely). (As ambassadors for the Tournament of Roses, the court members participate in community events for several months and even have to miss some days of school.) I had answered all the questions from my heart and was totally honest. I even joked around a little after they asked me what I based success off of. I said that being an artist I obviously couldn’t judge success off of how much money you make. They got a good laugh out of that. Still, things seemed too good to be true.
The writer from Los Angeles Magazine had sat in on my interview this time. He had talked to me after all of my tryouts and I’m pretty sure he was banking on me making it to the finals.
Not the ending I had hoped for
And then the letter didn’t come. Three days passed and I convinced myself that they took more time as the judging got tougher in the later rounds. My mom called the Tournament House (even though we weren’t supposed to), and the receptionist on the phone confirmed that number 355 had not been selected.
The first thing I did when I got home from school was throw away that cheesy gift bag. There was a tiny mirror, some makeup samples that were in the most awful colors ever, a weird zip-up thing that turned into a tote bag and a stupid lipstick that tricked you into believing it was a lipstick, but was actually a pen. I was bitter and confused. I didn’t understand why I had opened up and was myself (just like everyone had told me), and it wasn’t good enough.
What was it that didn’t make me a candidate for the Rose Court? My mom had always said that the judges have something specific in mind that they are looking for. But why wasn’t I what they were looking for?
This New Year’s I watched the parade from the sidelines on Colorado Boulevard. Although I don’t recommend sleeping on the parade route, I knew this year would be my last chance to do that. Watching the Rose Court members wave to me as I was wrapped up in every article of clothing I owned made me realize how much I would have missed if I had been selected to ride the float. While those seven girls were waking up at the crack of dawn and going to all their events, I was secretly texting my friends during class asking where we were going for lunch. While they were eating catered meals and attending etiquette classes, I got to eat chips and salsa at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family and baby-sit the cutest 2-year-old. I was even able to finish out the volleyball season and get a varsity letter. I know it would have been awesome to be on the Rose Court, but I would have missed out on so many things.
Students from the following schools in the Pasadena area are eligible to compete for the Rose Court:
California Institute of Technology
Flintridge Preparatory School
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy
John Marshall Fundamental HS
John Muir HS
La Cañada HS
La Salle HS
Mayfield Senior School
Pasadena City College
Rio Hondo Prep School
San Gabriel Academy
San Gabriel Mission HS
San Marino HS
South Pasadena HS
Temple City HS