What do crayfish, church buggies, and a Bayou Christmas have in common? All are things you could be Queen of in the state of Louisiana. Regions across the country proudly tout their specialties through annual festivals and fairs, along the way appointing ambitious young ambassadors to spread their holy gospel – be it of yams or catfish. Think you can handle the duties that come with the highly sought-after title of Swine Queen? After reading David Valdes Greenwood’s new book, The Rhinestone Sisterhood: A Journey Through Small-Town America, One Tiara at a Time (May 2010; Crown Publishing), you’ll be thinking again.
With over 130 festivals annually, Louisiana loves its celebrations – and its Queens. But these are hardly bikini-wearing, mechanical-answering, perfect-bodied women. There’s Frog Queen Chelsea – the five-foot pixie who knows how to pose with Kermit while handling the possibility that he might just pee on her; Kristen, the confident Cattle Queen who has ambitions of getting her PhD in psychology; Lauren, the vivacious Fur Queen whose duties help distract her from her parents’ recent divorce and sister’s hospitalization; and Brandi, the quiet Queen Cotton, who despite fluctuating weight and self-confidence has overcome her struggle to become seasoned festival royalty.
As they negotiate their time during the week among full-time jobs, college classes, on-again/off-again boyfriends, and family, their weekends are spent bouncing throughout the state acting as spokeswomen at neighboring festivals – duties which may include milking cows, sporting a homemade potato sack ensemble, sitting atop a parade float for two hours in the Louisiana’s summer heat, or wrestling a Vaseline-covered pig to the ground.
Valdez Greenwood takes us through a year in the life of a festival queen – from Chelsea’s win at Frog to the state’s grand event – the Queen of Queens pageant. Despite an initial opinion that this book is all sunshine sparkling off rhinestones, Valdes Greenwood proves life atop the parade float isn’t so easy. Being Queen doesn’t make you immune to the universal consequences that come with underage drinking or crippling migraines. But as if that isn’t enough, there’s mean-spirited internet message boards gossiping about how you probably rigged the whole thing. What if the town that hosts your festival barely exists after a devastating hurricane? You might even have a stalker.