Hello Mary: The Training of a Rose Bowl Queen

Mary McCluggage was crowned the 89th Rose Queen by the Tournament of Roses earlier this year. And for months she's been in training: for public speaking, makeup and hair, poise, etiquette and, of course, learning the perfect parade wave for Monday's parade. Gloria Hillard has a profile of the queen and her court.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

On Monday, New Year's Day, some 38 million people are expected to watch the Annual Rose Parade on television. In Pasadena, thousands of spectators will line the parade route, hoping to catch a glimpse of the 89th Rose Queen and her Royal Court.

Gloria Hillard caught more than a glimpse. She went behind the floats to meet the seven young women of the Rose Parade Court.

GLORIA HILLARD: It's 9:00 a.m. at the Tournament of Roses House in Pasadena, where the Rose Queen and her six Royal Princesses have just returned from their first event of the day.

This former Wrigley Mansion in the heart of Old Pasadena is home base for the seven young women. They make their way pass the formal dining room and up the antique staircase to the Queen's Room, where they're met by Royal Etiquette Consultant Pamela Hillings.

Ms. PAMELA HILLINGS (Etiquette Consultant): Do you have a question?

Unidentified Woman #1: Okay. If the desert is set out before the rest of the meal, when is the time to start eating?

Ms. HILLINGS: If there is full pie, I tell them don't apologize, don't make any excuse. I mean if it's not too serious. Just to handle it with grace.

(Soundbite of Queen's Room)

Mr. HILLARD: Hillings is just one of many royal court consultants grooming the girls in everything from etiquette to public speaking for their year-long reign as Pasadena and tournament ambassadors. To get here to the Queen's Room, they were chosen from more than 1,100 area hopefuls who endured a nail-biting month-long elimination process. Mary McCluggage, a statuesque 18-year-old with blonde shoulder-length hair, remembers the first day standing in front of 10 Tournament of Roses judges.

Ms. MARY McCLUGGAGE (Rose Queen): Actually, the first interview was 15 seconds and you just said why would you want to be on the Royal Court this year.

HILLARD: And the answer the newly crowned 89th Rose Queen gave?

Ms. McCLUGGAGE: It would be such an honor to be on this year's Royal Court to further show American how unique and beautiful Pasadena really is.

Mr. RICK NESUF(ph) (Official Scheduler): (Unintelligible) substitute the black turtleneck.

HILLARD: Rick Nesuf is a 25-year member of the Tournament of Roses and the Royal Court's official scheduler; it's been his job, following the court's coronation earlier this fall, to juggle more than 100 meet-and-greet community events. He was also one of this year's judges.

Mr. NESUF: And these seven have chosen have what we call the ABCs: they're articulate, they're bright and they're charming.

HILLARD: For 17-year-old Princess Christina Barsamian, this once-upon-a-time moment hasn't quite sunk in yet.

Ms. CHRISTINA BARSAMIAN (Princess): Sometimes I'll be at an event and I look around, I look at name badge and I think, what, I'm really a princess? I'm on this Rose Court that I've always look up to the girls so much in all my life? And it's just amazing.

(Soundbite of luncheon)

HILLARD: At this luncheon, one of many Christina's attended, she is given last minute pointers by Rosemarie Scott, the court's speech consultant.

Ms ROSEMARIE SCOTT (Speech Consultant): Watch the (unintelligible) in your nose, make eye contact, and just be yourself.

Ms. BARSAMIAN: Okay, sounds good. I'll remember that.

HILLARD: They also need to remember to smile and to rose. Rosing is a time-honored ritual in this steeped-in-tradition town that involves lapel signs to keep out(ph) roses.

Unidentified Woman #1: They're little embroidered rose ticket. Would you like one?

Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #1: Okay. I'll stick one on you, right there.

Unidentified Woman #2: There you go.

HILLARD: How many times have you done that before?

Unidentified Woman #2: A thousand.

Unidentified Woman #1: A thousand. Literally, probably a step-by-step, and we probably gave out a thousand roses yesterday.

HILLARD: And so it will continue right up to prime day, the day Queen Mary McCluggage says...

Ms. McCLUGGAGE: I think you really can't put it into words what it's going to be like and you can't imagine or prepare for it at all, but I can't wait to step on that float. My arm will get tired, I'm sure, but I'll be pumped.

HILLARD: Smiling and waving to the crowd, where chances are there's another little girl dreaming of the day she'll be handing out tiny roses and posing for just one more picture.

Mr. NESUF: On three, 1-2-3. Thank you.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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