Hang out with Evanne Friedmann and it's hard to keep from laughing and smiling, because she's doing just that all the time.
The 17-year-old La Cañada High School senior and aspiring filmmaker has plenty to be happy about: Evanne will be crowned the Tournament of Roses' 93rd Rose Queen during a ceremony today at the Pasadena Convention Center.
But with her mother, sister and big scruffy dog in the living room of her cozy La Cañada Flintridge home, it was also easy to see Monday that Queen Evanne's good humor and bubbly enthusiasm for conversation, learning and new experiences came long before her crown.
Throughout our interview, Friedmann took every chance to speak of others' positive qualities before her own, though she is no stranger to accomplishment.
Aspiring to study film at USC, Friedmann is handling a load of three advanced-placement (college level) courses while also participating in numerous extracurricular activities, including choir, National Charity League and National Honors Society. She modeled briefly as a child after recovering from a dog attack and honed her public-speaking skills with the improv troupe Comedy Sportz.
With eyes and a voice that are always dancing, Friedmann's friendly demeanor is as natural as can be.
"All my girls are free to be themselves," said mother Gayle Friedmann of her personal Royal Court — Evanne and sisters Lynn, 19, and 21-year old Haley, a student at the California College of the Arts who sports a ferocious fauxhawk (like a mohawk, but without shaving the sides).
"She's a strong girl," Haley said of Evanne, "and I know being queen is something she'll excel at."
The Valley Sun: You looked absolutely stunned when it was announced you'd be queen. What were you feeling?
A: Last year Queen Natalie said in an interview that she didn't really remember what happened. It was a blur. And that's exactly what it feels like. The reason I was so surprised is because there are so many leaders in the [Royal Court] group that I really thought one of the other girls would have gotten it. They're all very smart, all involved in community service even more than I am, so it's really on honor. When I turned my head and saw all the girls with their mouths smiling but wide-open, I started to smile because I saw them smiling, and then I was like, 'Hugs!'
Q. Why did you want to try out for the Royal Court?
A: I thought if I tried out it would be the experience of a lifetime, which it's been. Even after the first week I was different. The first night [the Royal Court] had training for speech, modeling, etiquette. And by the end of the week we gave speeches, and the difference from the first night when we gave speeches to the last night after we really worked on them, all the girls were really amazing.
Q: What's been the most fun part about the experience so far?
A: Definitely meeting the girls and becoming friends with them, because we already all call each other and message each other on Facebook. We're all really close already. We went to Balboa [Island]. We had a volleyball game against the royal committee members. It was so fun. I drove a yacht and then did an obstacle course.
Q: You drove a yacht?
A: We went to a brunch that weekend on our bonding trip, and apparently it's a tradition for a man who owns a yacht to let us ride on it to the brunch. I told him I had driven boats before. But I had had my dad and my uncle right next to me helping me. There were buoys [lined up] the same width of the boat and I tried to play it cool like I knew what I was doing, but I had no idea. I was just trying to keep it going straight.
Q: What was the most challenging or intimidating thing?
A: Public speaking is terrifying. The speech classes really do help, and the more we talk, the less nervous we get.
Q: What sorts of queenly activities do you have planned?
We are going to visit a lot of nonprofit organizations and a few hospitals, which I really like. There's the USC Norris Cancer Center, where we're going to speak to cancer patients, which I love. The first community-service event where I really understood what community service was about was a cancer event. We made bags and hats and UV bracelets — if there's sun on them they change colors, which is really cool — and this one girl was in a wheelchair, no hair, had a bandana on her head. She was asking for a blue bracelet but we didn't have a blue one, so we offered her a green one, and so graciously she said 'Green's my second-favorite color, I'll take it.' That's when it hit me that what we were doing was giving these kids who were going through a terrible time something to smile about.
We also go to Huntington Hospital to go trick-or-treating the day after Halloween.
Oh, and we get to drive a blimp. [She laughs loudly.] I hope they don't have an obstacle course.
Q: As you see it, what is being Rose Queen all about?
A: The Royal Court are ambassadors for the Tournament of Roses. We go to different events to speak about the Tournament of Roses, to welcome people and shed a positive light on Pasadena and the organization. [She leans in and whispers: "That's why we give speeches."] My role as queen is to keep the princesses happy and keep us as a strong group, which is going to be so easy because we already are. I think our group is one of the best groups of girls I've ever met.
Q: How did you get into making videos?
A: The first time I held a camera I was really little. I was with my dad and there were peacocks outside on our roof. Ever since then I've loved videotaping things. And in the summers there were a bunch of kids my age in the cul de sac. We filmed a murder mystery called "The Suitcase," and it was really bad. And we did "Evil Dr. Guck" — he was an evil genius who brought this evil penguin to life and we had to save the day. And then I went to New York Film Academy Summer Camp at Universal Studios for two weeks. And then sophomore year I joined our school media-arts class.
Q: What do your friends and classmates think about you wearing a crown?
A: The first night I went into choir practice, and the choir is like a family, and there was an uproar of yelling and clapping. Everyone was so cute. We also happened to have [a student-run] assembly that Friday too, and so I became part of it. They had me do the Rose Queen wave.
Q: If you had time to relax, what would you be doing?
A: I would be filming a lot, and [she drops to a whisper] I don't know if I'm allowed to say, but I play video games. [She turns to her mom, laughs and asks: "Am I supposed to tell them that?"] I have the solitaire app on my phone that I play all the time. I play Scrabble on Facebook. I play chess with my English teacher at least once a week.
Q: You were a model from age 8 to 12. What was that like?
A: It started because of an accident. When I was in second grade I was attacked by a German shepherd and I got 33 stitches. My ear was kind of torn [she pulls back her hair], there was a hole there and bites on the side of my head and on my nose. That's why I don't have my ears pierced. But the [TofR] committee's really nice, so I get clip-ons, which is fun for me.
At Toys 'R' Us, a scout for models said I could be a model, to come to this place, but my mom was, like, 'No,' but I was like, 'Can we please? It's fun. It's an adventure.' That was just when I got my huge nose-cast off, which they had put on me to cover my scar. Kids at school kind of made fun of it. It was like a rhinoceros.
And so we went to this place in Beverly Hills, and there were 200 kids there and they would only choose two. They asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I wanted to be a movie star. I ended up having a few acting classes there, which I was not good at — I'm not an actor. My first job was for Mattel for the Barbie Video Camera. I was on the cover of American Girl magazine. In eighth grade my mom wanted me to stop to focus on school. And I got braces, and I didn't want to be a braces model.
Q: Tell me about Comedy Sportz, the improv troupe you were in.
A: I tried out really because I was scared of it. They teach you it's OK to fail, that you're going to fail a lot when you're doing these improvisations but you're going to learn. It taught me to go out and try, which is what I did with the Royal Court. I thought if I don't make it, it's fine, because I already had so much fun. I was just happy being there.
Q: Is there anything you think most people don't know about you or what it's like becoming Rose Queen?
A: People think the Rose Court is a pageant, but it's not. It's about dedicated and driven girls who know where they want to go in life. I've noticed that all the princesses have a passion. Mine is film. Katie [Thomson]'s is for her organization [the Crossroads Mentoring Program, which works with girls in South Central Los Angeles]. One is for music. One is for community service. One is for being an equestrian. One wants to be a pediatrician. So it's not a pageant, and I think other people would be surprised to know that all the girls are incredibly intelligent. We all love learning. People would be surprised at how driven all the girls are for success in the future.
And I think my family knows how much I love singing, all the time — 6:30 in the morning, 11 at night — any song that's in my head. Anything that I can sing I will sing, but my favorite is probably jazz, and Frank Sinatra.