1,000 hopeful faces, but only 1 crown

With brightly scrubbed faces and carefully coiffed hair, hundreds of young women crowded the walkways at the Tournament of Roses House on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena on Saturday for preliminary tryouts for Rose Queen and Court.

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Jan. 1, 2011 will mark the 93rd Rose Court, a tradition punctuated by appearances at the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, and, of course, lots and lots of glamour. Competing for one of the seven coveted spots has become a right of passage for San Gabriel area women, most of whom grow up admiring court members as they gracefully make their way down Colorado Boulevard each New Year's Day each year.

"The girls on the float get to feel special, you get treated like royalty," said a candidate wearing the identifying tag, #124.

To be eligible, candidates must be at least 17 years old by Dec. 31 and not older than 21 before Jan. 3, 2011. And they must be seniors in high school or enrolled as full-time students in an accredited school or college in the trustee area of Pasadena Community College or the trial annex area in Eagle Rock/Highland Park.

Saturday was the first in a four-phase audition process that will culminate with the announcement of the Court on Oct. 11 and Rose Queen on Oct. 19. Each candidate was given 15 seconds to introduce herself (by candidate number only) to a 10-member judging panel, and then was escorted away for a tour of the Tournament House.

"We are looking for what we say is the ABC's, which is articulate, bright and charming," said Ed Afsharian, a La Cañada resident and chairman of the Queen and Court Committee. "We are looking for poised young ladies that are personable, outgoing, intelligent, have speaking ability. It is hard to do that in 15 seconds but that is what we try and do."

The more than 1,000 hopefuls will be whittled down to a pool of 250 women, who will be notified by mail in the coming days.

The excitement was palpable as the candidates pinned on their numbers and anxiously took their place in line. Some reviewed what they were going to say to the judges, while others sized up the competition.

"I am hoping that I make it far," said candidate #315. "I am not extremely confident at the moment because there are a lot of pretty girls around."

Tournament members and past Court members chatted with the young women as they waited, trying to assuage fears by answering questions and sharing favorite memories.

One volunteer recalled a candidate who took an American Idol-esque approach to the tryout, belting out her introduction in a vibrato that could be heard through the estate (she didn't advance to the second round). Current Rose Queen Natalie Innocenzi remembered sitting next to an Ohio State defensive linesman who ate his way through five plates of food at the annual Lawry's steak dinner.

Saturday's tryouts brought back all the memories of her own audition, said Lauren Valenzuela, a member of the 2009 Rose Court.

"It makes me so nervous all over again," said Valenzuela, now 20 and a student at Pasadena City College. "But it is exciting. It is always great to come back and help with the girls, help with the tryout. It is just an amazing tradition."

Participation with the Rose Court is an opportunity to represent one's community and school, candidates said. Others said they looked forward to the chance to meet new people. Standing in a cluster, a group of La Cañada High School students said they had sought out past Court members for words of advice.

"My sister was on the Rose Court and I saw her experience and I was definitely inspired by all the things she did so I wanted to come out and try for myself," said candidate #299.

After 30 years as Tournament member and 11 years as chairman, the excitement of the Rose Court and New Year's Day in Pasadena never gets old, Afsharian said.

"I still get goose bumps," Afsharian said. "It is just exhilarating."

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