By John Philip Wyllie
From the stage of Palm Springs beautiful Riviera Resort, El Cajon’s Brandy Herrera gazed out upon the audience of about 600. Wearing the traditional tiara and sash and carrying a beautiful bouquet of flowers, she tried in vain to hold back her tears of joy. Herrera, a 23-year old mother of one had just been selected to succeed Nicole Padilla as the 2004 Mrs. California.
“For about 20 minutes you are caught in a whirlwind surrounded by photographers and people asking you questions,” Herrera recalled of the June 20 crowning. “I never thought anything like this would happen to me. It was an overwhelming experience and an extremely emotional one. I was ecstatic!”
The judges scrutinized the 32 contestants looking for a well-rounded mother to serve as a role model to married and unmarried women across the state. While the Mrs. California-America Pageant is primarily a beauty contest, other attributes factor into the judge’s decision.
“It’s important that you have done a lot to reach out to your family, friends, church, and community and that you love your country and are proud to live in your state,” Herrera said. “They are looking for women with a lot of self-respect and integrity.”
Herrera’s quest for the crown began two years ago at home while watching T.V.
Flipping through the channels one evening, she came upon the PAX network and a beauty pageant like none she had ever seen.
“I thought it was interesting that some of the contestants were a bit older, at least older than what you would normally see in a beauty pageant. At the end of the program, there was a number to call (for prospective contestants) and that is what I did,” Herrera said.
Herrera was no stranger to beauty pageants. In between the ages of 14-17, she had participated in several contests and claimed the title one year as Miss Teen Southern California.
“It’s true that I had a little bit of experience and knew how pageants worked, but the competition at the adult level was very different,” she said. “This pageant was a lot more prestigious and the competition against these grown women was a lot tougher.”
Having come within an eyelash of winning last year’s crown, Herrera was determined to try again this year.
“After competing last year and finishing second, I was able to look at the mistakes I made and the areas where I needed improvement. I had to brush up on my interview skills and improve my wardrobe,” Herrera said. “My family helped me select a prettier color (fabric) and found a seamstress that was willing to make me a gown. It turned out fabulous,” she said.
With a gown that made her feel confident, Herrera set about dealing with the many details that go into a winning performance.
“I worked on my stage presence, turning, walking and a lot of other things. I spent hours practicing and really tried to polish myself up. I guess it all paid off,” Herrera chuckled.
Herrera was immediately presented with a $500 cosmetic gift basket from Jafra, a stationery basket from the Avery Company and a Trim Spa modeling contract worth $1,000, but that is just the beginning. Her victory places her in the Mrs. America Pageant Sept. 5-7 in which she will compete against contestants representing the other 49 states. That pageant will once again be televised on the PAX network from the Riviera Resort.
For the next 12 months, Herrera will be traversing the state from one end to the other make a slew of personal appearances. Her official appearance schedule kicked off on July 4 riding in Anaheim’s annual Independence Day Parade. With many relatives and friends involved in the local Hispanic community, she hopes that many of those appearances will be closer to home.