A joyful coronation of the 99th Tournament of Roses Queen Victoria Castellanos

The 2017 Tournament of Roses Royal Court: Princesses Shannon, Natalie, and Maya; Queen Victoria; Princesses Audrey, Autumn, and Emi. c.2016 LB Monteros
The 2017 Tournament of Roses Royal Court: Princesses Shannon, Natalie, and Maya; Queen Victoria; Princesses Audrey, Autumn, and Emi. c.2016 LB Monteros

by Laura Berthold Monteros

There could hardly be a Rose Queen with a more expressive face than Tori Castellanos. The shock and tears when her name was read as 99th Tournament of Roses Queen on Thursday evening, the huge smile when the she received the crown and roses, the seriousness displayed as she repeated the Queen’s Oath were spontaneous and heartfelt. That ability to quickly switch between joy and seriousness, to show her emotions on her face, is quite charming. With family, friends, schoolmates and teachers on hand to cheer, the celebration was truly a joyous event. Here’s how it happened.

Back to the beginning

An air of excitement and anticipation rippled over the patio on Oct. 20 as people waited for the doors of the historic Pasadena Playhouse to open for the announcement and coronation of the young woman who will reign over the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2, 2017. The seven members of the Royal Court were escorted down the red carpet into the auditorium by white-suited members of the Queen & Court Committee. And then, the doors swung open. Let’s enter that door as if we didn’t know yet that Victoria “Tori” Cecilia Castellanos received the Mikimoto pearl crown.

Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end of this article. It tells a lot of the story, and at the end, just for fun, there are a few shots of Tori in performances with Temple City High School.

Befitting the theme of the 128th Rose Parade, “Echoes of Success,” four Rose Queens participated in the event—2005 Rose Queen Ashley Moreno doing the red carpet interviews, 1988 Rose Queen Julie Myers King acting as co-emcee with KNBC anchor Chuck Henry, 2016 Rose Queen Erika Winter handing the bouquet to the new queen, and the grand dame of them all, 1941 Rose Queen Margaret Huntley Main.

Pres. Brad Ratliff and the events committee chose to echo the number 99 throughout the presentation, perhaps honoring his father, Dick Ratliff, who was president of the 110th Tournament of Roses, “Echoes of the Century,” on New Year’s Day, 1999. The Towne Singers from La Cañada Flintridge entertained that year and were brought back for this coronation.  Chuck Henry hosted the coronation in 1999 and Julie Myers King was a contributor. She was the 70th Rose Queen in 1988, but it was the 99th Rose Parade. One of the members of her court was Kristin Henry, Chuck’s daughter, and Dick Ratliff was the chair of the Queen and Court Committee. The Pasadena Playhouse, the State Theater of California, is celebrating its 99th anniversary this year.

Choosing the Queen

One of the ways the Queen & Court Committee chooses a queen is observing how the seven members of the Royal Court act and interact from the time the Royal Court is announced until a few days before the coronation. The audience was treated to a video of their adventures in “rosing” (putting tiny rose appliques on lapels), playing both outdoor and indoor games, interviewing, getting lessons in etiquette and poise, and trying on their new outfits from Macy’s. Members of Q&C and their spouses also use this time to bond with the girls who will be in their charge in the upcoming months.

Then the Rose Princesses appeared in their elegant, beaded blue gowns designed by Tadashi Shoji, and were briefly interviewed by Henry and King. Q&C chair Richard De Jesu handed the envelope with the name of the soon-to-be queen to Ratliff, who spoke about the diversity of the 2017 Royal Court and how extraordinary these seven high school seniors are. “It’s only the start of their journey,” he said. And then he read the name: Victoria Cecelia Castellanos. There were screams, applause, and one of the neatest moments at Rose Queen announcements: the reaction of the other girls, who encircle the new queen and shower smiles and congratulations on her.

Receiving the crown

The Court filed out, the princesses to don their tiaras and the queen to change into her white gown, and the Towne Singers burst into a hearty rendition of “76 Trombones.” The significance? Queen Victoria was one of the Pick-A-Littles in the Temple City High School production of The Music Man last March. (A photo is in the gallery below.) The Princesses returned to the stage on the arms of the people who reared them, and finally Queen Victoria with her father, Jesse Castellanos. She was coronated (with a few adjustments to ensure the crown stayed put) and given the Rose Queen’s oath by Ratliff.

Later, we asked Tori if she had heard the singing. “I did! And I got really excited,” she replied. Princess Maya chimed in that Tori sang along. “She has a beautiful voice,” she said. We also asked Ratliff if the choir had to practice the piece in private, since it would have been a dead giveaway if anyone had heard them. He responded, “Yes. Yes, we did.”

Meet Queen Victoria

We learned that Tori, which is the name most people know her by, is named after her grandmother Victoria. She’s a member of the talented Brighter Side Singers at Temple City High School and has appeared in five musicals, the first being Beauty and the Beast as Chip. One of the 2015 Rose Princesses, Mackenzie Byers, was Belle in that production; she is the daughter of  TCHS Vocal Arts Director Matt Byers.

It was participation in The Music Man that solidified her understanding of her role in life. “I always wanted to be an inspiration,” she told the emcees. “To leave a legacy. This is my opportunity.” This was underscored when the little girl who played her daughter in the musical told her, “You are my role model.”

We asked her if she will have time between the 100 appearances the Royal Court makes to continue with the very busy schedule of Brighter Side Singers and if she hopes to get a part in the upcoming My Fair Lady at TCHS. “I hope so, I really hope so,” she replied, adding it’s up to Mr. Byers. On being chosen as the 99th Rose Queen, she told us, “I don’t think I believed it, honestly. I didn’t…. It’s crazy!” And why does she think Q&C chose her? “Honestly, I don’t know.” She paused for a moment. “I think it was my kindness.”

For those who think the selection to the Royal Court is based on beauty, they are right. But it is not physical beauty. The beauty of these young women shines from deep inside themselves. How astounding in today’s society to view kindness as one’s most regal quality, to state how important it is for people to be kind. Queen Victoria, may your kindness be your legacy.

All photos copyright 2016 Laura Berthold Monteros unless otherwise noted.

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