Sugar Queen pageant preparations begin long before big event

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 7, 2010

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – As 10 young women take the stage at St. John Theatre tonight to compete in the St. John Sugar Queen Pageant, a magical evening is sure to be in store. But bringing it all together was no feat of hocus pocus.

It took months of hard work and dedication from three ladies, two of them former Sugar Queens themselves.

Suzanne Entremont Cancienne, Sugar Queen ’83, as the parish director and chairman is the public face of the group. She admits the position can be a bit all consuming.

“Even my dog’s name is Sugar Queen,” she quipped. “Your whole family life changes during Sugar Queen week.”

Her right hand, um, queen, Maria Hotard-Stelly, Sugar Queen ’89, agreed wholeheartedly.

“You know it’s Sugar Queen time when you have glitter everywhere,” she said.

And the glue that holds all that glitter together would have to be Barbara “BaBa” Oncale, who has been dubbed Hi Sugar Specialist.

Though not a former Sugar Queen herself, Oncale has been instrumental in both recruiting the girls and making sure they look just right when they walk across the stage.

“I feel that each girl, when they go out, it’s their moment,” said Oncale.

Together, the three have been putting their all into the pageant for two decades.

Oncale works at Formal Connection, so she sees many young women in the shop each prom season.

Consequently, the tuxedo store becomes Sugar Queen central for a few weeks each summer. But the situation is one of give-and-take as Formal Connection’s tuxedoes are featured in a fashion show during the pageant.

And that segment is just one of many the ladies promise will keep the evening rolling along at a fast pace. The trio seems proud as pageant queens of the entertainment section of the show.

“We feel we attract a lot of people because of it,” said Oncale.

Hotard-Stelly noted, “We did a big production for the 50th anniversary.”

“We did the ‘Brady Bunch’ one time,” Oncale said.

This year, the production will feature a New Orleans theme. The ladies said with the Saints’ Super Bowl win and the upcoming fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the timing just felt right.

“We just put the decorations up,” said Oncale. “Everybody wants our fleur-de-lis.”

Despite the best laid plans, nothing can stop the craziness that inevitably ensues the night of the production.

“It’s a trip just to be backstage to see what we do,” said Cancienne.

“Behind the scenes is the most fun,” agreed Oncale.

Although for these three women, the fun lasts year round. They said they enjoy the camaraderie the whole process builds, not only among themselves but also among the pageant contestants and winners from other parishes.

Said Oncale, “These girls, they get to know each other.”

The trio reminisced about the days when young ladies in St. John Parish would eagerly await to see the Sugar Queen contestants in the newspaper. They said they would take out a marker and circle their favorites and dream of the day they could stand on that stage.

In those days, they said there were usually around 25 contestants. This year, there are 10.

The ladies said they wish more girls would choose to take part in the pageant.

“They have to do an interview,” said Oncale. “They have to go on stage.”

“It’s a good experience,” added Hotard-Stelly.

Plus, the winner gets the opportunity to represent St. John at the annual pageant in New Iberia.

But before any of that can happen, the ladies are sure to be busy today putting the finishing touches on an evening dedicated to glitz and glamour.

Said Cancienne, “Each one of us has our special little things we do.”