Yearlong ‘Sugar’ rush for St. John’s newest queen

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2013

By David Vitrano

RESERVE – The St. John Sugar Queen Pageant brought a little taste of the Big Apple to St. John Theatre Saturday with its theme, “Sugar in the City.”
The evening, filled with glitz and glamour and enough sashaying to make any fashion designer proud, culminated with the crowning of Ashleigh Keller of Reserve as the 65th St. John Sugar Queen.
Keller, who was visibly shocked when her name was called, said, “I was preparing myself to walk off stage and say, ‘There’s always next year.’”
Still practicing a gracious smile, Keller, 19, said she at first did not even realize her name had been called. The first-time contestant said she has been involved with the pageant since she was about 6 years old, so she’d seen her fair share of first-timers lose only to come back for one or more years and finally take home the crown. She figured she was in for a similar experience, so she was just prepared to mark this one down as a growing experience and to go enjoy herself at the after party.
“But I enjoyed myself way more than I expected,” she said. “When I finally got to the after party, someone showed me a picture of my crown up close.”
Keller said she was so excited during her actual crowning that her eyes were shut for most of it.
If the night served to dispel some of Keller’s notions about past experiences, the day also did something to erase any thoughts of bad omens from her head.
“The whole day had gone rough,” she said.
Numerous problems including a few wardrobe malfunctions had plagued Keller Saturday.
“Everything that could go wrong did,” she said, “and it wound up being perfect.”
The Riverside graduate said she is looking forward to representing the parish in New Iberia at the state pageant in September but is even more eager to just show off her hometown pride. She said many people from St. John Parish describe their home as a place about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans. But Keller, the daughter of Debbie Keller, said she will now proudly declare herself as being from Reserve and gladly share the history and culture that make the place unique.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m ready to live up to it,” she said. “No one can take me off this Sugar rush.”
Prior to the awards, cheers and tears, the audience Saturday was treated to an evening of urban show stoppers and nods to how “the other half” lives.
Master of Ceremonies Mike Hoover opened the evening with “New York, New York” before being joined by Mistress of Ceremonies Candace McGaff. Other numbers included a Sugar Teen dance to “Material Girl,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” by St. John’s version of the Rat Pack, “All That Jazz” from the musical “Chicago” and pageant organizers Greer Millet, Suzanne Entremont Cancienne, Maria Hotard-Stelly and BaBa Oncale as the oh-so-glamorous Real Housewives of St. John Parish.
In her final speech as St. John sugar queen, Kristen Levron looked back on a unique year wearing the crown.
“This year has been one of the toughest years years that St. John has seen,” she said. “This parish has some of the sweetest but strongest people in the state of Louisiana.”