TRAVERSE CITY — The week leading up to the crowning of the National Cherry Queen is a bit like a reality TV show, with a handful of beautiful young women in close quarters all vying for a big, silver crown.
“This is survival of the fittest,” said Kay Relyea, long-time director of the queen’s activities and a past festival president. “We really get to know each other very, very well.”
For a full week, the four queen candidates and current queen are under the constant watch of two chaperones who keep them on a strict schedule. They have to function without — gasp — their cell phones and computers. They don’t go home at night, but stay at the Great Wolf Lodge, said Relyea.
“We stay in one room at the Great Wolf Lodge, five girls, two chaperones, one bathroom, and we’re all ready to go every day, believe it or not,” Relyea said.
The room is outfitted with two, ahem, queen-size beds, one king-size bed, and a pull-up sleeper sofa, she said.
“It’s cherry queen camp,” Relyea said. “You’ve got to get these girls toughened up. It’s a big week. We have a ball.”
The candidates checked in at Great Wolf on June 28, and began an intensely packed schedule of festival events and interviews. The excitement will peak on Friday night with the Queen’s Coronation Ball and Royale Auction, when the new queen is crowned.
”It gets tougher on Thursday, it just gets tough,” said Gary Kaberle, a past festival president, whose daughter was both a runner-up and queen. “They get emotional.”
Six judges mingle in the crowds and observe the candidates, but they’re discreet. None of the queen candidates know who they are.
Queen candidate Ashley Wade, 24, said it can get a little nerve-wracking at times.