Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hi, My Name is Azalea...

To say I know something about the North Carolina Azalea Festival would be an understatement. The Azalea Festival welcomes many out-of-town guests as well as celebrities, including Miss Americas, actors, actresses, military heroes, and more. There are also several concerts throughout the week, which have featured Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kellie Pickler, and more. The whole point of the festival are the azaleas -- so garden tours featuring some of the most gorgeous flowers you have ever seen are a big highlight. The North Carolina Azalea Festival is a great aspect of Wilmington, and it attracts both locals and visitors alike.

I grew up in Wilmington, so I always knew about Azalea Fest, but it really and truly began when I was in high school. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can apply to be Azalea Belles, which in Wilmington, is a big deal. You wear antebellum-style dresses and parade around for a few days, accenting the gardens of the home tours.
This is about the only picture I could find online of this event (hard to believe this was 7 years ago). That's me on the far left in the yellow.

Then, my senior year, I won the North Carolina Azalea Festival Princess Pageant. I'm telling you, the Azalea Festival is a pretty big deal -- such a big deal that there is a princess and a queen. The Princess Pageant is not your average "pageant" -- it's a scholarship program for girls who are juniors in high school (the age has changed since I won), and it gives girls in our community the opportunity to have an unforgettable week representing the home we all love. I got to spend Azalea Festival week with celebrities, the Queen's Court, Queen Azalea, and the princess court (we dubbed ourselves the Crown Squad. Very cool, I know.) It's a fun, busy, and exciting week, and I loved every minute of it.

Two years later, I won Miss Garner and applied to be on the Queen's Court. The North Carolina Azalea Festival Queen's Court is comprised of preliminary title holders that will be competing at the Miss North Carolina Pageant. In addition, cadets from the Citadel come up to North Carolina from our southern counterpart to escort the ladies of the Queen's Court. It's a very busy week: hair and makeup at 6am, first event, then lunch, then another event or two, then back to hair and makeup, dinner, and then an evening dinner, party, or concert. It's hectic at times, but it's worth every second. When I received the call that I would be participating as a member of the Queen's Court, I was beyond elated! Talk about a whirlwind -- this is it.

In 2013, I won Miss Wilmington. Being that Wilmington is the home of the NC Azalea Festival, Miss Wilmington automatically fills one of the spots on the Queen's Court. Guess what? I was back again! By this point, it was my 3rd time being a part of some one court or another, and I'm sure the Azalea Festival was just about tired of me, but I would have not had it any other way. Such an incredible experience! It is so much fun spending time with other Miss North Carolina girls as well as meeting a lot of new people!

As for "My name is Azalea..." My name is Zelle, which for those who aren't quite sure how to pronounce it, rhymes with belle (Azalea belle, perhaps?) When I was the Azalea Princess, someone legitimately asked me if I changed my name to Zelle because I was the Azalea Princess. Cute concept, but no. My parents gave me that one -- at birth. My friends love that story, and hence, the nickname Azalea was born. Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago, I heard my mom say Azalea and turned to respond to her. Unfortunately, she wasn't talking to me. She was talking about the actual festival.

Clearly, I can't get enough of the North Carolina Azalea Festival, but this year I'm going to have to. I'm not the Azalea Princess, I'm not a Miss NC title holder, I'm not the Azalea Queen - I'm just me.
So, I'll be having Azalea envy all week.

Happy Azalea Week!
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