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April 2, 2007
A crowning achievement

Photograph/Spice Rack

Tracie Stafford slept in her crown Saturday night. Well, sort of. She had it on, along with her bright-red flannel pajamas, right before her head hit the pillow.

As you may remember from my posting Friday on the Mrs. California pageant, Tracie, 40, was one of seven local contestants who participated in the Saturday-afternoon event at the Radisson Hotel.

And, she won! She becomes the first African American woman to hold the title in the pageant's 21-year history. Now she'll proudly represent the state in the Mrs. United States pageant this July in Las Vegas.

Odds are good she'll take that title, too. But I'm biased because I've met Tracie (shown above with her family), and she's a winner just for raising four kids, starting her own business and, well, overcoming some tough times in her life.

Chatting with her today, she said the event was fun, but exhausting. An interview with the judges Friday night - which only lasted four and a half minutes, incidentally - counted for 50 percent of her score. Her first question? "Why do you get up in the morning?" And the answer couldn't have anything to do with her family. Yikes! Then why get up if they're not up? But, I digress.

"It was tough, but I told them I did it because I'm happy to be me," Tracie says. "I'm excited about my business and my clients and what I'm going to do next in my life."

Good answer!

On Saturday, things got rolling for Tracie around 7 a.m., with rehearsals running until 12:30 p.m. Contestants then had little time to get their hair and makeup done before the 2 p.m. curtain.

"I couldn't curl my hair the way I wanted, and the makeup artist had to work really, really fast!" Tracie says.

The four judges (three women and one man) watched as the contestants came out and introduced themselves - each of them wearing a red dress of their choice. Next, the dreaded swimsuit competition. But, because Tracie had been working with a trainer (and she had her "butt glue"), she wasn't nervous.

At least, not until she got to the end of the runway. "There was this big roar. I looked at the judges, told myself to hold it together and then started tearing up," she recalls.

Later, as the contestants were backstage, changing into their gown for the next round of competition, their husbands, dressed in tuxes, took the stage for their own musical number, dancing to Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack." The audience hooted and hollered.

"You would have thought they were performing at a Chippendales' show," Tracie says.

The hubbies then escorted their wives onstage for the evening gown portion, which Tracie believes was one of her finest moments. The bronze-y/gold gown rocked! And, hey, no tears!

The outgoing Mrs. California, Melanie DeMure of El Dorado Hills, took her final walk and her family joined her as contestants returned to the stage for the final part of the competition - answering two questions drawn randomly.

Tracie's questions were:

* Do you believe that single parents should be able to adopt children?
A: "So many kids need love and support. I think anybody who is able to provide the security and help them grow into complete and whole adults should be able to adopt."

* What makes you unique?
A: "I've been through some intense challenges in my life - losing my mother, growing up in poverty and being in an abusive relationship at one point. I came through them and saw them as opportunities to grow, learn and not relive them. And, I'm probably the first contestant to cry during swimsuit. That's unique."

Some other awards were handed out, i.e., for congeniality and best ad in the program (Tracie won this). Then, it was time for the big moment.

Because there were only seven contestants, they only picked second and first runners-up (Tiffany Garvin and Stevi McShane, respectively). That left Tracie and four other women. They held hands, shaking. Drumroll.

"They called my name and everything went silent," Tracie says. "I was in complete shock. I don't remember how long I stood there, but Melanie looked at me and said, 'Come over here, I have to crown you!' "

Tracie got a big ol' crown, a sash, a bouquet of red roses and a huge trophy. Her husband and kids joined her onstage. Everyone was crying, especially her youngest, Bryan Jr., age 4, who kept asking, "Are you coming home, Mommy?"

Afterward, family and friends went for a well-deserved dinner at the Elephant Bar, where Tracie's sister, Heather, presented the newly crowned Mrs. California with one of her favorite treats - a Cinnabon. Then the family went back to the Radisson and spent the night.

Tracie has three months to prepare for Mrs. United States. In the meantime, she'll be traveling and making personal appearances. One of her goals is to get her picture taken with Gov. Schwartzenegger and/or Maria Shriver. Her biggest goal is about giving hope to younger children who are facing adversity, just as she did as a child. "Their circumstance does not define them," she says.

"It really is a hoot," she says. "I'm really excited, but I still can't believe it."

Tracie, just revel in your crowning glory.

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