Garlic Queen 2012: Another Brewka in the house!

Heather Brodersen delivers her "Garlic Down Under" speech during the Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen Pageant Saturday at the Gavilan College Theater.

Something old, something new, something borrowed: Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen 2012 rocked her pageant ensemble with all of the above.

Glowing in a golden strapless gown rented through a New York-based fashion service, 20-year-old Julia Brewka – a smiling ray of sunshine before and after a bejeweled tiara adorned her blond hairdo – strut her stuff in the same high heels her older sister, Jessica Brewka, wore when she took first place in the pageant three years ago.

While the Brewka siblings hail from the same stinkin’ rose – royalty-inclined gene pool, Julia noted earlier this week: “I’m not trying to ride on (Jessica’s) coattails… we have the same morals and work ethic – we’re cut from the same cloth, but we’re different.”

The blue-eyed nursing student with an infectiously cheerful grin made history Saturday when she took first place in the 2012 Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen Pageant: Coupled with her older sibling Jessica Brewka’s win in 2009, Julia’s victory marks the third pair of sisters to be crowned queen since the pageant’s inception in 1979. While the perky and youngest Brewka didn’t place when she first competed alongside her sister, her queenly qualities blossomed in the interim.

After three years spent waiting for her chance to shine – the last few seconds of the pageant proved to be the most agonizing. “I was waiting for the ‘Brewka’ part,” said a beaming Julia, alluding to the similarity between her name and that of contestant Julianna Vanni.

Julia got a crown, all right, and then some: She also nabbed the lion’s share of scholarships with seven out of 15 awards. Approximately $15,000 was awarded Saturday; with Christopher Ranch augmenting the queen’s prize by $10,000 beginning last year.

Before she became the coronated ambassador for the 34th annual Garlic Festival, Julia transformed into the doppelganger of a recognizable Silicon Valley icon during the first half of the pageant. Casually dressed as Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck, faded blue jeans hiked high on her waist, white sneakers and eyeglasses, Julia had the audience rolling with her Apple gizmo-inspired speech, “iGarlic” (a Blood Garlic Content annulizer to keep stinky breath in check during the festival? Not a bad idea!) Julia later metamorphosed into a diva starlet, delivering a lively rendition of an animated number originally sung by actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth, called “The Girl in 14G.”

Clutching her daughter’s congratulatory bouquet billowing with stargazer lilies and fragrant roses, Julia’s mother Linda Brewka described the Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen lollapalooza as “a family ordeal.”

“It’s a huge sacrifice,” she continued, alluding to the time, commitment and community service expected of pageant participants. “But it’s worth it …the generosity of the donors is amazing.”

Jessica Brewka is currently living and teaching elementary English in Korea and could not attend the event. She dialed in via Skype messaging, however, shedding tears of happy pride when she learned her little sister is Gilroy’s newest queen, Linda said.

Jessica, on that note, wasn’t the only one pulling for Julia.

Roughly 200 attendees packed the house at Gavilan College’s auditorium Saturday, where a giddy entourage of approximately 28 friends and family members touting garlic bulb signs that read “Go Julia!” erupted in exuberance as Master of Ceremonies Dennis Harrigan opened the final envelope and announced the winner.

If one descriptor sums this years’ 34th Garlic Queen scholarship and pageant – an annual competition held each year to coincide with Gilroy’s famous Garlic Festival (now approaching its 34th anniversary) – “talent” is a good place to start.

The seven contestants were chameleons, transitioning seamlessly between engaging speeches such as “Garlic Idol,” to sweat-breaking performances with nunchucks and bow staffs, to projecting the essence of poise while floating across the stage in stunning evening gowns. Audience members were treated to a cadre of whimsical briefings on Garlic Festival dogma woven into witty speeches, which showed off contestants’ creativity as they channeled the likes of Steve Jobs, the fabled damsel from “Princess and the Pea,” Ryan Seacrest from “American Idol,” former wildlife show host Steve Irwin, Will Smith from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” a swashbuckling pirate and a headline-pushing newsy.

“We really have a strong group of girls this year,” said Sheena Link, pageant chairwoman who was crowned Garlic Queen in 2006. “They have a lot of diverse interests and talents. It’s been a real pleasure to get to know them and help them learn about the festival’s history and importance in the community.”

“Diverse” is a good place to start. From vocal soloists to speed painters, flute players to high-kicking karate powerhouses, the 2012 Queen and her court are the polished picture of finesse.

Between her job in accounts receivable at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, getting ready to pursue a masters degree and working toward the long-term vision of opening an orphanage in Mexico, 2007 Anchorpoint Christian High School alumna and first runner-up Olivia Echeverria, 21, is a force to be reckoned with.

After composing and performing her own lyrics set to the theme song of a quintessentially ‘90s sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Echeverria proved she’s as slick a singer as she is rapper. Unsatisfied with the sound of her guitar after several unsuccessful attempts to tune it onstage in front of an expectant audience, Echeverria wasn’t about to let a prop malfunction overshadow her musical prowess during the talent portion of the pageant. The 2011 graduate of Bethany University made an impromptu decision, opting to ditch her guitar and instead belt out an a cappella, diaphragm-driven version of “I’ll Be There” (as made famous by Mariah Carey).

“It happens,” she said later, with a relaxed shrug of her bare shoulders that were accented by a lilac-hued halter dress. “I feel like I did my best.”

Sliding into third place and nabbing the title of “Miss Congeniality” was first-time participant Sara Wittry, 18, a fierce competitor with equally tenacious life ambitions. As a Hollister resident, the auburn-haired senior who is currently attending the Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy (GECA) on the Gavilan campus describes herself as an “ambassador” between San Benito and Santa Clara counties. She plans on transferring to the University of California, Davis to continue her studies in acting and Japanese – two skill sets Wittry hopes will “help bridge some communication and cultural gaps between the United States and Japan” as she pursues a career in the media industry.

Wittry – who also teaches karate at Hollister Chinese Tempo – wowed the crowd as she wielded a 6-foot-long Bamboo pole to a rhythmic techno track during her Chinese bo staff routine. She re-emerged later that evening in a dazzling, A-lined aquamarine gown and delivered a pithy, crisply executed response during the question-and-answer portion of the competition.

Earlier last week, Wittry underlined the Garlic Queen pageant as more of a “bonding” experience with her fellow contestants.

“It’s really cool, because it doesn’t even feel like it’s a competition,” she said. “It’s so unique. We all come together for the same thing, and that’s great.”

Sitting front and center throughout the show was Lauretta Barsi-Avina, Miss Gilroy Garlic 1983 who is now forever linked to Queen Julia Brewka in more ways than one.

For Lauretta, family and garlic royalty are also inextricably tied together. Her late sister, Franca Barsi, was Miss Gilroy Garlic 1986.

After Franca died at the age of 38 five years ago during a domestic violence dispute, Lauretta and her family established a memorial scholarship award in Franca’s honor.

“We are so pleased that we can honor Franca’s memory via scholarship,” said Lauretta, before awarding the certificate to chosen recipient Olivia Echeverria.

As one of many who reaped the benefits of financial aid, lasting friendships and memorable experiences from a hometown event that embodies the spirit of Garlic Capital gusto, Lauretta says every Garlic Queen contestant is a winner.

“The pageant gives these girls such an opportunity to shine,” she said.


First runner-up: Olivia Echeverria

Second runner-up: Sara Wittry

Miss Congeniality: Sara Wittry


• 30 percent: Personal interview
• 20 percent: Speech
• 20 percent: Talent
• 20 percent: Evening gown
• 10 percent: Pageant preparation
• Queen: Julia Brewka, 20, a two-time contestant who is studying to be a nurse at the University of San Francisco. Gave a Steve Jobs-inspired speech titled “iGarlic;” sang “The Girl in 14G.”
• First runner-up: Olivia Echeverria, 21, graduated from Bethany University in Scotts Valley in 2011. Wrote and performed an original rap called “Fresh Clove of Gilroy;” sang “I’ll Be There.”
• Second runner-up and Miss Congeniality: Sara Wittry, 18, a senior at the Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy. Gave a newsie-inspired speech titled “Extra, Extra;” performed a Chinese bo staff routine.
• Heather Brodersen: 20, a two-time contestant who studies business at Gavilan Community College. Gave a Steve Irwin-inspired speech titled “Garlic Down Under;” performed a flute solo.
• Brandi Callanta: 20, studies Liberal Studies at Gavilan College. Gave a fairy tale-inspired speech titled “Princess and the Garlic;” speed painted a giant garlic bulb onto a blank canvas.
• Melissa Davis: 20, a two-time contestant currently attending Gavilan Community College. Gave a pirate-themed speech titled “Garlic Marks the Spot;” sang “Some People.”
• Julianna Vanni: 18, currently a senior at Christopher High School. Did a garlic-themed spoof on “American Idol;” performed a martial arts routine with nunchucks.

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