Third time’s a charm for Garlic Fest queen

Queen Melissa Noto (with roses) is flanked by first runner-up

Gilroy’s Garlic Festival just wouldn’t be the same without its
queen. Just ask Jane Mardesich, who has the honor of being festival
president for the festival’s 25th anniversary, but had her eyes on
another title Saturday night.
GILROY – Gilroy’s Garlic Festival just wouldn’t be the same without its queen. Just ask Jane Mardesich, who has the honor of being festival president for the festival’s 25th anniversary, but had her eyes on another title Saturday night.

“Being president (of the festival) is great, but being queen would be oh, so cool,” Mardesich said before a packed house at the Gavilan College Theater at the 2003 Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen Pageant. “Maybe next year …”

So, with that in mind, eight judges had the daunting task of picking a single queen to represent the festival and the city from 10 beautiful and talented local women Saturday night, but by the end of the competition there was one thing that was certain. No matter who they chose, they really couldn’t go wrong.

The judges’ decision Saturday night was matched by that of the other contestants when Melissa Noto’s name was called and she was crowned by last year’s queen Vanessa LaCorte before a cheering crowd that packed Gavilan Theater. And that was because Noto also was the choice of her peers – she was named Miss Congeniality, which is voted on by the pageant contestants.

“What we’re looking for is someone who can represent Gilroy and the Garlic Festival,” said Don Christopher, who was judging the competition for the third time. “Melissa Noto is a very fine lady. This is her third time in the Garlic Queen competition. She was second runner-up, first runner-up, and now she is the queen.”

Gilroy residents Lisa Marie Ramsey, who won the talent competition, and Jenelle Costa were named first runner-up and second runner-up, respectively. The girls also received a combined $2,500 in scholarships and $1,800 in cash prizes from local organizations and business for taking part in the pageant.

Noto, 20, was born and raised in Gilroy and graduated from Gilroy High School in 2001. Noto is a sophomore at UC-Davis studying microbiology and communications.

“I’d seen the pageant before, and I really wanted to represent the city of Gilroy,” Noto said about entering the competition. “I’ve learned something new every year. All two years so far have been really fun.”

The pageant consisted of four judged categories, including a garlic speech, talent competition, evening gown and an impromptu question asked by former Garlic Festival presidents and often hilarious emcees Sam Bozzo and Gene Sakahara – who were at one point in the show named the first “official, unofficial, official” Garlic Kings and were crowned.

Noto performed a garlic rap for her garlic speech, which netted her a first-place honor for that category, and sang “The Shoop, Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” Her microphone wasn’t functioning at the beginning of her rap, but she ignored the problem and just sang louder while the audience, which was clapping to the beat, quieted down to hear her perform.

Part way through the song she was able to get the microphone working again. But being able to improvise when things don’t go as planned is part of being in a pageant, Noto said.

“It worked out great because the crowd clapped quieter, and I knew my voice would be loud enough,” Noto said. “One of the girls on the side told me to flip the switch on the bottom of the microphone, but it didn’t work. Then I gave up on it, and when I tried again later it started working.”

First-time judge Bill Lindsteadt, Gilroy’s director of economic development, said that the women were not graded down for technical difficulties.

“You’ve got to discount that,” said Lindsteadt, who himself is a member of a barbershop quartet. “Talent is talent. … You look at the fact that they’re smooth and that when they sing, they’re on pitch.

“It’s tough, some of the talent is very good. To stand up in front of a crowd like this isn’t easy,” he said. “I give the girls a lot of credit.”

Ramsey, a 2001 Gilroy High School graduate who attends Gavilan College now and will attend UC-Santa Cruz to study economics and law next fall, said being in front of the crowd is hard enough without dealing with microphone problems.

“The most difficult part of being up here is knowing who I invited and knowing that they are out there,” said Ramsey, who tried to look up at the people running the lights instead of right at the audience. “You just want to throw up.”

The Gilroy Garlic Queen has many duties over the course of the year. Besides being at the festival for all three days, the queen and her court will attend the Fourth of July parade, rotary and chamber events, and Noto may get the opportunity to go the Gilroy’s sister city of Takko-Machi if invited to its garlic festival. The nine girls who were not named queen all will be invited to join the queen’s court.

“The other girls were so perfect,” Noto said. “I’m so glad that we’ll all still be together.”

Ramsey said that the right girl won the honor of representing the festival and the city.

“She’s such a good person,” Ramsey said of Noto. The two girls have been friends since they were little girls dancing together as Clovettes at the Garlic Festival.

Ramsey also said she was surprised so many girls were in the competition. Last year there were five girls in the competition, and in 2001 there were just four. But there are advantages to that, such as having more time to prepare for the next competition and having more girls to help out backstage.

“The girls were helping someone else out or doing someone else’s hair, so you want to help them out,” Ramsey said.

According to Pageant Director Grayce Smith, the girls all got along with each other well, and it often didn’t seem like they were competing against one another but working together during the more than a month of practice for the event.

“They’re so diverse, yet they got along together so well,” she said.