Coming into bloom

Photos by Becky Holbrook/beckdawgphotog.com

2022 Rhododendron Court crowns Queen Rhododendra Haylee Cole and King of the Coast Joseph Shepard

May 20, 2022 — The stage was set, the talents performed, the ballots cast — and the 2022 Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast were announced on Thursday night. The reigning royalty this year are Queen Haylee Cole, a Siuslaw senior, and King Joseph Shepard, a Mapleton senior.

“I feel amazing. It's incredible. I never thought this would happen, but it did! I'm so excited that I am King of the Coast,” King Joseph said.

Queen Haylee said, “Everyone on this Court is amazing and any one of us deserved to get it. I'm just so excited and so happy. There aren’t words to put it in.”

The two were crowned during the Rhododendron Court Coronation at the Florence Events Center during one of the first events of the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Back in Bloom” Rhododendron Festival, which runs through Sunday, May 22.

The entire Rhody Court took place in the festivities. In addition to Haylee and Joseph, the Senior Court consisted of: Princess Alexia Clark, Princess Alex Fuller, Princess Cameron Kentta, Princess Alizabeth Norton, Prince Jason Garcia, Prince Chad Hughes, Prince Camp Lacouture and Prince James Smith. The Junior Court was made of first-grade Princess Katelynn Riddle, second-grade Princess Myla Streck, third-grade Princess Chanel Chatham, fourth-grade Princess Giavanna Flosi and fifth-grade Princess Lily Lewis.

While much of the Coronation focused on the Senior Court, the Juniors got their moments in the spotlight. During the opening number, choreographed by CROW Artistic Director Melanie Heard, who also emceed for the night, each Junior Princess got a shoutout.

The second emcee was KEZI News Anchor Matt Templeman.

“You're going to be amazed tonight,” Templeman said. “These are some great kids, great kids, talented kids — and emphasis on great and talented.”

Together, the two emcees introduced members of the court, their talents, their parents and other events during the Coronation. They also honored dignitaries in attendance and the five judges for the evening: John Bartlett, Bettina Hannigan, Alek Skarlatos, Marcee Mills-Teeter and Denielle VanWinkle.

This year, rather than reading out the many sponsors who made the event possible, the Rhody Court Committee created a video with drone footage of Diamond level sponsors, and listed all the sponsors in the program. The sponsors helped with everything from funding the scholarships for the Senior Court — which total $10,000 this year — to the events around town where the Court learned how to be ambassadors for Florence and the Siuslaw Region.

As the evening progressed, the Senior Court got the chance to showcase their special talents. Princess Alexia brought out Jr. Princess Gia and they performed a cheer for the crowd. Next, Prince James showed his prowess as a barista by making an espresso drink for the judges. This was followed by Princess Alex, who danced to a song she had prerecorded. Then the backstage crew rolled out the event center’s grand piano for Prince Jason, who played with video accompaniment. The fifth talent was Princess Alizabeth, who belted out a solo to Whitney Houston.

Next, King Joseph shocked the audience with his Latin dance, part of his background in ballroom dancing. After him came Queen Haylee, who danced a jazz number that got the audience clapping along. When the crew rolled out the piano next, Prince Chad got laughs by starting with a simple tune and morphing the song into a classic and then contemporary songs.

The last two talents were a bit different. Princess Cameron recited a monologue about her struggles with autism and how being on stage helped her find success. To wrap everything up — and keep everyone pumped — Prince Camp performed a “dedicatory dance” that included 11 women joining him on stage and dancing their hearts out.

In the second act, the parents of the Rhody Court escorted their children back to the stage. Heard interviewed the Junior Court, asking a variety of questions.

Following this, the Senior Court debuted their formalwear as they were escorted by their parents. This gave the royalty a chance to show some personality as they waved to the audience.

After this, Templeman stepped forward, with the help of Princess Lili, to ask the Senior Court questions. These ranged from silly to serious, and the court had been able to practice answers earlier in the week to help put them ease.

And then the judges turned in their scorecards.

According to Heard, there are many components that go into scoring the Senior Court.

“Their scores aren’t just from the Coronation ceremony tonight, but also throughout the entire Rhody journey,” she said. “There is a traditional button sales category, as well as ambassadorship, overall participation and an interview that was done earlier this afternoon with our judges. Tonight, it also includes talent and poise. There's a lot taken into consideration when calculating.”

While Bill and Cindy Grable scored the court, Templeman and Heard spoke about some of the components of Rhody Days, including Siuslaw Pioneer Museum’s “Florence in Full Bloom,” the official history book of the Rhododendron Festival.

The Senior Court returned to the stage for a last moment. The Princes set up benches and sat down while the Princesses serenaded them to “The Bones” by Maren Morris, a song about making it through together.

As the court left the stage, Templeman and Heard explained how the $10,000 in scholarships would be divvied up. Thanks to an increase in sponsorships this year, each member of the Senior Court who does not receive an additional award receives $500. The runners up each receive $750. New this year is the $750 scholarships for Ambassadors. There was also a bonus $500 for each winner of the talent portion. Finally, the King and Queen will each receive $1,500 Rhody Court Scholarships.

Before the winners could be announced, however, the Junior Court had a winner for button sales.

The entire Court set up boxes all over town selling the official Rhody Days buttons for $3 a piece. This year also brought special Past Royalty buttons and buttons with each Prince or Princess’s face.

The Junior Court winner was Princess Gia. She received a bouquet of rhodies from 2019 Queen Rhododendra Madison Reynolds and a prize basket valued at more than $250.

Queen Madison took her final walk as queen, a title she has held since the pandemic prevented a Coronation the past two years. While 2020 had a “Quarantine Court,” events were shifted to online and the entire Court was honored. Last year did not have a court.

The anticipation was palpable as Heard took one last chance to honor the 2022 Rhody Court.

“This is a life lesson for these kids, because they got to get out here and try their best. They learned that being brave, being proud of who you are and showing your talent — that's all you need to be successful in life,” she said.

Templeman joined Heard in announcing the winners. The big shock came at the end, when Florence Mayor Joe Henry crowned Joseph King of the Coast and Queen Madison crowned Haylee Queen Rhododendra.

Besides being named Queen and King, Joseph and Haylee also won the talent portion of the evening.

Prince Camp and Queen Haylee were named the Rhody Court Ambassadors.

According to Templeman, the scores were based on engagement, professionalism, enthusiasm, sportsmanship and knowledge of the festival.

The 2022 Runners Up are Prince Chad and Princess Cameron.

“If for any reason, our king or queen cannot fulfill their duty during their reign, the runners up will take their place,” Heard said.

The audience cheered throughout the awards. Before they left the auditorium, however, another act took the stage: Sydney Crapser and Nyah, who performed their new song “Rhody Days” while the Rhody Court took official night-of photos with photographer Becky Holbrook (beckdawgphotog.com). Crapser and Nyah will be in the parade and performing at Three Rivers Casino Resort this weekend.

Then the crowd got to greet members of the court in the lobby.

Now that she has been crowned, Queen Haylee said she is excited to be an ambassador for the Florence area.

“I would really like to go more into the community and represent as Queen Rhododendra,” she said. “I know through the summer there are car shows, festivals and other events that I would love to go on behalf of Florence. I feel like it would be an honor to be there and represent the community at those events.”

King Joseph is the first King of the Court from Mapleton High School.

“I think it's an exciting highlight of my life. It helps me be recognized in the community, and beyond,” he said. “I think Mapleton will definitely get some recognition out of this. I believe it deserves more recognition because it is such a wonderful place, it's a wonderful school and wonderful community overall. I thank them for helping me through my journey here.”

The entire Rhody Court will be at events throughout the weekend. This includes the Rhody Run, Junior Parade, Rods ‘N’ Rhodies Rhody Days Show ‘n’ Shine and especially Sunday’s Grand Floral Parade, which begins at noon.

For more information, visit florencechamber.com.

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