COMMERCE — The 3-year-old beauty queen was on the living room floor, her eyes fixed on the television screen as a videotape of her victories rolled.
When it ended, Brandi Nichele Alvarez rose with a smile and walked across the room. Because she is shy and young, she did not talk about the two beauty contests she has won, nor did she mention the six- and seven-foot trophies, the $75, the rabbit fur coat, the six-inch television set, several decorative crowns and the "Talking Mother Goose." She has also won the right to compete for the Miss American Beauty Pageants' national title this summer in Las Vegas.
But John Alvarez tells a story that reveals some of his daughter's thoughts.
"There was one time we called her princess and she said 'I'm not a princess. I'm a queen,' and then she starts to laugh," said Alvarez, 27, a bartender and long-time Commerce resident.
Alvarez and his wife, Nancy, hope the beauty contests eventually will lead to parts in television commercials and perhaps a modeling career when Brandi grows up. But they say it is too early to tell whether Brandi will be successful or happy in that role. "I'd like to see her be a performer," Alvarez said. "We'll just guide her and let her make her own decision."
The young queen smiles easily but is quiet. She is petite with round dark eyes, long lashes and auburn hair. Brandi likes to look at books and sing when she is at home. Her mother said Brandi is trying to learn the words to "Over the Rainbow." Her parents say she has plenty of "ham" in her, that she has always enjoyed dressing up and being in front of a crowd.
Brandi has long drawn the compliments of admiring adults.
"I went to this Tupperware party and this girl told me I should put her in a baby contest," her mother said. "I had to hold her (during the contest). She was about six months old."
Initially, Brandi competed only in city-sponsored baby contests. She won first place for the longest eyelashes in 1986, an award for cutest nose in 1987, and another for longest eyelashes in 1988.
Then came the Christmas Wonderland Beauty Pageant last December at the Park Hotel in Anaheim. The event was sponsored by Miss American Beauty Pageants of West Covina. Miss American stages preliminary pageants throughout California and in 15 other states leading up to its national contest, a spokeswoman said.
Brandi won the overall title for 3-year-olds and an award for having the prettiest eyes. She competed against 10 other girls.
"When she won we both looked at each other and didn't know what to say," said Nancy Alvarez, a cashier at a fast-food restaurant. "I was shaking."
Brandi possesses ability and poise beyond her years. She flashed a little smile and appeared to be at ease as she walked down the runway. A petticoat filled out her pink and white dress.
"There's no problem with her going up on stage or before people," her mother said. "She's not afraid."
Nancy Alvarez said she did little to prepare her child for the December contest. But for the second one, Brandi studied the tape from her first victory to see how some of the more experienced girls moved.
"She kept watching and watching it," her mother said. "I kept showing her, 'See, that's how you stand.' "
Brandi swept every category she entered in the Valentine Sweetheart Pageant in Anaheim in February, taking home overall honors for 3-year-olds. She competed against 11 other girls.
But the mini-beauty queen has only just begun. The Alvarezes, proud and still a little surprised by their daughter's success, say they plan to keep entering her in contests.
The Alvarezes, who have three other children, say they are careful not to pressure their daughter.
"We don't push her. Some of the parents get on their daughters," Nancy Alvarez said. "If she wins, she wins. She likes being with the girls and getting dressed up."
Some of Brandi's showmanship qualities surfaced last week during activities at her day-care center at the city's Rosewood Park. The instructor taught the 3-year-olds a step to a Mexican folk dance.
After Brandi performed a rough rendition, she smiled and took several bows.
Classmates Don't Notice
Her beauty goes virtually unnoticed by her classmates. "They're still a little too young for that," day-care instructor Mary Anne Griego said. And Brandi takes part in the usual childhood antics--a young boy turned his hands into the shape of a gun and shot at Brandi. She returned fire.
The Alvarezes say they are mindful of the pitfalls that accompany beauty.
"She hasn't changed at all," John Alvarez said. "We've noticed no change. We hope there won't be."
So Las Vegas, with all its glamour, awaits the young beauty queen who has a knack for charming a crowd. She has been practicing her walk in the family living room, and her mother plans to buy her a new pageant dress. The competition is expected to be stiff, but Brandi seems unworried.
Asked if she thought she would win, Brandi nodded her head, smiled and said in the tiniest of voices, "yeah."