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Rhinestone Wow Girl

Just Give Brandy DeJongh, This Year's Miss Rodeo America, a Home Where Horses Roam and the Closet Is Full of Fancy Duds

October 01, 2000|PETER MCQUAID | Peter McQuaid is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

Twenty-two-year-old Brandy DeJongh is Miss Rodeo America 2000 and, as such, an official spokesperson for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Assn. She loves her parents, God, her horses (Hobby's Major and Horse) and the friends she's kept from high school. She has been to Paris, New York and Las Vegas, but her favorite place on earth right now is the place she grew up, Leona Valley. An hour and a half outside of Los Angeles and 20 minutes west of Palmdale, Leona Valley is nestled in the hills of the high desert. Churches, horse farms, orchards, modest ranch homes on generous plots and Joshua trees dot the road into this blink-and-you'll-miss-it hamlet.

Hobby and Horse meander in the front yard of the house in which DeJongh grew up. An electric gate keeps the horses in and intruders out. Her dad Dana is an LAPD officer in the San Fernando Valley and was a member of the department's first mounted unit. Her mom, Gail, works as a dental assistant down the road in Palmdale.

DeJongh is about 5-foot-7 and one of those women who do far more to themselves than necessary in the name of beauty. This day, though, she is home visiting her family, and DeJongh, who is still wearing enough makeup for a State Dinner, insists that she resists the beauty queen lacquered look when she's representing the rodeo. "Rodeo is real," she explains. "We like our girls to look real. [But] if I didn't wear makeup, I'd look 16," she contends, and she is probably right.

Just southwest of where she is standing is a city packed with women who have spent millions in an attempt to go back to looking 16, but DeJongh spends her money on makeup--Estee Lauder, she says--in an attempt to look exactly her age, maybe even a little older. When working a Look involves getting and keeping the attention of people hundreds of yards away while you're on a galloping horse in the hot sun, dust rising around you, holding an American flag and wearing a cowboy hat and chaps fringed in metallic red, white and blue, extreme measures are called for. "I've said Estee Lauder a million times, hoping they'll give me an endorsement, but I'll say it again anyway. It stands up to the heat."

Combat-ready makeup isn't the only way rodeo queens pull out the big guns, says DeJongh. "This is the first time in five weeks that my hair has been straight," she admits with a laugh. "It's always curly when I'm working--I use this spray called Focus 21. It feels like steer adhesive, but it gives you more of a feminine look under a hat." This is important, she explains, since protocol dictates that the Miss Rodeo America crown--made of Black Hills gold studded with Alexandrites and pearls--is always worn on the crown of a cowboy hat, never on the head.

The level of focus DeJongh projects makes it hard to believe she was ever 16. Ask her about her clothes and she can tell you who's responsible for every stitch, where the manufacturer is headquartered and the name of her contact there. As if anticipating an eventual question on charges that rodeo events are cruel to animals, DeJongh slips in the fact that there are more than 60 rules and regulations dictated by the rodeo association that govern the humane treatment of animals, and that she is expected to know all of them.

Her purse is a briefcase. "I have cards, Neosporin for when my ears get infected, a stack of photos, pens to sign autographs." Her business manager, Raeana Wadhams, works for Miss Rodeo America and says the pageant supplies its representative with between 15,000 and 20,000 pads of paper each year for signing autographs.

When she started her tour, her parents gave her a cell phone with 1,500 minutes a month. "They expect me to call every night, and I do," she adds.

She has two rooms in her parents' home. One is where she sleeps when she's home. It has a small stereo and photos of her friends.

Her other room--"my friends call this the walk-in closet"--is a rodeo queen's fashion dream. More clothes, from Manuel (Cuevas, Nashville's country couturier ) to Wrangler, and enough Justin boots to outfit an army of rodeo girls, including one pair executed in alligator. Move over, Manolo. Her hats are provided by Resistol. Her rodeo queen fashion trademark is cowhide, which accents all of her important official outfits.

On a chalkboard in the room, DeJongh has written her "to do" list: mostly phone calls that must be returned and details that need to be tended to. On one corner, a friend has written, "Brandy is a beautiful queen, but kind of a dork."

In the hallway is a photo of a young girl. "That's my Little Miss," she says, explaining that the older contestants adopt the younger contestants on the circuit, acting as big sisters to the girls.

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