WHO 13 NEWS – There’s a tradition at the Iowa State Fair that trades out the blue ribbons for blue sashes and tiaras.

County fair queens come from all over the state to compete for the Iowa State Fair Queen, but only one can be crowned. 

Last summer, Mary Ann Fox from Mitchell County took home the title.

“If four-year-old me could see me now she would scream,” Fox said. “I’ve always loved the State Fair and seeing all the queens on the grounds. I always thought that would be so cool to be the State Fair queen and when I got announced last year, I could not believe it.”

This year, 104 young ladies are competing for the State Fair crown. There’s a queen from each of Iowa’s 99 counties. A couple of the counties bring in two when you count the expo and we can’t forget the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo.

“I’m grateful to be here, to meet everybody, to learn about their fairs, to talk about my fair and learn about their different backgrounds,” Chloe Zittergruen, Keokuk County Fair Queen, said. “Because everybody has a different background, has a different story.”

“We’ve worked so hard to get here and we are doing our very best to represent our counties with pride,” Emma Lihs, Polk County Fair Queen, said. “We are so, so excited to be here and meet everybody and compete to be the dream of the Iowa State Fair Queen.”

The candidates come a couple of days before the State Fair starts for interviews and other activities.

“The girls are judged off themselves,” Fox explains. “How well are they being able to represent their counties but also have some charm, charisma, be able to let loose here. We want someone that’s personal but also be professional when representing the Iowa State Fair.”

A panel of five judges decides who wins. They’re looking for personality, poise, and leadership.

“It’s not a pageant,” Paris Springer, a judge and former Iowa State Fair Queen, said. “It really is an opportunity for us to meet those homegrown Iowa girls who have a passion for agriculture, they have a passion for their community, and they’re really proud representatives of every corner of the state. And they all have unique perspectives that are so wonderful to hear.”

Former State Fair queens are part of the process because they know what it’s like. They serve as judges and chaperones, and even host workshops. Abrah Wright is teaching the contestants how to “be the best you.”

“It’s just an awesome week of learning and growing, getting to know girls from across the state of Iowa from literally every county,” Wright said. “And also really trying to hone in on who am I and how can I help portray that to the judges that helps them get to know me in a matter of three or four days.”

An experience that will go beyond the State Fair, and a contest building confidence and future leaders of tomorrow.

“It’s so fun to select the next Iowa State Fair Queen,” Spring said, “but then to see 99, 100 plus girls bloom throughout the week is so great to see.”

The coronation will be held Saturday night at 7:00 on the Bill Riley Stage.