"Here they come, the future heartbreakers of America," croons the announcer, as a parade of stumbling, smiling, bedazzled babies struts down the red carpet runner in the showbarn at the Prince William County Fair.
It's time for the annual Baby Contest and Miss Prince William, complete with rhinestone crown, is there to hand out the prizes as soon as the panel of judges can decide which Manassas-area youngster comes closest to winning their hearts.
There are well over 50 baby girls (a baby boy contest followed the girls'), all between the ages of 9 and 18 months, and the scene in the showbarn is awash with pink pinafores, black patent-leather shoes, ruffles and ribbons. Mothers, most of them young and attractive themselves, pull at bows and wipe the many small pink mouths as they wait in line for their chance to walk the red carpet and smile at the judges.
For Becky Baker, the brunette with long eyelashes and an engaging way of standing very close to someone she likes, the baby contest is a chance to find out if the world agrees with her grandmother that she is the best-looking baby around.
But when it's time to show her stuff she throws a fit.
"We wanted to enter her last year but she was too young," says Becky's mother. "We'll probably try again next year in the older class."
Christina Marie Shouse, an 18-month-old from Manassas Park, makes it through the first cut, despite yanking her hair ribbons from her head.
"It was her daddy's idea," explains Teri Shouse, as they patiently wait for the second showing before the judges. "She's his first and only daughter and you know how that is."
Jennifer Delanie Sullivan, clad in a sundress and flowered sneakers, makes it through the second cut. She sings lustily as she waits for another run before the judges and eyes the concession stand across the fairgrounds.
"She sings like that whenever she gets tired," said Jennifer's mother. "She's going to be another Shirley Temple by the time she's 5."
One after another the little girls strut their way across the showbarn. There are few Annes or Susans, plenty of Crystals--Crystal Dale, Crystal Michel, Crystal Delane --and Angela, Tiffany, Brandy Niccole and Autumn Marie.
"Bonnets must be back in style this year," says the announcer, as one small child peers up at him out of the depths of a hat fit for Little Bo Peep. So are bells on little white shoes, miniature patent-leather purses and frilly plastic pants.
After almost two hours of evaluating babies, the judges reduce the field to five now-tired tots. They all get one more chance to walk up the red carpet but few have the energy, despite efforts by their mothers to lure them on with bottles and promises of snow cones. Two of the remaining contestants choose instead to revert to crawling and grab at candy wrappers blowing across the concrete floor.
"This generation sure is good about picking up trash," says the announcer, as the reluctant finalists are picked up by embarrassed mothers and trotted up to the judges' table. Chari Nicole Carter, a 12-month-old from Manassas, falls over while trying to clap and walk at the same time.
Finally, there's a winner. Eighteen-month-old Tiffany Kay Fones, who munched potato chips while waiting for her moment in the spotlight, gets the $25 grand prize and the big purple ribbon from Miss Prince William. Tiffany's mother signs a receipt for the money while Tiffany flashes one last smile for her grandmothers.
"I had no idea she would win," said Tiffany's proud father. "When we got here all she wanted to do was look at the ducks."