To young girls, Andrea Licata seems straight out of a fairy tale.
Mesmerized by her glittering tiara, sash and diamond and gold necklace — perks of being Miss Fountain Valley — they stop her to ask, "Are you a real-life princess?"
A gathering at Mile Square Park put Licata face-to-face with one such fan, who struggled to muster the courage to introduce herself.
Initiating a conversation, Licata spent time with the child, learning later from her grateful mother that she had only recently emerged from a long hospital stint.
"She was at this carnival, but couldn't do much — I'm not quite sure what sickness she had," Licata recalled. "Her mom told me that she was simply looking for a great time, and I had made a huge impact on her. I pretended to put my crown on her head, and it really made her day."
Events like the Mayor's Ball, the Orange County Chocolate Festival, the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony and Howling Halloween in the Park became a staple in Licata's life after she emerged victorious at the 2012 Miss Fountain Valley Scholarship Pageant in March.
"Andrea seems like a genuinely nice person," said Fountain Valley Councilman John Collins, a former mayor who worked closely with her on a number of occasions. "We attended a lot of events, and she was very attentive to her duties as Miss Fountain Valley. This was the first pageant in 20-odd years, so she had no benchmark to go by to look at what others had or hadn't done. I think she did well."
Licata was able to participate in the pageant, open to women between 18 and 24, because her hometown of Costa Mesa is part of the eligibility area in which contestants had to work, live or go to school.
An affiliate of the Miss America pageant, this program collaborates with the Children’s Miracle Network, to which each contestant is required to contribute $100.
"I would have never thought I would be in a pageant," she said. "I just did some research online and found that there was a lot of good scholarship money involved, and I thought, 'Well, this looks fun, and I'm going to have a lot of college expenses.' So it was really a complete whim.'"
A few weeks later, she was at rehearsals along with 11 other hopefuls, practicing different segments of the pageant, which was revived after a two-decade hiatus.
"I'm glad that this program has been started up again," Collins said. "It adds to the community fabric. It's another little thing that makes Fountain Valley a nice place for people to live."
A 12-year pianist who played Martha Mier's "Enchanted Waterfall," Licata impressed not only her piano teacher, who was in the audience, but the judges, and won a $500 scholarship for the highest score in the talent competition.
Interning at the time at the Irvine-based Halo Healthcare, she selected "Creating Awareness of Early Breast Cancer Detection and Risk Factors" as her platform.
"I have two relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer, and thankfully both of them caught the disease early enough to be able to effectively fight the cancer," Licata said. "I can only imagine what might have happened if they were not able to catch the cancer in its early stages."
Prioritizing exercise and healthy eating, Licata and her mother spent hours perusing store racks for the perfect outfits. In the end, she settled on a turquoise swimsuit — the sole one-piece in the event.
"I figured that if they don't want me as their queen in a one-piece, then they don't want the person who I am," she said. "I thought I could look beautiful and modest at the same time. I picked a nice swimsuit, nothing ultra-sexy, and you could see how fit I was. I don't need to be showing my whole skin for you to be able to see that."
Dressed in a one-shoulder, floor-length champagne gown, lightly sprinkled with sequins, Licata won $5,000 for the title of Miss Fountain Valley, as well as a personalized crown necklace by Mimi's Jewelry.
In June, Licata traveled to Fresno, accompanied by executive director Keeli Scott Lisack, where the Miss California pageant unfolded over 11 jam-packed days. A straight-A student through high school and university, she earned the Scholastic Achievement Award for the highest academic success from among the state's 58 contestants.