WKU student selected as Derby Festival princess

Andi Dahmer, a freshman from Louisville, was selected as one of the five candidates chosen to be in the Kentucky Derby Royal Court, a program comprised of a few girls selected from Kentucky and southern Indiana who serve as ambassadors for the festival. Dammer was chosen out of 28 finalists and 147 total applicants. Submitted Photograph from Andi Dahmer

Kalee Chism

Every year, Kentucky hosts a festival that surrounds “the most intense two minutes in sports”: the Kentucky Derby Festival. Part of this festival is the Royal Court, a program comprised of a few girls selected from Kentucky and southern Indiana who serve as ambassadors for the festival. This year, five girls were selected.

Andi Dahmer, a freshman from Louisville, was one of those five. Dahmer said Derby Festival candidates participate in over 70 events during the semester and also represent the festival.

“Over the course of the next semester, we will attend over 70 events, some starting as early as 6 in the morning and going past midnight,” Dahmer said.

She said the Derby princess is an ambassador for the state of Kentucky, the city of Louisville, her native city and her university.

“We’ll get to experience all these Derby events and show the rest of the world and all the people that attend Derby what it really means to be a Kentuckian,” she said.

Debra Rayman, the vice president of The Fillies Inc. and leader of the Royal Court program this year, reiterated how the five candidates will be ambassadors for the festival as well as the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Being a Derby princess is more than just a glamorous position, according to Rayman; princesses are exposed to networks that can last a lifetime.

“It allows them to make the connections that can help them in the future, such as job opportunities, but it is an outstanding opportunity to meet so many different people in so many different aspects,” Rayman said. “We are focusing this year on reaching out more into the community, such as incorporating [ambassadors’] philanthropies that they work closely with into their appearances.”

Rayman said the process of selecting princesses takes months and involves rounds of interviews. Candidates must be 18 or older and qualify as full-time students from Kentucky or southern Indiana.

This year, only 28 of the 147 applicants became finalists, and only five were selected as princesses. One queen from the court will be chosen in the coming months.

Rayman said once candidates meet initial qualifications, they pass through a round of preliminary interviews that narrows the pool of candidates. She said the interviews’ main objective is to find young women who are poised and articulate as well as good students.

“One of the main roles is serving as an ambassador and being comfortable talking to anyone in the community. They could be having lunch with the governor, or they could be reading to a group of preschool students. They need to be able to interact with all the people that attend the festivities,” Rayman said.

During the interview process, Dahmer said, experience with college admission interviews and involvement in the Student Government Association greatly assisted her.

“The main thing that prepared me were the college interviews my senior year just because a lot of the structure of the interview process of becoming a Derby princess was the same as that of college interviews,” Dahmer said. “One of the biggest things [that helped] is SGA … I feel like the way I am able to represent my peers in SGA really helps me represent Kentucky.”

Ann Coffey, Dahmer’s mother, said Dahmer’s organization and ambition were enormous assets.

“Andi has a lot of initiative. She is very organized, and when she talks with you, you understand that she is very interested and very concerned about what you have to say,” Coffey said.

Dahmer hopes to use her position to challenge Kentucky stereotypes and associate the Derby Festival with Kentucky culture.

“I am most looking forward to showing other people that Kentucky is Derby and Derby is Kentucky because so often Kentucky is reduced to stereotypes while the Derby festival is revered as the amazing tradition that it is,” she said. “I think that showing people that they are synonymous is the thing that I would most like to impart in my time as a princess.”