There Are Two Big Reasons Why Columbia’s Raechel Holtgrave Is Miss Hooters International 2009

Raechel Holtgrave and I are meeting for an interview in five minutes. She just won the Miss Hooters International 2009 pageant a week ago and the $50,000 prize to go with it.

We agreed on the meeting specifics yesterday: high noon at Starbucks. But a few minutes ‘til, I realize that during our phone chats we never exchanged such pleasantries as, “I’ll be wearing this” or any other personal identifiers. I scan the sidewalks looking for someone else who’s looking for someone.

A few ticks before noon, a tall, tan, busty blonde in an electric blue, V-cut top strides around the corner. Duh. Miss Hooters International 2009 is a personal identifier

And really, this year, anyone should be able to ID Holtgrave as a Hooters girl. She is the Hooters girl. Holtgrave was not only crowned Miss Hooters International 2009 this past June, she also grabbed the Hooters Girl of the Year title six months earlier – a feat no one else has ever accomplished.

And why? Why did two separate panels of judges – the first, which included Hooters executive staff, and the second, boasting celebrity-types such as NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, ‘N Sync star Joey Fatone and 2005 Playboy Playmate Tiffany Fallon – select her out of 35,000 Hooters employees?

Because Raechel Holtgrave is: 1) exactly what you expect of a Hooters girl; and 2) not at all what you expect from a Hooters girl.

By that, I’m not implying that she is just so much hotter than you’d ever expect. No. (She is markedly prettier in person though. The freckles on her nose are endearing.) What I mean is, if looks didn’t have anything to do with getting schlepped all over the world for Hooters promo gigs, Holtgrave would more than likely be working for State Farm Insurance – and that almost happened anyway.

Holtgrave graduated in May from the University of Missouri with a degree in mathematics and an emphasis in actuarial science and mathematical finance. She had already been offered a job at a State Farm office in St. Louis when she won the pageant. She called from the airport the next day: “I’m really sorry,” she told them. “I won this pageant, and I will be representing Hooters for another year.”

And to think, when she applied for the job she didn’t even write that she worked at Hooters on her resume.

“I’m proud to work at Hooters, but I think that people just see that stereotype, and I wanted a chance to explain myself. So, I put H.O.A.” After she had been called back to interview in person, the recruiter asked what exactly H.O.A. stood for.

“I’m really sorry for abbreviating,” she told him, “but it means Hooters of America. I just didn’t want you to think I was just a waitress – I mean, I am a waitress there, but a lot of my experience is outside the store.”

That outside-the-store experience includes leading seminars as a corporate image coach, assisting in the opening of new Hooters locations in the Virgin Islands and Montana, and involvement in local and national television and radio marketing.

Not bad for a waitress.

Holtgrave says she often finds herself having to overcome the “Hooters Girl” label.

“A lot of women have terrible stereotypes about it, which I hate,” she says. “I can understand in the ‘80s when it was risqué to wear short shorts and a tank top, but now if you go to any other bar in town and it’s summer, the waitresses are wearing just as short of shorts as we are.”

And to that extent, she’s right. But being a Hooters Girl does have a type of celebrity air unique to it, and being named Miss Hooters International 2009 only adds to the mystique. In just her first week back from being crowned, two guys from Sedalia brought in every calendar, magazine and piece of merchandise she has ever graced for her to autograph.

At the table, I ask if she wants to grab a coffee or anything else from inside. I had already helped myself to one of Starbucks’ undoubtedly healthy pastries.

“Oh, no thanks,” she demurs. “I’m fine.” (Discipline I don’t have.)

She sits, and the interview zips from zero to 60 at an instant. No small talk. No bull.

“So, exciting week for you, huh?”

“It’s actually been a really exciting year.” And she’s off. On to talking about the details of this year’s pageant, about how she didn’t even have to try out for it because of the Hooters-Girl-of-the-Year win, about how she loves all the other girls, about how she didn’t know who any of the football-player judges were, but she would have if they were hockey players … Oh, and did I mention that she tried out for her high school’s men’s hockey team? Didn’t make it, though.

She’s done this before.

The week has been a media maelstrom for the 22-year-old. I’m her 11th interview this week, the second she’s had at this Starbucks. She knows the right things to say and rattles them off with ease. She’s enthusiastic. Plays with her hair a bit. Laughs at my jokes. Says a couple ditsy, hot-girl slip-ups like how she and her roommate love to eat “fun nuggets” (dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets). It’s the Hooters experience – the same that she gives every interviewer, every guy who walks into Hooters – though it doesn’t feel disingenuous.

“I don’t just work at Hooters,” she says later. “I represent Hooters.” She does. And she will when she goes to Afghanistan this month to visit Darren Reeves, one of her Columbia Hooters regulars, and the rest of the troops stationed there. And she will this winter when she goes to Aspen, Colo., for the taping of the “Best Damn Hooters Show Angels,” the Hooters television special.

Raechel Holtgrave is the Hooters Girl, but a little bit more and a little bit better than that, too.