Wow, what a feeling of accomplishment and success! Last weekend in Phoenix I competed for the regional title of Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA ’17… and WON! It feels great! It truly does. I’ve competed for years and even though my experiences and journeys have always been a “win” for me personally I’ve rarely won on paper. It’s nice to get me a piece. And as the catchline continues, “the old broom still sweeps, and dances!” After a great amount of hard work, rehearsals and true perseverance I grabbed ahold of something I’ve wanted for some time now. Here’s my tale…
This will be my fourth trip to Texas to become Mr. Gay USofA. The first two times I made the top twelve which was amazing. Unfortunately last year I dropped a few spots down and was able to enjoy the show from the audience. However, that gave me the time to evaluate what I had brought compared to others and indeed I didn’t bring enough. It was tough year! As I said in interview last Sunday perhaps I should have sat out last year due to financial limits but I always try to fulfill commitments if I’m able. When I got home afterwards I sat back while deciding what I wanted to do about another run. Blessedly, I had some very dear people in my life offer generosity towards #TeamSteven, and we were off and running again.
I decided immediately how I was going to play it. I scheduled a photoshoot with my dear Tim Courtney guaranteed for a few different looks to use throughout the preparation towards a hopeful national run. My team pulled together at our friends’ gorgeous estate near the San Jacinto mountains. Mother Nature agreed with us and gave us bright sunshine and blue skies. Tim and I work together well so it was a fast shoot considering the amount of photos we took. Over 250+ shots. Afterwards I had a glass of wine like a true model and put my bare feet in the pool dressed in only my boxers happy with an amazing photo session.
Of all the preliminaries on the Mr. Gay USofA roster, I knew I wanted to do Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA for three reasons. Representing my home would be (hate to sound cliché) an honor. Edward Michael is an amazing promoter because of his passion for the art of gay entertainment and I do my research. Finally, Phoenix was close and I could drive dancers in. OK… four reasons, the prize package was quite cute. Rehearsals began, costumes were started by designer Troy Ford who I’ve known for 30 years, and we were heading towards a June 4th date of competition.
Just as I booked my rooms for the trip, I see where the schedule was changed to a later date. Whah-whah. Brakes! I immediately take on another project for a local drag pageant to keep busy. Though, timing actually worked out on a somber note because I had to travel home to Nashville unexpectedly since mom began an extended stay in the hospital. I’m not sure if I would have been able to compete on the original date anyways. Once we started up again rehearsing, we saw the July 30th performance on the horizon. I still kept fairly quiet about competing with just a few hints thrown out to keep a buzz going.
I hired my two dancers here locally. I have a few gems who I know can keep up with me but overall I don’t have a big pool of talent to chose from. I also headed into L.A. a few times to see Troy Ford for some wardrobe and he even came here and stayed at the house one weekend for fittings. Again, the journey is always enjoyable. It has to be! As time approached, we cleaned the routine with the help of fellow dancers, I finalized production and made definite editing choices, and rebooked rooms at Sheraton Grand Phoenix. Side note: Lovely hotel!
Itineraries were planned out and when the day arrived my buggy scooped up Karina and Shaun who lived nearby and off towards the east we headed on-time! I drove, while the phone app Waze guided us with warnings of the many police positioned on I-10 and road hazards. Laughs, secrets and stories of yesteryear were shared. It had been a minute since I’d taken a drag trip, so to speak. The drive flew by. After a few stops for food and a stretch or two, we arrived in a Phoenix without a minute to spare.
We found the hotel downtown finally and self-parked. Up to our rooms after a quick check-in where I immediately dropped trou and jumped in the shower preparing for Interview. Luckily Shaun who roomed with me (with Karina next door) was able to tie my bow tie after a few good tries. I’ve always worn neckties and decided this time I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and shake things up. With the summer’s solar delirium setting in outside, I opted for a short-sleeve canary shirt and grey dress slacks, blue plaid bow tie. I was living for my look.
I arrived at The Rock right before 2 p.m. for registration and interview with the seven judges. In short, they want to know about you, why you’re there and how/what you will do for the pageant system. It’s usually very conversational, at least that’s how I approach it. I usually do well in interview because I’ve been doing this a while and have also judged many contests. Plus, me speak good. (cue canned laugher here) Registration began. There were two contests happening at once: Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA and Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA at Large. I drew contestant #2 and mentally prepared to meet the judges.
Interview went well. Some judges were more active with me than others but that’s expected. I said the majority of what I planned on expressing to them and will save the rest for nationals. My dancers soon took an Uber over. Afterwards we did a quick tech rehearsal onstage before running back to the hotel for me to immediately jump back in shower to begin painting up, dusting off and head back over for the contest which started at an early 6 p.m. Whew! Wait, what about food?! Later, I guessed.
Once back at the club, everyone prepared for the fast night ahead. We started right after 6, as planned. Presentation was “Hollywood Dreams” so I wore my hand painted gay icon tuxedo jacket by Carmelo Roman, a top hat, rhinestone eye patch, and a smile. Audience was receptive which is all a performer can ask for. As I’ve said as an entertainer one can only affect their own output. When something like applause or accolade is given back it’s never expected but always hoped for. Clubwear category was next! I slid into my black and white skin pants Troy Ford made for me and a fitted black threaded cuff shirt my hubby donated over. I wore these sickening shoes I got in Vegas a few months back. When the lights hit them, it’s over. Another category down. I love modeling!
Backstage we got ready for Talent. Troy had made us reversing sequin shorts that changed color when you wiped across them and airbrushed BAD tanks with my added bling for the glitz. He made a hoodie for me to ripaway that had slits for glow lights but as I put it on beforehand the hoodie was doing some very strange shaping so I scrapped the idea of lighting it and wore it without. No problem. I’m flexible and that was minor. I sent word to the DJ about new lighting cues and we headed to stage. Overall, thrilled! I was on. My dancers joined in. All was good. Music changes and the hoodie rips away but a small piece detaches and lands on the floor to join us under the judges table. Oh, well. Nothing is perfect. I don’t even notice until the very end when Shaun scoops it up. I twirl and give the judges all I had planned, every nuance. Midway we do the “mannequin challenge” where the music fades out and drops back in. To this choreographer’s surprise the crowd starts cheering as we are done and I know Shaun and I both were thinking do they know it’s not over and where is the drop in the music now because we couldn’t really hear that well at this point. Ripple, meaning it became a “peel off” in moves tho we picked right back up on count four where we pull back up. Oh, well. The rest we nailed to the dance floor and left it there. After note: I’ve had crazy compliments on our performance!
Off stage, I pulled myself back together, caught my breath and had a sip of a cocktail before crowning. Dressed in solid black I joined my fellow #TeamWestcoast for crowning. First, Jeremiah Daniels was crowned Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA at Large ’17 with his first alternate Azul Judam. Congrats, guys! See you both in Texas! The emcee continued and announced that I had won Clubwear. A plaque was handed to me and then they moved right into crowning or “medallioning.” “Winner of all categories, your new Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA 2017 is… contestant #2, Steven Michael!” I was elated! Though in some sense of shock because I never hear those words. I went through the motions. Hugged my first alternate Dvyne Valentino, was handed a stack of category plaques and had my gorgeous medallion placed around my neck by Jason Hollywood. It happened in a fast-slo motion that’s hard to describe. I also received a crown that came as a surprise.
My crowning music begins, “So Far Away” by rock group Staind. Inside Tea: I knew if I won I was going to have this moment with my medallion where I raise it up off my chest with the music and honor the moment and that drama. Hey… that’s SirQueen to you! Anyhoo… I’m smiling and living and feeling the love singing my song and I go to lift the medallion and it comes unhooked from the rhinestone neck wrap and detaches. In one arm I have four plaques and in the other I now hold this platter of rhinestones (my medal) lip sync and kinda giggle at the whole thing as to say “I’ve broke my toy I just finally got. Help me, daddy!” I look over at Mr. Gay USofA Desi Andrews and he’s standing there smiling waving for me to come over. “Let me fix this,” he said over the music as someone takes the plaques from me and I begin accepting dollars from people standing there waiting for me. I walk the stage now all put back together. I live my moment. Truly. And I sing my song.
Afterwards, official pictures ensue and more selfies than I can now go through in my phone continued. Standing at the bar, I sent over a shot to Mr. Gay USofA at Large Dakota Whitney and had a celebratory drink as well with Karina while I chatted with Edward about the next month and ahead. We left soon after to grab that needed food though by this time my body began shutting down because it had no food all day, the drive and all of the pressure and then relief of the win. Still dressed in my medallion and crowning gig, we found an outside place that served late called Welcome Diner. Delicious homemade chicken and biscuits. So good! But I felt a bit overheated so I retired to the car with the air conditioning while they finished. I know my body and it was time to shut it down for the night.
Back in the hotel room, I washed my face and sent out a few messages on my social medias while I tried to settle down from my win earlier. Then bed was very comfy but I was wired and slept off and on throughout the night. The next morning we got up fairly early, headed out of town and stopped off at Cracker Barrel for breakfast before finding our way back into the desert successful. I finally got to have my moment where I drove home from a job well done with my rhinestone medallion swinging around my rear view mirror. I’ve often gone into competition thinking I was ready only to find out that fate saw it another way. It feels damn good to have a win and take that into nationals. We have an incredible team representing the Westcoast!
In the aftermath, I’ve gone back to work to have the accolades pour in not only from Facebook (over 480 “likes” and 350+ messages on my winning post!) but at work, as well. People at the gym saw us rehearsing and knew we were in it to win it. Now it’s interesting finding my flow of handling the congrats and curiosities between people very supportive and happy to those who don’t quite get it upon hearing the news. Some shout out as if I’ve won the national title and I quickly correct them, not yet! “I rule the west coast,” I reply. Now it’s back to the drawing board for Texas. Leading up to this prelim I had to stop myself a few times from jumping the gun moving on towards the finals when indeed I needed to focus on the present and not get tripped up. In the past I’ve assumed the preliminary would be fine and I’d go ahead and “move forward” with my thinking only to find novice mistakes would get me in the end costing me the title. I can see the end result in sight. The battle has begun. X
Steven Michael | Mr. Gay Westcoast USofA 2017