I just put away the very last piece of pageantry and figured it was time to sit down and write my story. This time last week I was asking, “Why?!” But today I’m just wanting to tell my tale and move on to my next move. It’s taken me a good week to be able to tell about my experience to you readers and to anyone else who is interested in knowing what it’s like to compete for a national level competition after not competing for over a decade. The journey was incredible, humbling and wonderfully long. I wouldn’t change that for the world and really wouldn’t have changed much that I did. The outcome was so many things it’s hard to compile into just a few words. Here’s my story from my own eyes and inner thoughts as I became a contestant for All American Gent 2013 and the road that led me to the stage in Dayton in March ’13.
I’ll be telling the details that most everyone in my position wants to tell and would tell you if they had the guts to. Many would never be as honest because they may still be trying to prove something with fear someone reading it or hearing it may judge them one day. Like I mentioned during my Onstage Q/A about us all being vulnerable. As contestants we are much more than the regular Joe so I have to share my true story for others to learn and know if it’s right for them or not. I have nothing to lose at this point as many already know the outcome of it all.
I wanted to be able to write this blog post without sounding bitchy or bitter because I most definitely am not. I have judged dozens of pageants and contests on local, regional and national levels, and international for that matter. I realize that adjudicating it is completely subjective especially when ranking people within a group. One likes this and the other likes that. I’ve had to do it and it’s not an easy job unless you already have in mind what you like or want from a contestant and representative and someone is able to give you that. It’s always exciting when someone comes through and stirs the pot mixing things up. The range of characters and contestants for Gent were unique and varied which made it anyone’s game. The battleground was quite level with competitors offering strengths across the board. For the first year, the group was very well rounded for Gent.
Watching it all unfold was very entertaining to me who hadn’t been in the arena for a few years. Most of my fellow contestants were seasoned pros with huge followings and other national titles under their rhinestoned belts. The odds were most definitely not in my favor so I started very early. I had to, and in hindsight am so glad I did. I needed every minute I could use between working full time at World Gym, having a sane home life with husband and dogs, delightful trips in to Hollywood and of course the rigorous preparation for the pageant. I was very ready by the time I arrived in Dayton with every t crossed and i dotted.
However the story starts on July 5, 2012 when the first advert for AAGent went online on Facebook. I was having my latte by the pool and scrolling through my phone when I saw it. It was like someone slapped me across the face and I knew immediately I was doing it. Being a national title holder wasn’t anywhere on my radar but it had always been a fire inside that smoldered inside me for years. It took me about two weeks before I mentioned it to anyone because I wanted to make sure this was something I was serious about and it wasn’t a fleeting moment. I knew I wouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time because if I were to do it I would be as serious as ever so I kept quiet only asking a few individuals what they thought. All encouragement.
So the journey began. I’ve coached queens to titles, choreographed them in productions and as mentioned judged my good sisters behind comfortable pen and paper. But it had been a hot minute or two since I got myself ready to compete for a national title. My competitive background in a nutshell scrolls through competitive dance company at 18, competitive drag at 22 at Miss Gay USA, preliminaries for Mr. Gay USA at 26, leather titles sash circuit at 28 and beyond. I love competition and other than the Hollywood Rat Race of L.A. at 32, I haven’t competed for much in years. I was ready to get started.
I decided to create a separate blog at theroadtoaag.blogspot.com where I could post about my journey and maybe even pass it down to someone else when I was finished with it. I built the pages from scratch and every month noted something that was happening on my run or a quick thought. I figured it couldn’t hurt and hopefully will inspire someone else to use the tools that are around them to become a stronger brand and image. And, if it’s free, why not?! Tune in everyone… The Internet isn’t going anywhere so use it and build your brand solid and strong.
Once I started mentioning to certain individuals that I was interested in competing for the contest most of them came forward immediately in support by monetary means which was quite humbling. I know many entertainers have worshipers that see them night after night in clubs who will often sponsor or generously provide money their way for a pageant. It was overwhelming and I felt as if I was really doing something great. Something people believed in. My run for AAGent took on a life of its own and I really enjoyed the ride because I knew that once it arrived it could soon be over. Thanks to my many incredible sponsors including corporate sponsors: SKINN by Dimitri James, Ted Guice Fitness and Joe Blasco’s Makeup School Hollywood including my makeup artist and prosthetics creator Veronica Munoz. And one last time, if it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t have ran for All American Gent 2013. They are the reason I was able to live this dream.
In between shopping online for contest drag (and when I say “drag” I mean costumery – had to continually remind people I was not doing drag – not sure what about Mr. says drag) and often buying Asian sizes that were way too small for me, I worked with a group of amazing DJs who created the exact soundtrack for my performances. I can be quite particular about what I want especially when it comes to individually me. They all were very patient and I thank them greatly! Luc Benech, Mac Valentine and Eric Ornelas, I worship!
My husband Jacques became my very own Tim Gunn as he allowed our dining room to become something out of Project Runway. Thankfully he could stitch and sew a few things for me as I perched next to him blinging hot pants for Talent discovering e6000 glue worms for weeks to come and stranded rhinestones shining bright like diamonds under chairs on floors. The process was so fun and I found that gluing stones on fabric can be quite therapeutic. Grab a pair of tweezers and play some music while blinging a Sunday afternoon away! Jacques actually helped create much of what I did and I love him for allowing me to be me. I couldn’t have done it without him!
Then there’s the trips to Los Angeles! WOW! The thoughts makes me quite misty. Quite the highlight. Perusing the Fabric District with Jacques Downtown L.A. Window shopping the Garment District and discussing Formal Wear. And then of course there’s the sessions at Joe Blasco’s school with Veronica working on my Creative Costume prosthetics. I so wanted to show people what was happening but had to keep it on the DL as much as I could. What started as a hope for some makeup from Joe Blasco turned into humbling generosity and support from his great team. Walking into his school and being able to say he was on #TeamStevenMichael was beyond my wildest dreams. I felt very special. And being able to bond with Veronica the entire time was a relationship I never saw coming and am so thankful we now have. I couldn’t have been in Dayton without her.
After choreographing my Talents I knew that I would have to shake off the dust and get back into the studio. I worked here by the pool in front of the windows but naturally doing them full-out is another story. I’m not 21 anymore but in hindsight feel great about what I did. Not bad for an old man. I can still move more than many and I tend to be my toughest critic. I even thought about doing a water-downed prelim Talent since it was looking like there would be right under ten male contestants total. If so, we would all make it into final night. But I loved the mix so much that I decided to give it my all. If these were the only times I’d be performing after this was all said and done then I was going to make them fierce! I’m so glad I did and don’t regret one step.
Then the final days leading up to departure came. Costumes were placed in jumbo Ziplock bags and piled into a cardboard box with tuxedo jackets, et al. to ensure delivery to hotel in Dayton. I never imagined the airlines could lose my luggage. Just in case we shipped ahead. Note to fellow pageant peeps: Fed Ex will ship your bags ground without need for boxing it up. Be smart. On Friday before we left, I even got a fabulous card in the mail from one of my sponsors with a bit extra for the road and a note saying, “Things always cost more than we plan…” He couldn’t have been more right or perfect with his timing. Everything was in place!
I excitedly arrived in Dayton to snow flurries. After grabbing my jacket out of my carry-on I quickly scooted off to baggage claim and then to Thrifty for my rental car that had icicles on the frame. For some reason I was going to Instagram a picture but figured people have seen an icicle before. As soon as I pulled onto the interstate the “low tire pressure” light came on. Since I was heading back to pick up Veronica flying in from LAX later in the evening I decided to switch it out then. It worked out where I got a nicer car. No Tea.
Once I arrived, the very first person I saw was promoter Scott Gonyaw in the lobby which is always great. We caught up for a hot minute before I got checked into my rooms at the Dayton Grand, one for Veronica and one for me and Jacques who was arriving on Friday. I noticed my Fed Ex box behind the counter had arrived soundly so I grabbed a cart and wheeled it up to the room before unloading it and everything I had brought. I was able to quickly see what had been destroyed by the wrinkle monster and what was OK. Things were in good shape so I set up shop in the room with makeshift hanging areas for ties and my warrior kilt while spreading everything else out for examination.
The phone rang and the sweet girl at the front desk said I had a delivery. I quickly punched it downstairs to see that my incredible dancing dears back in Nashville had sent me three dozen roses in this amazing glass vase. It was sickening! Seeing that sitting in my room every moment I was there really made me feel the love and support of true family. It was overwhelming. I gave my sweetheart maid a few roses every day since I had so many to share.
I soon got a text from Jade T. Stratton telling me their room number and to come on down. We were on the same floor and come from the same drag family, The Taylor’s. Her son, my nephew, Angel T. Stratton was competing for Gent while Jade was competing for All American Goddess at Large along side our competition. It was a double crowning which made the entire event more exciting. We KiKi’d a bit before Jade punched it with Dena Cass to a dress fitting while Angel and I headed to grab dinner and get to know each other. Angel is a super sweet kid who has an awesome career ahead of him. Very, very talented and smart. Meeting him was a true highlight of my time.
Later that evening I picked up Veronica at DAY and got her safely into her room before we discussed a few last minute details of what we were doing together. On Thursday morning I grabbed a latte at Boston Stoker around from the hotel and then some quick breakfast with Whitney Paige downstairs before getting ready for registration. Once at registration I believe I was the last one to arrive. I said some quick Hello’s before commencing to filling out paperwork. I perched next to Cielo Whitney who I had shared a wonderful phone conversation with a month prior and skimmed my eyes around the room noticing there were eight of us who had shown up for competition. According to our secret Facebook page for contestants that seemed about right.
After going through the handbook, rules and winner’s contract, we drew numbers and finished the final bit of business. I was the last one to pick a number and grabbed #7 which was fine with me. It meant of the two groups, I’d have Interview and Talent on Thursday and Creative Costume and Formal Wear Friday. I was excited because Jacques could see the costume on Friday when arrived. I introduced myself to the other guys and everyone soon retreated to their rooms to prepare for Interview.
Interview went incredibly well for me. I know how to talk to people and I’m not afraid of expressing myself. I got out everything I wanted to say so I was happy with that. I don’t believe it could have really gone any better and I wasn’t nervous all weekend. Truly. I soon scooted over to the venue to hear my music over the speakers and feel the stage with the shoes I was wearing. Afterwards I went back to the room and got ready for the night ahead by napping and doing a double-check on those categories. We grabbed some food and groceries for the room since the town basically closes down at six o’clock. I learned from the previous March when I judged Scott’s AAG at Large to plan ahead or go hungry.
We arrived to the venue Masque Nightclub and luckily had four dollars in quarters because that was the only way to get the gate working that early on a weeknight. Plan for everything unpredictable! I set up shop downstairs next to Monte St. James and spent most of the evening cuddled up in my chair waiting to go on. We were so cold hanging out backstage I didn’t get dressed until I absolutely had to. We didn’t have the incredible body heat our Goddesses provided the next few nights but the laughter was prevalent and brotherhood growing strong. In actuality, the camaraderie and natural friendships that formed between us all was almost a deterrence from the very thought of competition. It was quite organic and welcoming. That was brilliant. That feeling of reading one another while sending kudos to another and hanging onto some else. It was all wonderful.
I roamed the venue until it was time to get ready for Talent which was the last category of the evening. I stretched out and warmed up a much as possible and went upstairs basically walking straight onstage. I remember vividly standing there behind the curtain and having an unexpected feeling of aloneness rush over me. Monte had eight backup dancers behind him and had just came off the stage. Plus, we did a bit of the same music which caused me to wonder, “Huh?!” I lifted my head and gave a thumbs up to the sweet DJ as emcee Asia T. O’Hara announced my name. The curtains opened allowing the spotlight to find my skin and I began to lip-sync for my life.
My music was a timeline mix through the decades of my life including “Born to Be Wild,” “Disco Inferno,” “The Party Has Just Begun,” “Use it Up, Wear it Out,” and “Let’s Go!” with year and name stamps throughout. The mix was fierce! I offered thug punk realness as a costume with few removals. Being onstage after being off for so many years made me second guess myself a few times even though watching my performance on a iPhone I admit that it wasn’t bad at all. Again, I’m a tough sell because perfectionism is only a perception. I must remember this. I kept my head up, cheesed when I could and did what I needed to do. As one of the judge’s commented it’s hard to compete as a soloist against a huge production. I know. No Tea.
Formal Wear went wonderfully. I love the jacket I wore which nailed me above the knee. It was completely different than the others and I knew it would be. It was risky but I had to find out. Plus, I love modeling so that was incredible. I ate it up. That’s why I was there. To feel that moment in the glow of the spotlight. One judge commented it could have used a splash of color since I chose to wear all black. I still stand by what I wore. Again, it’s all subjective. We all looked really good!
I did discover an insider secret though. And I’m surprised I never even thought about this being possible. The real girls allegedly have Vaseline for their shiny smiling teeth and spray adhesive for swimwear placement. But now guys have duck-taping cuffs to bare arms under tuxedo jackets for the perfect length with a sleeveless shirt. It makes sense. In photo shoots they snatch clothes back for the perfect fit. Wouldn’t it be a mess if they were asked to take off their jackets. Ooh, stunts.
After we finished and changed, Veronica and myself headed to Denny’s to grab some food before arriving back at the hotel around 2 a.m. where we ran into my dear sister Nicolette Taylor Ashton who was convinced that Veronica (a real girl) was competing in the pageant. When she found out that her worries were without merit we all squealed, her in relief. It made my night and Veronica took it all in stride. She had a blast the entire time meeting the folks. Everyone was in a great mood which speaks a lot about how Scott runs his pageants and the level of comfort and family people feel there.
The next morning we grabbed espresso again at Boston Stoker and went over some final prep for Creative Costume. The Goddesses at Large were arriving and registering so our evening got pushed back which gave me chance to pick up Jacques at DAY. I now really know my way to and from the airport in Dayton. Once I got Jacques back to the hotel we headed over to the club to start getting ready. The process of getting in the prosthetics was everything and it turned out exactly how I saw it happening. I believe it took many by surprise and they didn’t know really how to respond. Veronica Munoz turned it out for me. All the guys were looking great. It was a very tough contest. And the blood red contacts I ordered to wear were PERFECT even though it took a hot minute finding prescription ones online.
I laugh thinking back on what I put Veronica through backstage. I had a snatchaway ivory cloak turned around backwards over my shoulders with a high collar to hide my actual face since I had a prosthetic mask on the back of my head for the first reveal. It was a homage to Janos, the God of Beginnings, famously known for having two faces able to look into the past as well as the future. We should have put the cloak on behind the wall on the stage level but did it down below the stairs and I kept calling out, “Where am I? Where am I?” Hot mess. I got set up just fine but it was a WTF moment for a hot second. The music played. A mix of dialogue from Gladiator and Enigma’s “Rivers of Belief.” It was too fierce and the reveals were perfectly timed. The prosthetic now sits as a conversation piece in our home.
We searched high and low in the drizzling rain to find late-night food and finally did so at the BBQ joint on the corner of 5th. We devoured the grub and immediately found our way back to the hotel for sleep. The next day I had a rehearsal for the final night where we contestants acted a fool with one another and enjoyed the last moments together. Jacques and I headed to Numero Uno for some type of decent meal and then back to gather things for the evening ahead.
Back at the venue, all of the Gents were in their pageant modes and quietly in their elements. My sister Delores T. Van Cartier was painting the Boots off sister Kamden T. Cass while energy flowed throughout the room. Jasmine Skies was laughing with Jacques about ex-lovers across from where I was painting. She asked him, “Why are you looking at me?” and he charmingly replied, “Because you are beautiful.” She didn’t ask again. On a side bar, Jasmine placed third-runner up but unfortunately had to go into the hospital after the contest for serious health issues. Get well soon, Gal!
The Gents found their way to the stage dressed in Presentation white where we drew new numbers and competed for final night in the categories of Talent, After 6 Formal Wear and Onstage Q/A. The Goddesses continued their prelim categories while we were in the final stages. I picked #5 on final night and was in the middle of it all! The place was packed and my Talent went very well. I had a fierce Matrix coat that velcro’d up with rhinestone bars and red mirrored and stoned hot pants underneath. The great thing about getting ready for a pageant is the fierceness you have to wear afterwards!
I danced to a mega-mix of Prince music that included beats and sounds I really feel within like the honest brilliant ballad “Gold,” “319” from Showgirls, the must have “Baby, I’m a Star,” dramatic raw monologue from “The Beautiful Ones” and the end-on-an-up-note “Let’s Go Crazy.” The ending pose was a grandiose fan kick with my right leg that grazes my nose and slides behind me into a half forward split. It gives the illusion of a forward “Death Drop.” I end up face down draped over my bent left leg. Trying to grab an extra point or two I really give that last moment hell and am now still feeling the aftershocks of it. Again, for those keeping score, I’m not 21 anymore. Just saying…
Formal Wear went fabulously and I loved what I wore. A white dinner jacket, black pants and vest with a bright red tie. I brought out a red rose and gave to Alana Steele which was borderline cheesy but figured what could I lose at this point. Again, no regrets. I’m a gentleman and knew I’d be meeting a lady along the way. I modeled the house down and felt that as long as time allowed. She asked me to draw an envelope and read the question quietly to myself then she would read it aloud. Blessedly she demanded silence from the crowd which I know we all appreciated.
I picked the first one I saw which was #2. I opened it and read the question to myself. As soon as I saw the word “advice” on the paper a relief came through me as my poker face stayed strong. I read the entire question which in summation asked the best advice I ever received and how I could share that with newer entertainers. I had this answer. I took a deep breath and looked into the spotlight because I knew this was it, the last moment I had to change any judge’s mind. And I spoke.
I told of when Tina Devore looked over at me backstage at Backstreet through the mirror’s reflection telling me to be the queen and entertainer who just did something without the useless words before. She said, “Don’t be the queen that says ‘I’m doing this, I’m doing that’.” Just do it! Not to run my empty mouth about what I’m going to do. Brag about it after you do it because as we know the emptiest barrels make the most noise. And I did just that when I decided to do this pageant. I shared that I would tell new entertainers to do their homework, not to go broke competing, enjoy the moment while you can and come as the winner not only as a contender, and understand the subjectiveness of it all. I thanked them for sharing the experience with me and wished them good night. I nailed Onstage Q/A.
I slid into an American flag vest that I had planned on wearing for Crowning and a different jacket. I felt really good about my showing but knew I wasn’t going to win the title. I was correct and Monte St. James was soon crowned All American Gent 2013 with Cielo Whitney as his first alternate. It was difficult for me competing against contestants that had entourages pounding the stage for them while they were onstage and fan clubs shouting their names. I’m honest in saying that. That sways the judges. No Tea, No Shade. I saw the way things were going by what my fellow Gents were doing all weekend. I got lost in the mix. Plus it was my first time back in a very long time. But I had no idea that I would stand there and receive nothing. It wasn’t the loss that cut so deep but the nothing. I figured I’d at least place as a runner-up but in fact did not. I wasn’t ready for that. It all happened so fast I just went through the motions. The road was so long and glorious getting there for the result to be so brutal and immediate. It has now happened to the best of us! I can now move on and know I hopefully influenced someone to live one of their dreams no matter what their age, image or lifestyle. No one will do it for you except you. Is it that important to you? Well, is it?! It was for me.
After the pageant I made it back to the hotel and packed a few bags for Jacques to take back home with him since I was about to run him to the airport to grab his early flight. I was numb most of the time while he buzzed around me getting ready. I got him to DAY safely and then I drove through Steak and Shake for some food before getting a generous late checkout back at the hotel. I made it back to the airport myself only to wait for a few extra hours for delayed flights. I sat quietly staring out onto the tarmac wondering what just happened in between texts and phone calls from concerned loved ones.
I finally got on my planes and back into my sanctuary at home safely in Palm Springs. I wouldn’t change one step of my journey. It was completely magical. I really wouldn’t have changed much of what I presented. It was true to who I am. Next time, I’ll live the advice of the late and great Amber Richards who told me after her Miss Continental win, “Give them what they want. Win, taking what they have to offer and then do what you want with it.” Onward and upwards… Until the next amazing journey!