It was in the conservative and quiet city of Dayton last week where front-runner Whitney Paige from Texas ripped up the stage and tore it down with her Whitney Houston production including four fine dancers clearing the way for her to snatch the coveted punchbowl crown of All American Goddess at Large 2012. But that’s the finale. This is the story as seen from my eyes.
It was Thanksgiving, I believe, when I first was in contact with promoter Scott Gonyaw about judging for him. I reached out because I was interested and he responded gratefully. We decided to play it by ear with high hopes of making it happen. Fast forward to mid-February when he sent me a message on Facebook asking if I was still interested in judging. Of course I was. Just love waking up and finding fun invitations in my inbox. I’m always ready to judge a drag pageant and one of such a grand scale as a national with 29 (!!!!!!) contestants, how could I say no?! You’re right… I couldn’t.
I really didn’t know what to expect with AAG but since judging other systems I figured I’d be just great. I’m honest and fair. I try not to get too tossed by emotions or persuaded by reputation. I really don’t know many of the girls since competitive drag isn’t really thriving on the West Coast. I’m there to find the best candidate for the position of said title and with that comes responsibly to do so. Bottom line is that is you can’t sell me a preliminary to the system you’re running for then you need to go back and do some more homework. It’s my place to tell you to do so. That’s why I’m there and I take it seriously. But I have fun, too! And I sure did in Gayton, err, gay Dayton, Ohio.
I arrived on Thursday where Scott and cutie Justin picked me up at United’s baggage claim with bells on. I was excited to finally meet after a slew of texts and emails planning the reservations, etc. and so were they. We grabbed some food and pressed it to the Dayton Grand Hotel. I was already checked in and handed my keys on the way in which I thought was quite fierce. I unpacked and unwound for a bit, made some “I’m here” texts and phone calls and decided to walk the streets and get a lay of the land.
Sorry to say that downtown Dayton was quite dismal and closed early but once I figured that out, I maneuvered the days and nights away. Luckily Club Masqué is close for convenience so it made sense we were housed in the area. Once back in my room, I was fooling around on my Macbook with the free internet and doing some networking on various sites when I met a local who offered to show me the town. I thought Why Not? and we made plans for him to swing by and pick me up.
As soon as I opened the door to his SUV it was as if we had known each other for years. It was the oddest most wonderful thing to have that immediate connection. John drove me around and showed me the few sights Dayton has to offer. We stopped in for drinks at Side Bar in the Oregon District Neighborhood as he explained that he designed the restaurant and bar. It was truly fierce. The staff knew and respected him well and I was just having fun soaking it all in.
After a delicious cocktail we pranced down to a fun place called Smokin BBQ on the corner where two good ole boys provided some much-needed grub to two new Besties. After feeding our faces we headed back and John dropped me back off at my door. Just Kei-Kei’ing – No Ki-Ki’ing. I had happily and surprisingly made a new friend. And a great contact in Dayton! I found my way back to Side Bar for brunch on Sunday. The chicken and waffles were TO DIE!
I turned in early later that night and woke up to start judging the next morning. Of course, when traveling I’m always thrown a bit off my balance and kilter without the making of comfortable surroundings (i.e. espresso machine, loving dogs, doting husband, familiar peace.) It comes with the territory and I’ve traveled for so many years that I’ve got this. I actually love it but still face slight anxiety when I’m away.
Justin and I had some breakfast next door to the hotel and began judging interviews around 2:30 with groups 1 and 2, as groups 3 and 4 would be taking the chair on Saturday. I was actually very relaxed the entire time I was in Dayton taking the moments away from everything I know to appreciate it more which I needed to do. The contestants came in one by one and while some faltered by not being prepared with concise and smart answers, others knocked we judges’ socks off.
When it comes to the category of Interview, queens, here’s what’s the Tea… Walk in, shake hands down the line, genuine eye-contact and name introductions, be asked to sit down, sit like a lady if in drag and a man in not. Posture is key. Answer the questions to the point and on point, be prepared for anything to be asked and know why you are there. You are there to sell the system and represent it, carrying on the grand legacy laid forth before your humble arrival.
Back to the show! I met some wonderful people, saw some amazing friends that I haven’t visited with in many years, and watched season professionals duke it out on stage while newcomers to the art of female impersonation showed passion and aspirations to be greater than they were, becoming part of something that was continually described as “a family” – the All American Goddess Pageantry System.
During the two evenings of preliminary onstage competition, the groups of contestants performed a Talent and presented themselves in Creative Costume and Evening Gown categories. It’s hard to go into many details without favoring one girl and not the other (I wanna be asked back! – TeeHee) but I will say that I was forever impressed with many and can’t wait to see others grow into their true capacity of superstardom. Contact Versage for DVDs of the pageant for your very own!
I blessedly saw dear friends throughout the weekend from the “old school” days and made connections with others that were genuine and real. In the house serving pageant realness: Former AAG Goddesses Candi Stratton, Lawren LaMoore, Latoya Bacall, Kelexis Davenport, India Ferrah, the reigning AAG Alana Steele, the reigning AAGAL Dena Cass; Miss Gay Untied States Icon 2012 Jennifer Warner; the sexy man that is Scott Johnson; Shae Shae LaReese (who is a threat to show up somewhere!); Florida’s very own doll Brittany Moore and the fabulous Khori Ross; dear sister Miss Continental 2011 Chelsea Pearl; promoter and Nina West confidant Michael Bishop and many, many more!
I really had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back! (Hint – Hint, Mr. Gonyaw!) So many details and memories, so little time to tell them all. The final 5 fell like this: 4th Runner-Up Envy Van Michaels had a “Big Time” with her dancers during talent doing a superb job; 3rd Runner-Up Delores T. Van Cartier brought Patti LaBelle to life and was my nominee for Most Beautiful dressed in stunning baby blue beads and feathers; 2nd Runner-Up Tonna Demore brought the judges to tears during interview also having a “Big Time” on stage; 1st Runner-Up Mercedes proved she is a qualified, smart force to be believed and respected; and winner Whitney Paige who came in admittedly nervous and walked out quite victorious as the new All American Goddess at Large 2012!