"For the next 365 days, your Miss Gay Arizona America, meet and greet Barbra Seville," the emcee said, as I took a deep breath, looked around to be sure that I heard correctly, hugged Chane Jordan, and took my final steps to the most coveted crown in Arizona.
The steps that led to that announcement were equally important and equally memorable, because they showed me the importance of believing in yourself and making your goals a reality.
I enjoyed success in MGAZ immediately, always placing near the very top, but something prevented from hearing "And the winner is.."
I would spend more money, try to be what I thought they wanted, and apply the lessons I learned by watching other people win.
It was not until I told myself, "You are going to give this everything you've got, and they will be forced to see that you are the only one who can wear this crown, or you will be able to know that you have nothing left to give."
I laid out a road map, and figured out the path I would need to emerge on top:
Win Male Interview.
Win Evening Gown.
Win or Second Place in On-Stage Question.
Win or Second Place in Talent.
Win or Second Place in Creative Costume.
Interview would be my chance to literally ask for the opportunity, so at the conclusion of the interview I made sure to tell the judges that what I was bringing to the pageant was not a pageant package.
"This is what you'll get from me every time they say Miss Gay Arizona 2000. If you come to the pageant next year, you will be proud of the choice you made if you give me this opportunity," I told them as I looked them in the eye.
Since I was building my case on being myself, I spent hours and hours with a hairdresser having my evening gown hair cut and styled to my imagination of perfection (I knew the others would wear stiff updos, so I opted for a soft, natural modern hairstyle.) and designed the gown that I thought would look regal and classy 10 years from then (who imagined 15 years??)
I knew I needed a talent that would get me near the top (I ceded the top spot in that category to Phaedra and her unstoppable Selena talent..) and I knew I needed to be myself, but the best version.
My friend Danny Trujillo found me two tall gorgeous dancers that could make me look like a star.
"If you are such great dancers, you can come down to MY level," I told them at the first rehearsal.
I opted away from a giant set or flashy costumes, to stick with the modern vision I had for my competition package.
Creative Costume was a bug-a-boo for a lot of people, but I had a vision, I stuck to it, and put on a show that made the judges sit up and take notice. (Even "disappearing" during the presentation!)
Q&A came, and I was handed a question that was seemingly meant for me:
"With the Millennium approaching, how are ready to face the future?"
"This time last year, I was not happy with my life, so I made some changes in the way I live my life, personally and professionally. I am happier and more confident and am ready to face whatever comes my way," I told the judges.
It resonated with something I had alluded to in Male Interview and the judges must have remembered and approved.
I walked on to the stage for coronation with a clear mind and complete pride in what I had presented. I had no regrets, and literally could not think of one thing more that I could have done.
The package was not perfect, but it was authentic and it showed the judges and audience what kind of Miss Gay Arizona I would be.
After the awards were presented, the alternates called, and the winner (ME!) announced, I hugged my friends, waved to my mom in the audience, held hands with my friends for balance, Miss Gay America Linda Carrero and Miss Gay Arizona Kenneth Blake said something to the effect of, "Girl, you have to stop, so we can crown you."
I did not get 365 days, as Lucinda and I agreed that it would be better to push the pageant to an earlier part of the year so the next girl would get more prep time for MGA.
The days I had were fewer, but packed with meaning, purpose, and pride.
Overseeing prelim pageants, recruiting contestants, and retaining contestants (every contestant who competed in a prelim received a "Thank You" note from me, with congratulations on their triumphs and helpful hints for the categories that were a challenge. They were also given the date and location of the next preliminary.) those were easy.
Less easy was implementing the "Post Pageant Critique" where promoters were given an assessment of their preliminary from my point of view. (They were invited to provide a similar review of my performance.)
The most rewarding part of the time I had as Miss Gay Arizona was working in the community and using the crown (there were far fewer titles in Arizona and the MGAZ crown shone a great light) to spotlight the causes that were important to me, and to learn more about causes I was not as well-versed in.
It was truly one of the best times of my life.
A few months after crowning my successor, I saw that my efforts were not in vain, as I was selected Echo Magazine's Man of the Year.
It was the ultimate validation of my vision.
Although winning Miss Gay Arizona was the culmination of my hard work and efforts, it also served a spring board for the rest of my career as an entertainer.
When a new MGAZ is crowned, I always ask her to have lunch with me.
I share my story, give them a bit of trivia, try to explain what MGAZ can be to them and what they can be to MGAZ, and I offer my assistance and ear.
The lunch always ends the same way "It is only one year. It will fly by and you do not get a second chance. Be sure you are proud of what you do and how you spend this year, you will not get a second shot at this."