I wanted to start this blog section talking about some of the people that were involved with the success of MGAA 2010. This year was one of the most talented Top 5 we had and really set the course for a couple people in particular. This Top 5 saw two future MGAAs and one that would later be labeled, "The One Who Got Away". We saw the start of the journey for MGAA12, Diva in this Top 5. I remember how nervous she was when she went up in gown that year but also how she lit up that stage with an honest love for what she was doing. It would be 3 more years until she would reach her dream but I think my years and MGAA in general were made stronger because of her presence during those 3 years. More about her and her journey in Chapter 2012.
This year also welcomed a first and last Top 5 placement at MGAA for Naomi St James. I often call her The One Who Got Away. I say this because she is one of the few people I've know that I would have enjoyed seeing her crowned MGAA. Her raw talent, her humor and her " I don't give a fuck" attitude are a few traits I admire in Naomi. How can we forget her talent that year when she made out with Mya McKenzie on a park bench? She blazed a trail for herself around the country and the state but I often wonder, what if! One of the best memories I have of her was during critique that year, where the reigning MGA was completely rude and out of line with her attempted to get her to come back to MGAA the following year and she proceeded to tell her, "I'm good, I'm having my body done!" And that she did! Thank you NSJ for having my back and for always supporting me and MGAA.
Oh and about the reigning MGA that year (lol). It was the year I became super close to the wonderful and lovely Lady Tajma Hall. I asked her to judge that year because as the reigning Miss Gay USofA at Large and a former Miss Continental Plus I knew she would have an amazing perspective. For some reason the reigning MGA was not having her because she tried getting her pulled off the panel. Later it was confirmed that one of the contestants told her that Taj was staying with Mya McKenzie and TC Taylor (a contestant competing that year) and it was completely false. Instead of asking me she went off false information but I later got it resolved and Taj remained on the panel. I've always thought it important for a reigning titleholder to always consult with the pageant promoter to try and solve problems that arise. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and resulted in a less than desirable outcome. It was a learning lesson that prepared me for the next year. After that Taj and I grew closer and she became part of my family. I am so happy she asked me to be part of her larger family and will always be grateful to have asked her to be On the panel that year. #YouAreTooGoodForTHIS
That year we saw a first time contestant win the title of MGAA. TC Taylor was crowned that night and started a reign that would defy a lot of boundaries and skeptics. TC was one of the few that won the title of Miss Gay Arizona America on their first try and one of only a couple that won Miss Gay Arizona America as a first alternate to their city preliminary. TC never won a city crown but quickly showed why she would later be one of the most successful Miss Gay Arizonas. Now from the beginning TC had some hurdles to maneuver. I am not sure if people felt she wasn’t ready for the title, or if she had not paid her dues yet but there were a lot of who felt like the judges got this one wrong. I personally feel like this only empowered TC to make her reign a success because if she failed, her critics would win.
One of my most favorite times with TC during her reign was the trip to Miss Gay America. TC cara-vanned to St. Louis to represent the Arizona at the national pageant. Her truck was filled with costumes, hair, alcohol to feed the masses and her legendary see through staircase. TC won the Michael Andrews Miss Photogenic award and was only on the cover of a local St. Louis magazine featuring the Miss Gay America pageant!
This was also the year I was able to form a friendship with two wonderful people, Ron Rogers and Bryon Wiley. We had such a fun crew with us that year: Alicen, Dottie, Ron, Lee, Ron, Bryon, and Aaron. This is when I really got to know TC and was able to understand her passion for everything she sets out to do. I am so thankful for this trip on so many different levels. It helped me deal with so much going on in my life at the time. This trip really got me over my relationship that ended 2 years prior because of a connection I made with someone who will also hold a special place in my heart. This trip also allowed me to get to know Bryon Wiley. He would be someone who would hold me up and talk to me on so many different levels after this trip.
I’ll be honest, I was really excited at the crowning of Miss Gay America 2010. Alyssa Edwards was someone that I saw in the 4 years prior and I always admired her talent and was in awe of her beauty so needless to say I was one of the many excited when she was crowned that year. We all know what eventually happened but I often think to myself, “I wonder what if”.
Going to Miss Gay America that year was my kind of escape from reality. My mom was really sick throughout 2009 and during the fall/winter her doctors had scheduled a blood morrow transplant for her. It was something that was supposed to suppress her entire immune system but then give her more power to fight the cancer that was living inside of her. The one thing I always knew is that I didn’t have to worry about much when it came to TC. There were not ulterior motives, there was no ego, TC was real and real upfront about everything. That year our first preliminary was Miss Gay Tucson America, held at the Hotel Arizona. I had been down to Tucson that weekend spending time with my mom who was in hospital and had timing planned when I could leave visiting hours, head to my parents’ house, shower and go to the pageant. We had a wonderful male interview session and when I headed home that afternoon to get ready for the pageant I was confident everything would fall into place. Life always throws little wrenches into plans because that afternoon I went home, put the key in the door and SNAP, the key broke inside of the door! WTF is all I thought. Luckily my dad was on his way home and we called a locksmith, but like life would have it, that locksmith took FOREVER! I was stressed because this was TC’s first preliminary. I remember calling TC and explaining the situation and with no stress or hesitation in her voice she said, “Handle what you have to and I will see you soon.” This was the first of many times that TC would reassure me. Of course I called Mya who was there as well and asked her to be there for TC and that I would be there as soon as I could. I think I showered, dressed and got to the venue in less than 10 minutes (a feat for anyone that knows me)! They had already completed Solo Talent and I was told where TC and Mya were tabulating. Mind you, I had all the stuff for the preliminary in my car. I walk back to this dark area of the ballroom and see Mya and TC tabulating…on Mya’s flip phone!!!! My heart dropped but laughed at the same time. Never once did Mya or TC get mad at me, except I remember Mya giving me one of her infamous looks. They did their job and at that moment I felt lucky to have those two in my life because that is what family does, helps when they are most needed.
After solo talent mishaps from the previous year, Diva was crowned Miss Gay Tucson America that night! That night really showed me that Diva really wanted to leave her mark in the system and the next few years would solidify her position as one of Arizona’s best (more to come in Chapter 2012).
Looking back this year, 2009/2010, gave us so many glances into the future. Miss Gay Copper City that year introduced us to a contestant that really did step up the game and changed the face of MGAA and how people competed. I remember when I saw Tyra Marie on stage at that preliminary, I looked over at Mike Fornelli and said, “who is this?” Tyra had such a charisma and a different look that I had not seen but was so happy to have. While tabulating I remember telling TC that this was the future of Miss Gay Arizona, because we needed new blood to continue the legacy. I was new, TC was new and so this was our chance to really build the foundation of a “new” Miss Gay Arizona America. Tyra Marie was crowned Miss Gay Copper City America that year. Tyra opened the doors for so many “Latinas” to cross over into the “American” side of drag. I am forever grateful that she entrusted our system and that the door swung wide open.
You really don’t understand why things happen when or how they do. The spring of 2010 really changed my life forever. After a long battle with cancer, my mom died peacefully at home on March 29, 2010. That is a time in my life that really changed my life in so many ways. During this time, I was able to depend on a few people and in the process lost a few people. It is funny how some people cannot cope with loss or do not know how to be around someone that has lost someone. I had a group of friends that would later alienate me because of their desire to not deal with someone that had a huge hole left in their life. One said, “I wish you would stop using your mom’s death as an excuse.” Later another would one ask a current friend, “Why did Daniel ditch us?” I didn’t ditch you, you all decided not to support and be there for me, instead you decided it would be easier to brush my loss under the carpet and not deal with me. But I digress---
I don’t think I would have been able to keep Miss Gay Arizona floating if it were not for TC Taylor. During this whole ordeal I never once had to think about what Miss Gay Arizona was doing or not doing. Miss Gay Phoenix America was scheduled for the week of my mom’s funeral and I remember TC telling me not to worry that everything was under control, and it really was. I never doubted TC’s words and I knew if anything, Miss Gay Arizona was in great hands because TC was cool under pressure and had nothing but the best intentions when it came to the pageant system. I remember walking into the church, during my mom’s funeral and seeing TC, Mya, Mike Jacobs and Bryon Wiley. Seeing them there made me happy and smile at a time that was not really easy for me. I will never forget this and will always thank them for being there for me and my family.
In missing Miss Gay Phoenix America, I also missed the debut of Nevaeh McKenzie into the Miss Gay America scene. Nevaeh brought a youthfulness into our system that started in 2010, as Miss Gay Phoenix America. She would be another person that will later be featured in Chapter 2015, The Redemption!
In all the sadness and confusion of my life, I was able to have some hope and joy. Around that time, I met someone really important to me, Nick Ray. He really helped me cope with my feelings and with understanding how to deal with the loss of my mom. He never judged me when I was sad or when I needed to cry, he just let me. I will also be grateful to Nick for never giving up on me and for letting my feelings be real and valid.
During TC’s reign she raised a lot of money, and by a lot of money, I mean a sh*t ton of money. The money she raised went to different organizations throughout the state and valley. This was the first time I really saw the community rally behind a titleholder and really supported the effort that TC was taking. I don’t recall the final number but I believe TC raised over $17,000!!! That number is astronomical, especially given the fact that TC was fairly new to drag and pageantry in general. As I previously mentioned, TC was not particularly “popular” with some of the veteran drag performers in Phoenix. I often wonder if that was the reason, because she showed that it didn’t take years and “dues” to be a successful Miss Gay Arizona.
We were headed into celebrating the 30th anniversary of Miss Gay Arizona America! And this was the first year Miss Gay Arizona would be held at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I really think this move changed the vision of drag pageantry in Arizona. One of my visions, when taking over this preliminary, was to make it the best of the best and the first way of doing that was making sure the event wasn’t held in a bar or small hotel ballroom. Moving Miss Gay Arizona America into a theater started a trend that still continues to this day- Miss Gay Arizona America, setting trends!!!
To this day, the step down of TC Taylor remains one of the most successful pageants we have seen. It ranks in the Top 3, attendance wise within the past 10 years. I really believe this is due in part because of the involvement TC had within our communities. She really bridged the gap between Tucson and Phoenix, a trend that is still strong today. TC was in Tucson just as much as she was in Phoenix, always making sure to never let the Tucson community feel like they were second fiddle to Phoenix. One of the biggest let downs, in my eyes was the lack of involvement from formers that year. TC only had 4 formers present at her stepdown- Lucinda Holliday, Bunny FuFu, Tori Steele and Mya McKenzie. This has always been something that I wish I could have changed for TC. But I remember her telling me that her experience was never about making the formers happy or proud of her, that it was ensuring her legacy was left and that the contestants had an amazing experience, all of which happened. TC was never one to be loud, upset or angry often. One of the only times happened preliminary night of Miss Gay Arizona when a former caused a storm because she was being charged $12.00 to enter the pageant. Mind you, this former had NEVER once helped in any fashion in the years I was involved and sure didn’t spend any time helping during TC’s reign. This former is also very vocal about her dislike of me to this day! When we were told about her being upset, TC walked into the showroom at the Rock and LET HER HAVE IT! I remember peeking through the curtains and seeing TC get into the face of this person and I just said, “you go girl!”.
In closing I’d like to say how much I still respect TC and her opinion and everything she did for me. In the following year, many of the contestants started calling TC’s year, “The Standard” because they felt she set the standard for what a Miss Gay Arizona America should be. I probably don’t tell her enough but I am so thankful that she was crowned that year because I don’t think anyone else would have been able to handle things being so new and handle it with grace and poise. I was honored and am still happy to be your bossman!
Chapter 2010 will pick up during the Miss Gay Arizona America 2010 pageant and will chronical the 2010/2011 pageant season!
2007 into 2008 was a year full of ups and downs but together Mya and I were able to make things work and have a really good contestant pool for each of our preliminaries. So leading into Miss Gay Arizona America 2008 was a good feeling, except this was the first year I had to do everything by myself and in a new city no less! Looking back I really had no idea how to search for venues for Miss Gay Arizona. But I found myself looking at hotels and sending out emails trying to gage how much things would cost. I finally decided on the Marriott near Sky Harbor airport. It was a lovely hotel and the people that I met there were very friendly. They failed to mention that EVERYTHING and I do mean EVERYTHING came with a price! When it was all said and done, that year, that pageant cost me more than any other year before and after! I remember walking to the front desk to write the final check and realizing I would only have $5 in my account after. That is when I knew that things would have to be different in the following years or why else would someone promote anything!
We had some really great contestants that year- Bianca Solei, Patricia Mason, Eryka Knowles, Dottie Peppers and some that would definitely leave their mark that year and years to come. At the end of it all, Sache Van Cartier was crowned (after several years of trying). Sache wore a fabric pink gown (really ground breaking that year because for so many years contestants were wearing heavily beaded and stoned gowns). Her winning talent was a Dreamgirls production that really did suit her. And her first alternate, well for the next couple of weeks, would be Tempest DuJour.
Some of the highlights of that pageant really didn’t have to do much with the pageant at all. One was my friends Rohan, Kayla and Mikey attended their first pageant. These people at the time I had just met but they really fell in love with drag and pageants! Another good memory was having my long time mentor, Roger(s) Dimick on the judges’ panel. As stated in the previous blog, he really did a lot for me and helped mold me into the promoter I am today! Along with Roger, the reigning Miss Gay Maryland America, Tatiyanna Voche attended and performed that night. I remember so many formers being upset with me about having her perform and having her give away an award that night. Tatiyanna was a good sport and was willing to take a back seat but I didn’t allow it. Some of them hadn’t shown me any ounce of respect up until then, so why would I care what they thought. Just another battle we all would have to go through to get to the other side!
I had such a great relationship with Mya that I thought my relationship with Sache would be the same. I failed to realize that people come into partnerships with different types of baggage and different perceptions of you. This was a MAJOR hurdle that I had to face ALL year long!
The year started out with Miss Gay Copper City America, honoring Eryka Knowles and was held at Forbidden Nightclub in Scottsdale. This was such a GREAT venue! This pageant was actually one that I will never forget because it brought to the drag scene, officially, TC Taylor. Up until this point TC was a major supporter of drag because of his then partner Mya McKenzie. It was a shock to all of us when he decided to run for Miss Gay Copper City America but he competed in true TC fashion, with all his heart and his head in the game. At the end of the night, with gasps coming from the audience, TC placed 1st alternate and Patricia Mason won. This started the journey that would eventually end and begin at Miss Gay Arizona America 2009, more to come in the next entry.
The 2008 season really was full of a lot of surprises and memorable moments at the city preliminaries. One of notable mention was Miss Gay Phoenix America 2008. That year it was held at the Memorial Hall of Indian Steele Park and honoring Dottie Peppers. So picture it, inside of a pageant, talent was about to start. The lovely Nicole Dubois, Miss Gay America 2006, was on the microphone introducing the next contestant. “Ladies and Gentlemen, in Talent competition, contestant #2 Ebonae Shane.” Ebonae comes out with a troupe of dancers and starts into Mary J. Blige’s “Fine”, then all of a sudden, the music stops. I often times wonder, what would I do as a contestant if my music stopped. Well obviously Ebonae and her troupe knew what to do….they kept going with the dancers singing the song and the audience jumping to their feet and cheering on Ebonae as she completed the talent flawlessly. I immediately got up and went to the backstage area and gave Ebonae a chance to do the talent over again, and she opted to let the judges judge what they saw. And that was probably the best decision to make because at the end of the night, Ebonae was crowned Miss Gay Phoenix America, Naomi St. James was first alternate. Another memorable moment of that night was in contestant critique. I think, to date, this was one of the most intense judges critique I have ever been in. Contestant were arguing with judges and forgetting that the judges are 5 sets of opinions and that although you may think your pageant package was flawless, they may have seen different. After that pageant I instituted the rule that if a contestant isn’t in a good space after the pageant, I would rather them skip critique than go in and make themselves look angry. That was probably one of the best decisions I have made!
To say that 2008 was an easy year would be lying because it wasn’t. My relationship with Sache wasn’t the best relationship. I don’t place all the blame on anyone because I know that I had my own faults and could have worked on ways to communicate better. That being said, I tried my hardest to create a sense of trust with people but that trust is a two-way street. I am not proud of the year that we had but I am happy that down the road, AC and I were able to talk and understand each other. Sometimes when two strong forces collide, it takes a while for those forces to come to a mutual understanding. I thank AC for that year because in the end it made me a stronger person. Even though he is no longer with us, he will ALWAYS and FOREVER be molded in to the fabric that creates Miss Gay Arizona America.
That whole year lead up to the very memorable Miss Gay Arizona America 2009 which was held at the Madison Events Center. Oh lord that venue (that is all I will say about that).
The day leading up to pageant was very interesting to say the least. There was a conspiracy to remove a judge from the panel that year and it was led by the reigning Miss Gay America. That day was so crazy that I remember being at lunch and telling my sister Jennifer and my friend Aaron that I didn’t even want to go to the pageant. My panel was being questioned and it felt like everything was spiraling out of control BUT at the end, the pageant went on and the panel was the original panel. My teaching lesson that year was you can’t always take someone’s word as scripture. That was the first and last time that titleholder was ever invited back to Arizona but it wasn’t the last time Tajma Hall would be invited back. Meeting Tajma was a blessing that year. She taught me so much and she was the epitome of cool under pressure. Thank you Tajma for teaching me that sometimes you have to let things go and sometimes you have to say, “I am just too good for THAT!”. The Top 5 at MGAA that year was insane… Naomi St. James, Ebonae Shane, Diva, Candi Colee, Celebrity Starr and TC Taylor. At the end, TC Taylor was crowned Miss Gay Arizona America (on her first attempt and without ever having won a city prelim crown) and Celebrity Starr was named 1st alternate. The next edition of “Design of a Decade” will chronicle the year of 2009 and the reigning of an Arizona favorite, TC Taylor!
Actually the beginning started in 2005. Lucinda Holliday first approached me and my then boyfriend about promoting a pageant called Miss Gay Western States America. She said, “Go to Miss Gay America and then decide for yourselves if it would be something you want to do.” I really wasn’t keen on the idea. Why would I want to be involved with drag queens? I know nothing about them and frankly the ones I had seen up to that point scared me! So off we went to Little Rock, Arkansas and amid the rainy weekend, I was captivated by the talent, the glamour and the entertainment of it all. That year we saw Raquel Chevallier being crowned and the rest is history so to speak.
Fast-forward two years later. By then we had already received Regional Preliminary of the Year for Miss Gay Western States (by MGA 2005) and was honored to see our first contestant, Luscious, win Miss Gay America. We were presented with the opportunity to promote Miss Gay Arizona America and immediately we said, yes. Why wouldn’t we want to promote this pageant? Up until then we had been successful and we had formers as “friends” and really what could be different!? Boy, was I in for a rude awakening and a quick slap to reality.
August 4, 2007, Tucson, Arizona- that night at the Leo Rich Theatre we enjoyed the stepdown of Miss Gay Arizona America 06/07 Mikaila Kay and witnessed Mya McKenzie win the crown on her 2nd attempt. Looking back, that night was a prelude to a lot that would transpire throughout the next few months. Figures lurking in the shadows, waiting for us to fail or waiting for me to be vulnerable enough to not notice. About a month after MGAA 2007, I broke up with my boyfriend of 7 years and started my journey of permanently living in Phoenix, Arizona. I cannot say how thankful I am to Mya for helping me pick up the pieces and really looking after me during that time. She really had to convince her then partner, Toby to allow me to live in their guest house but at the end, that experience is what really made me a better and stronger person. This pageant was also the first time I really got the chance to meet some amazing contestants and to start to really build bonds with them. This was also the year I met the person I have always said was “The One That Got Away”, Naomi St James. More on her later...
In October 2007, I traveled to Miss Gay America in Memphis, Tennessee. That year we had 4 contestants (Mya McKenzie, Jessica Deveraux, Alina Malletti and Mikaila Kay) competing for the title. By now the ex-boyfriend agreed to still go to MGA and support the contestants that we had gained together. Little did I know he had planned to attend MGA with his new boyfriend (a month after we broke up). After I recovered from the slap to my cheek (although I needed up in a better place, more on that later) I still had to focus on those 4 contestants competing. I will always remember Luscious during that week and the love she gave to me, even when she tried to focus on her step down. I will never forget being in the dressing room as she started her give up I started crying, no balling my eyes out listening to “Everything Happens for a Reason”. I am not sure if the world knows how much Luscious means to me. But if you saw me that night, tear stained face and all, you would probably be able to paint a clear picture. At the end of that night, my 2nd contestant would be crowned Miss Gay America 2008. Former Miss Gay Arizona America Mikaila Kay! I don’t remember anything from the point when Larry & Terry called out, “First Alternate to Western…” The rest is a complete blank. I remember walking back to Mikaila’s room and seeing Luscious in the lobby yelling, “There is something about Western States!” After going back to Mikaila’s room, we told her she had to go downstairs and mingle, she looked at us and said, “I don’t have any other dresses. All I have is my gown and opening production dress.” So opening production dress it is! What a fun, memorable and life learning week. I think that week was preparing me for the challenges of what I had to face when I returned back to Arizona…
I can honestly look back and say I would not have survived my first year without Mya McKenzie as Miss Gay Arizona America. She was just as “new” as me and we really had to navigate the roads of Miss Gay Arizona America together. There are some moments when I wish I was able to give her a “better” year, a “better” step down, a “better” experience but I think we were put together for a reason. She was the ONE person that always said to me, “Daniel, don’t let them bring you down. People are afraid of change. They are not afraid of you, they are afraid of what you can do to make things different.” I had never thought of it that way. From promoting city prelims ourselves, to having male interview in the guest house, Mya was with me in every conceivable way that year. She to this day continues to be one of the most reliable formers that we have. I can count on one hand the prelims she has missed since 2007 and I wouldn’t have had that any other way because, like many will tell you, she will tell you what works and what doesn’t work. Her opinion in my eyes is more valuable than gold!
This was also the year I was approached by someone who has also been a very valuable friend and confidant, Joey Saputo, Big Booty Judy! We started this crazy journey months apart but he was very instrumental in making sure I kept focus and I kept my sanity. I shared early on with Joey my vision for Miss Gay Arizona America and he made sure that the vision I had never left my sight even when there were so many people waiting for me to get off track.
That year I also allowed myself to really be a part of the Miss Gay America family. I was able to finally have a conversation with a long time MGA promoter, Roger Dimick. He, along with Tillie Lane from Oklahoma, really intimated me when I first went to Miss Gay America. They were both promoters that I looked up to and wanted to mold MGAA after. I was honored to judge Miss Gay Maryland America for the first time that year. I accompanied Mikaila Kay, Miss Gay America, to Baltimore, Maryland and that is when my love affair for MGMA began. I met so many amazing people… Josie Foster, Joanna Blue, Jason Kueberth, Eric Gabbard, Sabrina White, Miss D Meaner and the list goes on. They really made me feel like part of the family. Almost more part of their family then the unwelcome feeling I was getting in Arizona. There were times Roger would sit me down and listen to my frustrations with promoting Miss Gay Arizona America. He always knew how to put things into perspective and really hammer home that “they don’t need to like you but they need to respect you and vice versa”. Those words have always stuck in my mind. A lot of how Miss Gay Arizona America is run today are due to me being able to be a part of the Miss Gay Maryland America family so early on in my career. I owe Miss Gay Maryland and Roger a lot more than words can say! That year I was honored to be able to crown, Tatiyanna Voche as Miss Gay Maryland America! There are not enough words to be able to write down to explain the admiration I have for Tatiyanna/Jonathan. We quickly became fast friends and that friendship has really endured the last 10 years. Through Miss Gay America, breakups, new relationships, family events and everything in between, he has always been someone that I can call and our conversations pick up where we left off. Miss Rawhide will always have a BFF in Miss Fish…always!
I was able to also go to New Orleans twice during the year. Once was for New Year’s/my Birthday with Nicole Dubois. Sharing a room with Nicole is always an adventure, and this time was no different. Between shopping at Saks, to eating at La Madeline, Miss Rawhide and the hiccups, it was probably one of the funniest birthday celebrations I have had. I was also able to attend and judge Miss Gay Louisiana America (2nd time) that year. It was always amazing to see Mikaila at her MGA prelims. I know she was young, fairly new and sometimes not well received but if people looked beyond that, she was a dynamic and entertaining performer.
So in a very small nut shell, this was my first year promoting Miss Gay Arizona America. Like any first time promoter, there were lessons learned, bridges to cross and bridges to burn. I really don't think I am prepared to take on this venture alone. Looking back there were way too many forces and individuals against be from the beginning that I could have given in and allowed myself to fail. But I remember telling myself one night, after hearing hateful and harsh things being said about me (from people in the community), "You are not one to break. They will not break you and if it takes 20 years, they will respect you!"
In September I will post Chapter 2008, where I take a closer look at the challenges and triumphs during my 2nd year of promoting Miss Gay Arizona America.