Miss Gay Arizona America pageant vogues its way into the Tempe Center for the Arts this weekend.
Ten contestants will face off, competing in a variety of categories: presentation, talent, evening gown, and onstage questions. An additional consideration each potential Miss Gay Arizona America contestant has to contend with: staying on theme.
"The reigning Miss from each year gets to pick next year's pageant theme," says Olivia Gardens, the title holder for 2017 Miss Gay Arizona America. When Gardens won last year, the theme was Excellence Is Forever. "It was sort of a James Bond theme," Gardens says.
For this year's pageant, Gardens picked a theme that was close to her heart.
"I selected Ohana for this year because I'm a native Hawaiian, so it's a way for me to represent my culture to the audience. Ohana in Hawaiian culture means 'family,' and it extends beyond core family to include friends, your community, and with those you share common bonds ... All of the Miss Gay Arizona contestants, the former winners, the staff that supports us, the fans that come out each year to cheer us one: We consider ourselves to be one big family."
Gardens has been an active member of the drag community in Arizona for years (she won Best Drag Queen in our 2015 Best of Phoenix issue). She hosts a weekly Drag Bingo night at Kobalt Bar (Mondays, 9 p.m.). She's the first Filipino-American to hold the title of Miss Gay Arizona America in the 32 years the pageant has been running, a title and distinction she's proud to hold.
"It's certainly a level of prestige for those of us within the female impersonation industry. Miss Gay Arizona America is one of the longest-running and most recognized pageants in the state as well as in the nation," Gardens says. "I've been invited to perform at other drag pageants throughout the year, and to fundraisers for different charities."
Charity is an important aspect of the pageant: the group is working with the Miss Gay America Excellence Foundation, and will be providing a $5,000 scholarship to an LGBT-identified community member during the pageant. The Excellence Foundation, according to Gardens, "provides fundraising for LGBT charities within each community throughout the country, wherever a Miss Gay America preliminary pageant occurs."
Gardens will help preside over this year's pageant, along with Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station. In addition to the pageant contests, there will also be live entertainment throughout the evening. But for Gardens, the real fun is seeing the creativity of her community flourish into full being onstage. She still marvels at some of the inventive routines she's seen at past pageants.
"Celia Putty had a talent number that was completely unique: She did a game show," Gardens reminisces. "The set pieces and the props she used! The number of dancers and actors onstage with her ... The concept she came up was one of the most clever things I’ve seen in the nine years I’ve participated in and watched drag pageants."
This year's Miss Gay Arizona America pageant is Sunday, June 17, at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Tickets are still available via the TCA box office.