Lipstick, Powder and Paint #4

First time we hit the road for a pageant trip, Arnold wasn’t a contestant. He was going to be a back-up dancer for Dee Ranged, a friend who was a contestant.  Arnold’s job was to dress as a penguin, if I remember correctly. He seemed to be really looking forward to this. We drove up to one of those towns in Ohio that starts with a C, to attend the pageant. Arnold packed a nice picnic lunch for us (would you expect anything less?) and we were on our way. This was also my very first time to take pictures at a pageant. I was enjoying it, and starting to feel a real creative stir, but I was also really technically stressed. To shoot in that crazy lighting, dodging people, and by trial and error learning how to take pictures that were very different from jewelry on models and product shots, all with much more control involved.  Editing so many pictures….shot in such weird lighting….all while I was trying to be very polite and discreet….and at the same time, figure out my fairly complicated camera, which I quickly realized I didn’t know squat about. It was a stretch. And, I am sorry I didn’t keep any of the penguin pictures. Little did I know I would really have liked to have had one for this little piece.

The pageant was The All American Goddess Pageant. The year might have been 2010. The woman who ran it and also was performing onstage during this photo was Candi Stratton, whose gender at birth was male. She told a story about how she got into pageants, after transitioning. She basically realized that drag performance is just what she loves and understands. Her energy was very refreshing, and her self-confidence was impressive. She came in for an afternoon practice  looking like a woman who going to work..hard. Then she appeared in the evening looking like this photo.This particular pageant is open to anyone who works through the system to compete, regardless of what their gender identity is. It is just about doing great drag.

We had fun staying at some little interstate motel. I’m sure you’re dying to know….we always shared a room. Arnold is one of the easiest people to share a room with and remain completely modest that I have ever taken a trip with. He also doesn’t snore. Now, the make-up in the bathroom thing sort of keeps him from being perfect. Arnold spent most of his daytime hours working on the penguin costume. I could see how much he puts his heart and soul into everything he does.I spent most of my day trying to figure out how to photoshop these pictures and I admit, I was pleased with some of these first attempts. This, in fact, was my very first drag pageant photo. That strange double-exposure effect was a happy accident. I only had one chance at this shot because security made me move from that perfect spot.

Margaret as Red Marilyn

I feel a little like an egomaniac posting two self-portraits in a row. In fact, I hesitated to use this photo for that very reason. I did have an alternate. But the moment the assignment came to use a photo that was RED, then I just knew that this is my favorite picture using that color. The mood of it is red, and it recalls a very famous red scene in a classic movie. I call a lot of my photos with me as the subject “self” portraits. In fact, I usually involve someone else to actually push the button. This person is usually Andrew or Fred. Truthfully, doing portrait after portrait of myself is a very liberating activity for me. And as another photographer said, “If you like to do self-portraits you will always have a willing model.

There is a little story behind this picture, inspired by Miss Monroe in “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. I had been doing a series of photos to promote my jewelry using various local women portraying famous people. I called it “Icons and Divas.” During this time I was also spending more and more time with friends who perform as female impersonators. And, as I once said, “If you hang out with drag queens you’ll end up wearing false eyelashes”. You just will. So, when it was time to do a shoot with Marilyn I decided, “Why not?” Let’s face it. Many little girls have fantasized about Miss Monroe…what it would be like to be her, what it would be like to know her intimately. This photo is a testimony to the amazing skills of my pals Andrew Pentecost (Angel Electra) and Arnold Myint (Suzy Wong). Andrew did this makeup job that is so another side of me that I had never seen, and Arnold loaned me the dress and helped style the photo. What an incredible fun night. I think we did this photo about five years ago, when I was 68.

Happy Birthday to my Spiritual Son, Andrew, and my Magical Daughter, Angel Electra

The picture here is of Andrew Pentecost, both as himself and as his drag persona, Angel Electra. This was a fun project we did a while back, using two images in one photo to tell a love story. I particularly like this photo. I think it captures a moment that can be typical in relationships. One person is totally engrossed in something that has nothing to do with the other person. The other person is curious as to what could possibly be more interesting than them, and secretly looks on to see.

Andrew and I have a very special mother/son relationship. We are alike in so many ways, and frequently serve as each other’s therapist. I never really wanted to have children, but as I have gotten to know Andrew, I realize that if I had, he would have been the perfect son for me. I love him dearly.

Today is Andrew’s birthday, so I’m thinking of him. Professionally, Andrew is a makeup artist, and a very good one. He can take anyone and make them into their most beautiful self. I have spent many hours watching him change himself to Angel. Such a process. I honestly have no idea how many photos I’ve taken of him. He is a fascinating subject to photograph, because he truly becomes another person as a result of the makeup process. I love to photograph him as he is studying his face, applying the makeup, and doing all the other steps that go into this change. The finish is always flawless.

I have also watched him do makeup on many women for photos I was about to take. The results never cease to amaze me. My approach to making up my own face (and the faces of others I am photographing if Andrew isn’t there to help) has radically changed because of what I’ve learned from him. Andrew is an artist in so many different ways. He is also a great teacher. Knowing him has enriched my life, and brought out a maternal side of me that I enjoy expressing. I know that we will always be connected, no matter where our different paths may take us.

Pageant. Day Two. Let the Games Begin.

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Pageant, Day Two. Let the Games Begin.

Today the action started at the Millennium Hotel in St Louis. The day began with all the candidates being divided into groups which determines who does what, when. My friend, Suzy, was quite pleased to be in Group Three. This means that today will be Male Interview. This involves coming across as a very together dude (who just happens to wear gowns and wigs). I have no doubt that Arnold (Suzy) will do well with this category, as he, in fact, is a very together dude. Tomorrow the Group Three contestants will do their main talent number. I can’t tell you what his talent number is today, as this is very top secret. I have, however, watched the rehearsal and I can tell you it is pretty cool.
On Friday, the job will be Solo Talent and Evening Gown. So, this is the schedule for Group Three. The guys in Groups One and Two will do these same categories, but at different times. All of this happens today, tomorrow, and Friday. Saturday night some of the awards will be presented and the former Miss Gay Americas who are here will be performing. (Kirby Kolby is in the house!)
I thought you might like to meet a couple of the other contestants. At the top of the page you see Arnold/Suzy with Dextaci, from Monroe,Louisiana. This young man does an incredible impersonation of Wynonna Judd. I saw him do this last year and thought he was lip-syncing. But, no, he was singing in his own voice. For his day job, Dex works in a bank.
I also enjoyed meeting Miss Gay California, Paju Monro. He is a very handsome guy and I’m sure is going to have some serious wow factor in a wig and makeup. And, yes, I’m sure he’ll shave before he hits the stage. When he isn’t doing his thing, Paju is a flight attendant.
Arnold is almost dressed now for male interview. White shirt, tie, slacks, blazer; crisp, handsome, dude.

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Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Four. Miss Gay Middle Tennessee America, Giselle Nicole

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Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Four. Miss Gay Middle Tennessee, Giselle Nicole

It takes a while during a pageant for the contestants to change costumes and re-do makeup and lord knows what else. And the promoters don’t want the audience to get restless. It’s during these intermissions when some of the most fun talent of the evening happens. (And, here’s a compliment to the pageants in the Miss Gay America system: they start on time and run like clockwork). Usually at a pageant, former title holders come in as guest performers to take the stage while the competitors are making their changes and the judges are having their pow-wows. These queens are seasoned performers, having been on the pageant circuit for a while, and they are working the crowd. Some of the most amazing performances I’ve personally ever seen were at last year’s Miss Gay America Pageant, where there were several former title holders giving it all they had. Also, during these periods in a pageant the current title holder will perform. For this year’s Miss Gay Tennessee America I’m sure that my pal Suzy Wong will be making a spectacle of herself in the most wonderful way possible. Suzy has decided to donate all her tips for the evening of the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant to the Nashville Rescue Mission.
I am also looking forward to seeing Sally Sparkles – her name describes her personality, both onstage and off, what a sweetheart – the current Miss Gay America, and Kirby Kolby, Miss Gay America 2012. I have to confess, Kirby is one of my very favorite performers. His energy is incredible, and he serves high drama. I could see him on Broadway, as either a glamorous female diva, or a dramatic male lead. Watching him on stage is real theatre. (He is also one of the best looking men I’ve ever seen. There, I said it.)
Let’s talk about tipping at pageants. It is important to bring lots of dollar bills to any show involving female impersonators. Their tips are an important part of the performer’s income. They have an enormous overhead to look the way they do, and they work as hard as any entertainers you’ll ever see anywhere. Personally, when I go to a show I usually tip every queen involved. Anyone who is willing to go through the changes involved (literally and figuratively) to entertain in this art form definitely deserves a tip. Get up to the edge of the stage and tip your queens, but if you are watching a pageant don’t tip the competitors. That’s a no-no. But applaud them as loudly as possible. And feel free to cheer.
But for now here is a little moment with the beautiful and charming Miss Gay Middle Tennessee America, Giselle Nicole. (Giselle’s first alternate is Jasmine St. James and I hear she is fierce).
Giselle has participated in 7 pageants, with her win of Miss Gay Middle Tennessee being a step up to the next level. The real women who have been her role models are not movie stars or celebrities, but the women who are in her own family; sisters, grandmother, aunts, and her mom. When I asked her if there were other female impersonators who she especially admired, I liked her answer. “Those that have come before me and have paved the way for me to do what I do today.” There is a real history involved in this art form, and Giselle understands and appreciates that.
Giselle’s long-term plan is to become a superstar and cross over into mainstream media as Giselle Nicole. She has trained in musical theatre in the prestigious conservatory AMDA in New York. This crossover “is looking pretty good. I just wrapped up ‘The Boulevard’, a film with Robin Williams and fellow sister Paige Turner. I also have done some extra work on the tv show, ‘Nashville.’ ”
I loved the answer Giselle gave me when I asked who her biggest supporter had been.
“My dad who passed about two months ago was my biggest fan, mentor, and coach. I know that sounds a little strange but he was. I would talk to him on the days of my pageants and he would give me the best pep talks. We talked about pageants like it was football. I was so proud of him because he was a heterosexual male and had no problems telling me how proud he was of me. He would show my pictures to everyone he knew.”

Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part 2. Miss Gay Memphis America, Iris Le’Fluer

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Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part 2. Miss Gay Memphis America, Iris Le’Fluer

Before I continue with the presentation of the preliminary winners for the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, which will be held in Nashville at Play on September 15, I’ll tell you a bit about the categories that the contestants compete in. They make their initial appearance in an introductory walk across the stage and down the runway called Presentation. This is where they tell the audience (and judges) a little bit about themselves and have a chance to show off their personalities. The category of Male Interview is not seen by the audience. This takes place before the performance part of the pageant begins and for this one the contestants appear before the judges as their male selves. They are asked questions about their lives without the wig. There are two talent presentations. One is Solo Talent where only the performer is on stage and works solo and there is the Production Number, which usually involves back-up dancers, props–the bigger the show the better.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the other two categories, Evening Gown and Question and Answer. But right now I’d like you to meet another of the beautiful preliminary winners, Iris La’Fluer, Miss Gay Memphis America. (The first alternate for Miss Gay Memphis America is Tyra Hunter. I have seen her perform before and I know she will bring it. She is a great dancer.)
Iris “comes from a small country town but has big city dreams.” He knew early on that he was a born queen. “When I was little I used to dress up in my mom’s clothes and do shows for my grandmother. I always wanted to hit the stage!” The rest is history, or I should say, her story, because Iris has been performing ever since. She started entering pageants in 2010 and has placed first or second alternate in every pageant she’s entered–except for the ones where she has been crowned the winner. Her most exciting win is the title of Miss Gay Memphis America, and that is what she will be competing as in the upcoming Miss Gay Tennessee America pageant. Her greatest cheerleaders have been her partner of three years, Chris, and her mother, who has been her dresser and has appeared in her talent. Her mother and her grandmother are the real women who have inspired her the most.
Looking into the future, Iris says that the title of Miss Gay Tennessee America is something she won’t give up on. She is considering several possibilities for life without the wig as well. One of those is becoming a makeup artist, where she could put her skills to good use. Iris gives special credit to two former Miss Gay Tennessee Americas, Anita MsCocktail and Pat McCooter have been especially helpful to her during this particular pageant experience.

Miss Gay Tennessee America. Part One. Miss Gay East Tennessee America, Katie Love.

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Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part One. Miss Gay East Tennessee America, Katie Love.

I have had the pleasure of photographing the four winners of the preliminary contests leading up to the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, which will be held in Nashville at Play on Sunday, September 15. This has proven to be one of my favorite projects and I have enjoyed spending time with each one of these unique individuals. They will be competing not only against each other, but also against the first alternates from each of the preliminaries. This should prove to be a very entertaining event, heightened by performances and appearances from the reigning Miss Gay Tennessee, Suzy Wong (who will be competing at Miss Gay America as the current Miss Mid America), Sally Sparkles, the current Miss Gay America, and Kirby Kolby, Miss Gay America, 2012. I am sure the talent line up will include many other great performers in the wonderful world of female impersonation. I was happy to learn that the very witty Anita Ms Cocktail will be at the podium, serving up some of that diva-glamour-humor that she does so well. The promoter for this event, Jeffery Culbert, will be on hand, and it is always great to see the Miss Gay America guys, Terry Eason and Larry Tyger. And the one who started this whole thing, the grand guru himself, Jerry Peek, will also be in the house.
Since I have enjoyed getting to know these fascinating illusionists, I thought it would be fun to share a bit about them with you. If you are a Pageant novice, these posts will prepare you to get the most out of the pageant. Today I want you to meet a contestant who is as personable as she is pretty-Katie Love, Miss East Tennessee America. (The first alternate was PurrZsa Kyttyn-Azrael, and I look forward to meeting her at the pageant).

Katie is happy that her mother plans to attend this pageant and watch her perform for the very first time. She has enjoyed experiencing the sense of family that comes from working closely with others in the Miss Gay America pageant system. Winning the title of Miss Gay East Tennessee was a thrill to her, and this was the first time she had entered a pageant that was part of a national system. She had “practiced” a bit with some local contests, and saw each one as an opportunity to learn more. Her biggest cheerleaders are her ex-boyfriend, who is now her best friend, and her current boyfriend, who is her soul mate. This is just a snapshot of what great people skills Katie has. She makes this work beautifully. She exudes the kind of spirit that feels like she must get along with everyone who is fortunate enough to cross her path.
She has a very positive, upbeat attitude. I loved her answer when I asked her what she thought she’d be doing in five years. “In five years I see myself preparing for the Miss Gay Tennessee Pageant. This will either be to enter because I haven’t won yet, or because I have and I am here to entertain. I am a fighter and I don’t believe in giving up until you have achieved your goals.”

Two for the Price of One

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Arnold Myint, aka Suzy Wong, being crowned Miss Gay Mid-America

Two for the Price of One

This post is a tribute to my friend Arnold Myint, aka Suzy Wong. There are many sides to Arnold. He is as high-energy as it gets and can do a million things at once. He is always on the go, always has a project in the works, and will not settle for anything less than perfection.

Arnold is a phenomenal chef and a very giving person. One picture of this is that he recently raised top dollars for Nashville Cares during Dining Out for Life., combining his life as a chef with his passion for giving.

But, I’m not here to rave about his cooking, I want to talk to you about his drag. You see, I happen to love drag queens. The art of female impersonation has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. A lot of people just think of drag as a man in a dress, but it is so much more than that. I have watched Arnold develop the character of Suzy Wong from the beginning. In fact, the beginning was when Andrew Pentecost, the most incredible makeup artist I know, came to my house and turned Arnold into Suzy for one of my jewelry ads. We had a blast that night. Then Suzy started showing up more and more frequently. Suzy was turning into a brand, and Arnold found ways to combine his skills as a chef with Suzy’s skills as an entertainer. (An example of this is that at the New York Pride celebration recently Suzy was the cocktail queen for Absolut vodka). Arnold was once a professional skater, and he missed the fun of putting on makeup and shiny costumes and being in the spotlight. Suzy came in on 6″ platform heels rather than skates but the same Arnold was underneath the wig.

What came next for Suzy was pageants. There are all sorts of drag queens. Pageant queens are in a world of their own. Arnold and I drove to Cincinnati three summers ago to see a pageant together. He was a backup dancer for one of the contestants. I could see the handwriting on the wall. Arnold is a real competitor and had his eyes on a crown. So, last October I went along to the Miss Gay America Pageant in Columbus, Ohio as the chief cheerleader and confidante of Miss Gay Tennessee America, my gal pal, Suzy Wong.

This past spring Suzy won the crown of Miss Gay Mid-America, and, as the acting Miss Gay Tennessee, has worked very hard to support all the contestants in the preliminary pageants leading up to Miss Gay Tennessee, 2014. I have been very happy to do the photos for the Miss Gay Tennessee website. It has given me a chance to photograph some very interesting female impersonators and has also given me a chance to watch Arnold at work. He has been so incredibly helpful and supportive to everyone I have photographed. His genuine love for this art form, and his genuine love for helping others has shown through every time, even though some of these people will eventually be his competitors in the upcoming Miss Gay America Pageant in St. Louis this October. Once again I look forward to going along as his right-hand pal. No matter what the outcome of the contest, I know my friend Arnold will be a good sport and a source of positive energy for everyone who crosses his path. That’s just how Suzy rolls.