Espressa Grande brings greater diversity to the Miss Gay Arizona America system with her big personality and eclectic style of drag
By Laura Latzko, July 2019 Issue.
the Miss Gay America system, contestants are encouraged to bring polished
versions of female illusion that fit with their personal styles. For recently
crowned Miss Gay Arizona America Espressa Grande (also known as Cody John
Peck), being a symbol of excellence means having a larger-than-life
personality, doing both comedic and emotional numbers and speaking her mind on
issues that are important to her.
On May 11 at the Tempe Center for the Arts,
Grande won the Miss Gay Arizona America crown and Sicarya took first alternate
as Adriana Galliano stepped down.
As the state titleholder, Grande will
become face of the state system and attend the national Miss Gay America
Pageant in October in St. Louis, Missouri.
During the state pageant, nine contestants
competed in evening gown, talent, male interview, and onstage question
Grande won the talent category with an uplifting production number set in an office, to music by Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar, and Britney Spears.
She described her journey with the hashtag #elevatedyou because, in the America system, drag queens are encouraged to be the best versions of themselves.
“At first, I
thought America wanted a certain type of drag queen, a female impersonator that
fit a certain type of mold. What I realized building my package was America
doesn’t want that. America wants an elevated you,” Grande said.
During the state pageant, Grande
represented the Miss Gay Melrose America prelim system.
Grande won during her second time competing
at the prelim. It was also her second pageant.
In its second year, the Miss Gay Melrose
America pageant is run by promoters Morgan Pearce and Jay Foster.
Leading up to the state pageant, the two
promoters helped Grande with building sets, refining her ideas, raising money and
providing emotional support.
Although Grande will now work with state
promoter Daniel Eckstrom, Pearce and Foster plan to continue to help her.
Recently, the Miss Gay America system as a
whole has undergone a makeover and started to embrace diversity on a larger
scale. Foster said titleholders such as
Grande will help to bring change within the system.
“There’s a new style of performance out
there, and we’re trying to embrace everyone and break the stereotype,” Foster
Foster said that Grande’s administrative
background, unique style of drag and a focus on the community make her a good
fit as a state titleholder.
Pearce noticed the growth in Grande when
she competed for Miss Gay Melrose America for the second time.
“She’s a phenomenal performer, but you
could see her drag change. She became a lot more refined and has realized the
importance of taking who you are but elevating yourself and pushing yourself to
the next level,” Pearce said.
Pearce said that Grande is also a strong
representative because she is charitable in and out of drag.
Within prelim systems such as Miss Gay
Melrose America, titleholders are encouraged to give back. A portion of the
pageant’s proceeds went to Project Jigsaw last year and RipplePHX this year.
As the state titleholder, Grande hopes to
work more with organizations such as RipplePHX and Hospice of the Valley, where
she works as a graphic designer in her daily life.
Miss Gay Arizona America was Grande’s first
She started doing drag three years ago as
part of a newcomer challenge at Kobalt Bar. Before that, she had done musical
theater all through and after high school.
She has also worked as a makeup artist in
Lady Christian, Empress VI for the Court of
Arizona, has been her biggest mentor.
Grande hosts the Friday night TGIF show at
Cruisin’ 7th. She started as
a show director at Cruisin 7th about a year into her drag
Grande shared her insights on being the
newest Miss Gay Arizona America during a recent interview.
Echo: Do you have any major goals during your reign?
Grande: I’m really, really excited to get started. The next day after being
crowned, I already started planning, obviously planning for nationals, which is
in October. That’s really the biggest goal at the moment is getting everything
finalized and elevated for the national pageant but also starting my reign,
which is to be in the community, inspire and help the new entertainers and also
bridge the communities between Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff. I truly want to
help bring them all together.
Echo: I’m noticing a trend in Phoenix of artistic people holding crowns.
Grande: It’s really amazing to see that artistic people outside of drag are
becoming part of the drag scene. It’s such a great time right now to be in the
drag community because there are so many different types of drag in Phoenix,
Tucson, and Flagstaff.
Echo: Have you always had a similar style of drag, or has it evolved over
Grande: In the beginning, I was very rebellious and young-minded. I wanted
to shock people. I wanted to come out and do a Top 40 number but put comedic,
tongue-in-cheek voiceovers in it. My drag has progressed over the last three
years… I feel like now my drag is very comedic, but my favorite things to do
are those emotional, gut-wrenching ballads and those human-rights, activist
monologues that I mix in with really powerful music. We are living in a society
right now where it is really scary. There’s no denying that. When an audience
comes to my show, I want them to feel inspired, and I want them to feel like
they’re not alone. I think it definitely has always been more of a campy style.
I’m always described as a campy comedy queen with a beauty queen face. I’m not
afraid to speak my mind and be unapologetically me.
Echo: Does it feel overwhelming to hold such a big title, being newer to
Grande: It was so shocking. It’s very unheard of to win Arizona America on
your first try. After it was over, I was very proud. I think the biggest thing
that I thought after walking off that stage that night was, “You can win
something like this being 100 percent yourself.”
Read more about
Espressa Grande online at phoenix.outvoices.us/espressa-g-2019.
Echo: What was the most challenging category for you?
Grande: I think the most challenging category for me was evening gown… I’ve
only been competing for about a year, so the whole gown part of it was new. I
wanted it to be something that was flattering. I’m definitely not a 5-foot-4,
110-pound soaking-wet drag queen. She’s thick and juicy. I wanted something
that was elegant, beautiful, but also wanted to make a statement that just
because you are a bigger girl, you don’t have to look matronly. You can still
be sexy, and you can still be beautiful.
Echo: That’s interesting. Most people say onstage question is their
Grande: Onstage question and male interview are actually my favorite
categories because working for Hospice of the Valley, I’m constantly working
with medical professionals, doctors and social workers. I just feel very much
in my element because I don’t feel nervous talking to people. I think that also
has to do with my theater background, being in musical theater for so long.
Echo: Have you noticed other ways that you’ve grown from doing pageants?
Grande: I definitely see growth in my taste level, as
far as costuming, performance level and talking to people, because it is a
really big part of being Miss Arizona. It’s not only the drag persona. It’s
being a leader as a man as well…When I’m not in drag, I’m still representing
the title. I feel what it has helped me with the most is being that
professional in and out of drag and also at the same time not losing myself and
not losing who I am.