Miss Gay America, an annual female impersonation pageant founded in Nashville, is set to return to its hometown for the first time on October 8–12, 2014. Jerry Peek started MGA in 1972 in his Nashville bar, the Watch Your Hat and Coat Saloon. Jerry founded the pageant because “back in the dark ages, my 20s, just about every gay person watched the Miss America pageant religiously. At my club, the reaction to the female impersonation shows was phenomenal. It just struck me that there should be a contest to showcase these amazingly talented people.”

Peek is rightfully proud of the pageant. “Thanks to Norma Kristie, then Larry Tiger and Terry Eason, the vision I had all those years ago has become the longest continuous running pageant for female impersonators in the world.” Forty-two years later, Miss Gay America (MGA) holds a reputation for being one of the largest, most prestigious, and most respected of such pageants.

Contestants demonstrate that they have what it takes to be performers through creative, sophisticated, and elegant performers. The pageant encourages the growth of the art form that is female impersonation. It highlights a contestant’s ability to separate himself from his onstage female persona while still conveying a believable female illusion without alteration of the body.

The pageant operates on a model very similar to Miss America or Miss USA. Contestants progress through regional and state competitions, with each state’s winner and one alternate advancing to the national pageant. Each contestant then participates in four days of competition that include talent, male interview, solo talent, and evening gown.

Talents include live vocals, dance and comedy skits, but lip syncing is the most popular route. The male interview allows the judges to become more familiar with the contestants and to judge their transformation in drag more accurately. On the final night, the top ten contestants advance to the onstage question and evening gown portions. The queen crowned MGA will receive a cash prize, jewelry, and sponsorship opportunities.

MGA will bring contestants from all over the nation to Nashville for a fierce competition. Tennessee will be represented by Miss Gay TN America Iris Le’Fluer (pictured at right) and first alternate Bella Duballe, both of Memphis (which, incidentally, is where the state competition was held). Nashville native and celebrity chef Arnold Myint’s alter ego, Suzy Wong, will also be competing, representing Miss Gay California as first alternate.

This will be Myint’s third year competing in the pageant. Formerly Miss Gay Tennessee and Miss Mid America, he looks forward to representing his other home, California. “My decision to qualify through a preliminary on the West Coast was simple,” he said. “This is a National Pageant and I feel that I owe it to myself to learn and develop bonds from coast to coast.”

Myint, who became enamored of the glamour and beauty of the Lady-Boy productions he attended with his family while on vacation in Thailand, views his identity as a brand. He feels his approach will be mutually beneficial to him and to the pageant. “Marketing is key to the success of any business. MGA is just that, a business: one that requires commitment, focus, and vision.” Should he win, Myint hopes to use his platform to contribute to the pageant’s legacy and to develop the reputation of both MGA and Suzy Wong.

Organizer Jerry Peek is among those most excited about the pageant’s return to Nashville. Ever since he met Tiger and Eason, the pageant’s current owners, he’s been encouraging them to bring MGA back to Nashville “just once before I actually [make] my final exit. Thankfully they have made it possible for me to see my dream realized. I will forever be grateful to them. I actually don’t have words to describe how much it means to me.”

 

 

 

Photo of Suzy Wong by Kevin Reed

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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