By Laura Latzko, March 12, 2015.
Gene Montoya has been a dancer all his life. In fact, it was dance that fled him to the California’s drag scene at age 18, where he first stepped into the spotlight as Sole Valentino.
The reigning 2014 Miss Gay California USofA Newcomer, who currently lives in Los Angeles, was crowned 2015 Miss Gay Supernova USofA Newcomer in the regional pageant Feb. 22 at Cruisin’ 7th in Phoenix.
Valentino, who recently performed with Arizona drag queens Kira Daniels and Adriana Galliano during a Top Five Texas Tour, became the fifth winner of the Arizona-based newcomer pageant after placing in the top five during her first time at nationals last year.
Echo caught up with Valentino to talks pageantry, drag, dance and the Texas tour following her recent victory.
Echo: Tell me about how your time as a backup dancer contributed to your drag career.
Valentino: I’ve always danced, since I can remember – since way back in 4th grade. I was always watching videos of Janet, Jennifer Lopez and Paul Abdul, and I was like, “I can do that.” At 23, I moved out to LA to pursue the dance thing … and I’ve done some successful things here, but I’ve always wanted to impersonate the person. I started dancing behind the girls in the pageants, in Continental and USofA, and it just made me realize, “I can do this. With as much passion as I have behind it and dedication that I am going to put forward, I don’t see why I can’t do it.” And I’ve proven to myself that I can do it.
Echo: Are you trained as a dancer or did it come natural?
Valentino: I always tell people it came natural for me because I’ve always just watched it and mimicked it. I did take some classes in high school and when I moved [to LA] – you have to be in the dance scene to hear about jobs and auditions – so I do have a little bit of training under my belt. I love to dance … if there’s something I don’t know how to do, technically, that’s what gives me more of a drive to push harder to do it.
Echo: Is drag in different a lot different from California?
Valentino: I can say it is, but I like that it is different because it separates the states. [In LA], they are more female illusion than big hair and hard makeup. They want to be a little softer and a little more feminine. I have conformed to blending the two. Not everything will be beaded, but some stuff will. Not everything will be big hair, but some stuff will. I’ll also keep the California style, have a little bit of fashion, have a little bit of risk-taking with some of the dresses.
Echo: What made you decided to start in the Newcomer system last year?
Valentino: It really allows you to learn a lot and to become more than what you are when you first start. It gives you three chances to become as we call seasoned – to learn makeup, hair and what to wear – I really do love that. [It’s also] advocates for the girls to get somewhere, if they have a dream to be Miss Gay USofA, they have three years of experiencing what it’s like to be in a pageant and how to prepare mentally, physically and emotionally.
Echo: How do you feel you’ve grown since becoming involved in the Newcomer system?
Valentino: The one thing that I have brought differently, because they asked me, was comfort: to be able to be comfortable in interview, gown and talent. In the first year of running you get a lot of emotions, sometimes they are very hard to control and sometimes they get the best of you. You have anxiety, frustration, confusion and anger, and when it comes time to compete, oh my God. The second time around, I was able to know myself and be more comfortable and be familiar with faces and people.
Echo: What will you take away from the judge critiques from Supernova?
Valentino: They just said never to lose the passion, never lose the personality. They said, “Never lose that. That right there lets us know who you are and where you come from and the fact that you can open up and speak about it and be you.”
Echo: What advice do you have for drag queens just starting out in the industry.
Valentino: It will come so easy. Just relax, take a deep breath and just act like you’re talking with friends. At the end of the day, [judges] are just people, and they become friends because they will be able to tell you what was good and what was bad and help you along the way.