Forget Miss America. Miss U.S.A., get out of the way!
With glitz, glam, lots of makeup and some strategically applied duct tape, Miss Gay Illinois USofA is the queen to beat.
Pageants are a big part of the drag world, drawing contestants who can demonstrate talent, poise and ultimate glamour. One of the biggest drag pageants in America is the Miss Gay USofA, according to Sharon ShareAlike, who, along with husband, Michael, has just acquired the rights to the Miss Gay Illinois USofA Pageant.
The Bloomington-Normal queen hosts the twice-monthly drag shows at the Bistro in downtown Bloomington, and was herself Miss Gay Illinois USofA in 2000. With that royal history, snapping up the rights to the Illinois pageant just seemed like a great fit, said Michael.
"This year, one of Sharon's drag daughters was Miss Gay Illinois USofA and she went to the national competition. It was there that we learned that the franchise for Illinois might be available," explained Michael. "It seemed like a challenge and it seemed fun to do. We have a lot of experience in that area, thanks to Sharon's work at the Bistro."
A drag daughter, by the way, is an up-and-coming performer who is mentored by a more experienced queen. Heavenly Rose ShareAlike is Sharon's drag daughter and the current Miss Gay Illinois USofA.
As owners of the Illinois pageant, ShareAlike and Michael have organized a series of preliminary competitions around the state to narrow down the field of queens who will compete at the main Illinois pageant Feb. 24, 2018.
"I contacted a lot of bars," said ShareAlike. "I already know a lot of them because I do shows at bars around the state. I've asked them to host a prelim, which is their own pageant, and they send the winner of that and the first alternate to compete at Miss Illinois. Right now we have four prelims and some more in the works. The great thing about the prelims is that you end up with the best contestants in the area. They're really prepared to compete at the state level."
The pageants are rigorous. The contestants have to perform in a talent competition, an evening gown competition, as well as an interview portion of the pageant. The queen that will rise to the top is one who is well-rounded, said Michael.
"The best queens fire on all cylinders, which makes them so exciting to watch," Michael said.
With the popularity of the TV show "RuPaul's Drag Race," interest in drag has been increasing in recent years, said Michael, and pageants can be a big draw in a community.
"There is definitely an audience for this type of competition. If you go to the final night at nationals, there are people there from all over the United States. And not just people who are there rooting for their favorite from their hometown, but people who just enjoy the spectacle and the competition aspect of it. I think as a whole, you see more people interested in the art of female illusion."
The Bistro in downtown Bloomington is hosting a prelim for the Miss Gay Illinois USofA Pageant on Friday, Oct. 6. The winner will go to the state competition, also being held at the Bistro, on Feb. 24.
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