It wasn’t long after men realized that transforming themselves into female-impersonating performers was an art form that the drag pageant also came into existence. Some of the United States’ longest running drag pageant events — Miss Gay America, Miss Continental, Miss Gay USofA — have existed for nearly five decades, each offering a unique perspective on the art and accomplishment of drag. Now, here comes Alaska — Drag Race Season 5 contestant and All Stars 2 champion — to reinvigorate the drag pageant category with a twist all his own. The first-ever “Drag Queen of the Year” pageant will take place in Los Angeles this May.
This live competition, taking place at L.A.’s Montalbán Theatre the weekend of DragCon L.A., has quite the lofty goal: to find “the best drag performer in the whole wide world.” And to do so, Drag Queen of the Year can’t cut any corners or put restrictions on those competing — which means contestants will be more diverse and all-inclusive than any drag pageant to come before.
Part of the reasoning for that inclusiveness is Alaska’s desire to shine a light on queens who aren’t represented in the current pageant system or in episodes of the hit reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“This is a stage for them to shine and be their best,” Alaska tells Hornet, noting that contestants for this first-ever Drag Queen of the Year pageant include trans artists, hyper queens, (“assigned female at birth”) AFAB queens and baby queens. Important for Alaska is that these competitors are “representative of the drag world as it exists in 2019.”
“Judged upon the criteria of presence, energy, nuance, integrity and stunningness, this is a pageant for everyone,” reads a previously released statement.
The eventual winner of Drag Queen of the Year will take home a crown, a sash, a bouquet of “very nice flowers,” a cash prize of 10,000 dollars (“via PayPal,” Alaska says) and — maybe most important of all — the incomparable title of “Drag Queen of the Year.”
“The influx of applicants has been beyond any of our expectations,” Alaska says. “It’s been incredibly inspiring to see all of these queens showing such inventiveness and creativity and talent.” (It should be noted that submissions for the pageant are currently closed.)
Rather than having contestants be personally chosen by Alaska, those competing in Drag Queen of the Year will be chosen by what Alaska describes as “an anonymous panel of mysterious Drag Elders.” He tells us, “Who actually gets to compete is not up to me.”
“Pageants and competitions have always been a part of me, as they are for a lot of queens,” Alaska tells us, though the spark for wanting to craft this all-new, full-fledged drag pageant was lit two years ago when he produced a “Night of 5,000 Alaskas” event and hosted an Alaska lookalike competition. “I was blown away by the inventiveness and creativity that the queens brought,” he says. “So I thought, why not take this experience to the next level?”
Alaska also has personal experience competing in a drag pageant or two, albeit with mixed outcomes: “My first time performing in drag was at Chi Chi LaRue’s Fishbowl contest, where the contestants had to pick their song out of a fish bowl onstage and then perform it. I chose ‘How Many Licks’ by Lil’ Kim (to which I know every word), and I won the contest. The second show I ever did was the Miss Pegasus Pageant in Pittsburgh, where I was read for filth and came in dead last.”
If you (like myself, admittedly) thought for a second that Drag Queen of the Year would be a Christopher Guest-esque spoof of the drag pageant, you’d be wrong, as Alaska assures us. “I hope it has all the intensity of a legitimate pageant,” he says. “That’s what I love about pageants. In Pittsburgh we used to go see Miss Tri-State and the energy in the theatre is electrifying — people screaming and shouting and beating the walls. That element of competition ensures that not only the contestants bring their best, but it raises the stakes for the audience as well.”
Drag Queen of the Year will also feature celebrity guest judges, though Alaska is keeping mum about revealing who those guests will be. One judge has been announced — Alaska’s fellow Drag Race alum and co-host of the popular podcast Race Chaser, Willam. Alaska jokes about welcoming him to the Drag Queen of the Year family, “At the ‘Night of 5,000 Alaskas’ pageant two years ago, Willam was a judge, but unfortunately her score sheets were so unintelligible, illegible and incomplete that they almost derailed the entire selection process. This pageant will be an opportunity for her to make up for this debacle.”
Open to all ages, this new drag pageant will also feature a raffle and auction component (featuring donated celebrity items) and lifetime achievement awards. It will also benefit a great cause, as Alaska tells us the L.A. LGBT Center will be receiving the night’s proceeds. It’s a local organization that’s close to this Angeleno transplant’s heart.
“It’s hard being a kid in general, but to be a queer kid growing up in America can be incredibly difficult,” Alaska says. “I have friends and loved ones who have benefited directly from the services offered by the L.A. LGBT Center, and so to have a chance to give back to them is really an honor.”
And what could be more on-brand for this Drag Race Hall of Fame-r than ‘giving back’ to the community by producing a raucous, all-inclusive drag pageant, honoring the art form he’s so dedicated to?