*This article available in February print magazine
The Rock, a Melrose neighborhood bar, has been hosting female impersonators for years. This Street Fair, their theatrics will spill outdoors as drag queens compete to represent Melrose, and then Arizona in the national Ms. Gay America pageant.
“We have a huge respect for the drag community, how hard they work and what they’re all about,” said Morgan Pearce, manager at The Rock and pageant co-owner. “They provide entertainment and raise money for charities.”
Ms. Gay Melrose-America is now the sixth pageant preliminary in Arizona. Others include Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson, and more. “My (pageant) partner Jay Foster and I talked about being involved in the drag community, but neither of us do drag,” Pearce said. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to help them fulfill their dreams.” The Rock
received filed for an extension on their liquor license to serve drinks outdoors in the arena/stage they will build for the event March 3rd. (Hearing Feb. 15 @ 9 a.m.)
Judging will begin at 10 a.m. with interviews of male contestants in professional attire, and go until a winner is announced after 8 p.m. Along the way, queens will impersonate Madonna, perform a talent, and answer randomly selected questions from a panel of judges.”
Spectators will be entertained in between rounds by performances from home-grown pop-celebrities like Phoenix’s Oscar Hernandez, who electrified judges of America’s Got Talent with almost hypnotic dance moves in 2017. Admission is free until 4 p.m. then $15 for general public and $50 for V.I.P. Hernandez is expected at 5 p.m.
The winner and first alternate will receive a cash prize and support for the state competition. M.G.M.A. will donate the balance to Project Jigsaw, which helps same-sex couples adopt children. “It’s not just about drag or being gay,” Pearce said. “We’re actually trying to help.” He reported they’ve raised about $1000 for Jigsaw and wants to raise $4k more by Street Fair.
“We try to hold the same standards as (straight) Ms. America,” Pearce added thoughtfully. “We’re looking for (queens) who are honest and trustworthy, who are looking to provide excellence in our community and give back.” Though Pearce won’t identify judges until the pageant, he said they may be local personalities or business professionals. “I want to see each (queen) bring who they really are and what they do best,” Pearce said. “What it’s going to boil down to is who wants it the most.”
Not all queens identify as gay, but drag shows have been part of LGBT nightlife for decades. Usually themed around popular culture, queens often imitate well known female icons, often in ways that glorify, but also poke fun. There is rarely a topic too personal or too blatant for queens, and their performances often include singing, dancing, or lip-syncing.
“Drag queens have some of the most raunchy, vulgar humor,” described Chase Parker, a professional who lives in Melrose. “Coming from corporate America, on a Friday night it’s a great release and freedom.” Parker, 31, doesn’t attend drag shows as frequently as many LGBT do, but he appreciates their function. “I think the humor is a product of a repressed culture,” he explained. “Historically, you couldn’t be who you are in public, you had to go to a bar and hide behind a curtain.”
Parker, who prefers male partners, went to high school in Gilbert. He thinks of Melrose as a safe place. “All the businesses here support our culture,” he said. “You can walk down the street holding hands with your boyfriend and it’s totally fine.” As for drag specifically, he thinks it’s becoming more public. “Even my dad asked, ‘why haven’t you taken me to a drag show?”
A public event, Pearce said he expects M.G.M.A. to be more suited to a general adult audience. “We are a part of this community and showing what we’re really about,” he said. “We’re giving the public an opportunity to engage.” M.G.M.A. has been working with Melrose associations and the City of Phoenix for months. “It’s been quite the undertaking,” he said. “We very easily could have had this inside but I don’t think it would have had the same effect.” M.G.M.A. is sponsored by several local businesses including The Rock, Stacy’s @ Melrose, The Original Wineburger, and Open Wide Dental, as well as numerous professional services that cater to the drag community. The pageant will accept candidates through Feb. 15.