Last week i had the honor of judging 3 national USofA pageants: Miss Diva USofA, Mister USofA MI, and Mister USofA MI Classic.
Needless to say it was hard. Like really really hard.
The first thought that always crosses my mind whenever i’m asked to judge a pageant is, This is people’s art, these are people’s ideas, hopes, and dreams on the stage . . . who am i to pass judgement on them?!?!
And then i remember a few things that help ease my anxiety: i love and have been a part of this art form for over 20 years; i’ve reigned and been in the place where these contestants are wishing and vying to go; and every time i sit behind a judges table, i go into judges mode from a place of love, growth, and a deep burning desire to see (and be) a small part of their success.
But more importantly, i remind myself that competition and pageants are a choice.
As artists, when we decide to compete in a pageant we are making the conscious decision to put our art on the stage to be critiqued by 7 different people with 7 highly varying opinions. We make the choice that what’s promised at the end – the national title, the reign, the legacy – is worth subjecting our art to the opinions and critiques of others.
Whether we feel the chance of winning is worth it or not is entirely up to each individual. And win or lose, more often than naught, our feelings on it all being ‘worth it’ fluctuate.
i wanted to win the first Miss Diva USofA BADLY. It was something i had dreamt and talked about with my best friend. i knew with every fiber of being, it was worth it.
When i won, it was a learning process for all of us. No one knew what to expect . . . we were forging history – and the creation of history is hard. And i began to question – to ask myself is it worth it?
When my time came to give-up, i was ready. It was a hard but beautiful year and i was ready to pass the dream and vision to someone else. The entire week of my give-up was a mixed bag of worth-it-ness. Yes, it was worth it. No, it wasn’t. It was. It wasn’t. It could have been . . . it was. It wasn’t. It wasn’t worth me. i wasn’t worth it . . . and on and on it went. i drove home the Monday morning it was all over a bigger stranger to myself and the system than when i began.
A few days before i left for my judging duties, i revisited the question that had haunted me throughout my reign wondering once again would it all be worth it?
i wasn’t sure what my answer would be.
Now, without a shadow of a doubt, i know it was; i know it is.
i walked in at the beginning of the week clueless on what to expect, how i was going to be received, or how i was going to give the receiving.
What happened over the course of 8 days was beyond any fairytale ending. It was real. It was reality. My – our – reality.
And it was fucking UH MAZ ING!
Many of us come to the world of drag, yes because we love the art, but more so because we are outcasts from the land of misfit toys and performance searching for a space, a place to belong.
We found one, here, amongst each other.
And the biggest thing i learned all week was the one idea i found myself most resistant to at the beginning . . . i belong here, in this side of the system – the MI, the Classic, the Diva – just as much as i belong in Miss.
And so do you.
So do all of us.
They are two sides of the same coin and i am no longer choosing either/or. Instead, i am pledging the rest of my drag life to both/and. To be both sides of the coin instead of only one – or the other. To be whole. To allow myself to simultaneously grow in both directions.
Because we are meant to grow.
Because stagnation is death.
And this past week, every.single.one of you has helped me grow so so much.
My hope is that being a judge to all of your extraordinary talents i have helped you grow – if only even in a fraction of the way you have watered me.
Because when i sat down behind the judges table for the first time Sunday night, i didn’t know what i would find. What i found, felt, and experienced on a continuous loop for 8 straight days was love.
Genuine, real, love.
Love of the art form. Love of the system. Love of your visions, your dreams. But most importantly, love for each other.
Thank you from the depths of my soul for giving me the chance to experience this.
i am forever changed.
So many words of gratitude, love, thoughts, and thanks.
To all the beautiful people who competed: All 58 of you, it was truly an honor to watch you work your own brand of magic on that stage. You have all left an imprint on my art soul that i will forever carry with me both on and off stage.
To my fellow judges: Tommie, Lawanda, Kevin, Darryl, Scott, Lucinda, Marc, Xander, Katelyn to be in your company, to sit along side such legendary giants is a blessing that is far beyond any words of gratitude. i am humbled. i am starstruck. i am deeply honored to have shared this experience with each and every one of you. (i am still reeling in awe and appreciation!!)
To those stepping down: Bella, Pappa, DC, you were visions. You handled yourselves like royalty, always. Find your personal bookend because the real magic begins now 😉 – let it 🙂 .
To my class of 2014: Brandon and Easy, two years later, it still amazes me to think we were the original triad . . . the first three to reign, to fight, to succeed, and to give-up – together. i love and appreciate both of you so very much. Here’s to two hundred years more!
To the A TEAM: Chad, Sheldon, Kim, Brandon, and Amy i am fully aware of how much of my, and other’s, flawless national experience has everything and all to do with you. You are the dream team and i bow down to your geniusness. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for simply being you.
To Jerry Bird: i have dreamt of being a national titleholder in your system since seeing my first Miss prelim in the early 2000’s. So have so many others. Thank you for giving us non-traditional drag artists the space to make our dreams come true. You are truly our fairy dragfather.
To the national promoters: Devin and Gage, this is book 2 😉 . And i am excited to see what the rest of the series brings. It was an honor and privilege that is etched in my being forever. i love both you and i’m so proud of who and what you and this system is becoming. i am here for you, always.
To all the prelim promoters: There is no us without you. No week long love + drag fest without your belief, your buy-in in all of us. i have so much love, respect, and admiration for each and every one of you. You give us the greatest gift that anyone can give: the chance to pursue and live our dreams. Thank you thank you thank you for making mine and ALL of our dreams come true!
To the reigning court: Abs, Victoria, Valentino EVERYTHING HAPPENS EXACTLY WHEN IT’S SUPPOSED TO. You all were waiting to win so you could do it together. Your tenacity, your art, your heart, and the souls each of you left on the stage – that’s the shit that moves mountains, that builds bridges, that creates legends. This is your year to make history – go be legendary. And if you ever need any help, a friendly ear, or just some good energy, i am but a phone call away.
To Katelyn: You my dear, are what stars are made of. i am humbled and honored you wanted me to be a part of your first national performance. You are fucking rockstar (and Miss Diva is calling . . . 😉 )
To Roxi and Luke: From the moment i stepped into the Habana Inn, you were my home away from home. Thank you for your hospitality, the numerous food runs, and for being exactly who you are. You were/are my center in this crazy orbiting world and a true symbol of what brother/sisterhood is all about. Congrats on your ‘hood awards; i love you both.
To Jordan: i found a friendship in artistry where i least expected to find it. To say that i am happy that we finally found a common tongue is an understatement. Thank you for wanting to share the stage with me – it was kinda magical. (i’m just sad that Candace and Destiny missed it!)
To Lucas Prescott: One word: everything. Thank you for all the energy (and chips) you leant me; you truly are everything a veteran in this system should be. Congrats on your award.
To Osiris: You’re a fucking superhero. Seriously. Sending you mad love and lots of healing vibes and energy your way.
To Joe: It just wasn’t the same without you. You’ve been with me on every step of this journey and it felt weird to not have you by my side . . . but i know you and i have many more stars we are stretching to reach. And i’m looking forward to collecting them all, together 😉 .
To my partner: Candace, thank you for understanding that this art form, these people, this system are at the root of my soul. Thank you for loving me through all the E600, the tears, the anger, the love, the bitching, and the absences. i would not be the person much less the entertainer i am without your love, encouragement and strength. You are the real queen and i will forever treat you as such.
And finally . . .
To ALL my brothers and sisters: i am home. Thank you for keeping the light on while i tried to find my way.
Till next year!!
Love, light, and tons and tons of magic + success,
Brandi, you know Roxi and I love you so very very much! You are an inspiration to so many, including us! You are and forever will be our sister. And you know we’ll always be there for you! Can’t wait to see you again!!