“All of my friends had won the title of MGM and I wanted that – I wanted that more than anything,” McCausland explains. “I wanted people to look back after I’m gone and say, he was a part of something special, damn he was good.”
Indeed, drag doesn’t get much better than this. With its marquee of formers and top-tier contestants, the stage is set for a lavish production and epic battle of the state’s top female illusionists.
Founded in October 1973 by “River Queen” Lana Kuntz, the very foundation of MGM pageantry is cemented in St. Louis LGBT history. Born from The Mandrake Society’s annual Halloween Ball, the first contest consisted only of a walk-on-gown and talent competition. But almost instantly the pageant hatched from the city’s first LGBT rights organization produced a platform that many a drag performer embraced to serve their community.
“Thirty years later – I don’t think that feeling will ever go away,” says Vanessa Vincent, MGM 1982. “I was able to achieve many life goals outside of the drag community by being MGM 1982 – it’s how I became a hair designer, it’s how I started EFA. For me, I learned if you have something to say of substance and keep it intelligent, truthful, meaningful, and be an honest person – people will listen to you.”
“I think Miss Gay Missouri is a leader in the community and shows that we are here for the long haul,” adds Lexsus Chaney, MGM 2000. “Many MGM’s are role models for up and coming entertainers and all have taken stances and raised money on issues such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, sickle cell and organization such as AMFAR, Hope House, EFA, Doorways, Good Samaritan Project, etc. – all of which has helped raise awareness and help our brothers and sisters within the LGBT community.”
In 1974, Lana’s twin brother and fellow “River Queen” Donna Drag took over the fledgling franchise crowning a host of dynamic entertainers. Five years later, the baton was handed to “Sex, Inc.” The comedy drag trio produced the pageant for the next eight years turning MGM into the largest attended LGBT event in St. Louis. For three years in a row the contest attracted over 1000 people and the quality of winners kept pace with the ever growing crowds.
“Being Miss Gay Missouri has been one of my most treasured memories and accomplishments of my female impersonation career,” offers Melinda Ryder, MGM 1984. “I am very proud to be a part of this amazing tradition and legacy. The friendships I have made by being part of the MGM family are life-long friendships. It is truly a Sisterhood.”
As qualified contestants from throughout the state compete for Missouri’s oldest female impersonation crown, they will battle it out in the categories of evening gown, on stage question, solo talent, male interview and talent (the latter oftentimes includes sets, dancers and choreography) over three nights of competition. While the pageant, which is an official preliminary to Miss Gay America, has evolved over the years –certain things remain sacrosanct. Unlike some of her sister pageants, MGA requires that contestants be “all boy”—hence no hormones or body augmentation below the neck is allowed.
“The title of Miss Gay Missouri is the highest achievement for any entertainer,” says Vicki Valentino, MGM 1995. “The 40 year legacy of MGM is and has been the epitome of resilience and hard work of entertainers who believe in the foundation of what female impersonation started as: men entertaining as women.”
“The journey to that night was a road of joy and fear, of elation and defeat,” explains Erica Foxx of her MGM 2009 win. “For the next generation, take this to heart – learn from those who have treaded that road. Be brave to stand alone and always believe in the success you want to be. I guess my legacy would be my determination to keep “old school drag” and elegance alive.”
The duties of Miss Gay Missouri mirror that of the national title holder. The winner of the coveted sash and crown must perform at and administrate over the system’s many preliminaries throughout the Show Me State.
“It was such an honor to be crowned Miss Gay Missouri and was a wonderful stepping stone for my career,” offers Charity Case, MGM 1987, who went on to capture the title of Miss Gay America 2001 (along with Vicki Vincent, MGM 1983 and MGA 1989 and Victoria DePaula, MGM 2006 and MGA 2009). “I honed skills as Miss Missouri that allowed me to continue on and win the titles of Miss Gay Texas and Miss Gay America. I am looking forward to performing in St. Louis for the 40th anniversary with all of my Missouri sisters.”
“It’s the chance to travel the state and both work and learn from others,” concludes Jade Sinclair, MGM 2007. “In your year you have the chance to be directly involved with every qualified contestant. It is also a landmark accomplishment in one’s career. As Miss Gay Missouri you have the opportunity to be heard as you address thousands of preliminary audiences statewide.”
MGM has been owned by a variety of entities since 1987 – from the Miss Gay Missouri Alumni, Daniel Flier (Vanessa Vincent) and Chuck Atteberry (Sex, Inc.), to Joie DiMercurio (Tumara Mahorning, MGM 1992). Since 2010, the MGM Alumni Board has owned and operated the pageant. The Board consists of former MGM’s Vanessa Vincent, Lexsus Chaney, Dieta Pepsi, Jade Sinclair, Atheena Voce’ and the current reigning Miss Gay Missouri. MGM is the second oldest preliminary to MGA.
While the storied contest has been held in every major city throughout the state, most recently in Columbia for the past two years, it is only appropriate that it returns to the city of its birth for this, its ruby anniversary.
The Miss Gay Missouri, America Pageant: Showgirls – Forty and Fabulous honoring MGM 2012 Michelle McCausland and featuring Miss Gay America 2013 Sally Sparkles takes place April 11-13 at The Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis (MCCGSL. For ticket and further information check out www.mgmpageantry.com or find them on Facebook: Miss Gay Missouri, America Pageant.