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Volume 34
Issue 21
 
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ICON with a Heart of Gold Aleksa Manila Talks About Drag, SCS and 'ICON Idol'
ICON with a Heart of Gold Aleksa Manila Talks About Drag, SCS and 'ICON Idol'
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Aleksa Manila is a Seattle icon. The former Miss Gay Seattle and the reigning Imperial Court of Seattle (ISCSORE) Empress Olympia XXXV has been a community stalwart for almost a decade, showing up at fundraisers, political rallies, live concerts and various other events throughout Washington, Oregon and California. She's been seen working for nonprofits as multifarious as ISCSORE, Lambert House, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Gilda's Club, Filipino Community of Seattle, Peacock in the Park, Senior Citizens of South Sound, Dunshee House, Children's Hospital of Seattle, WSMLO, Pride of the Rose Scholarship Fund, API International, University of Puget Sound LGBT Scholarship Fund and the Emerald City Softball Association, just to name a minute few.

That said, for the third consecutive year Manila has turned the bulk of her attention towards noted Seattle nonprofit Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities (SCS). "They do so much for the community," said Aleksa, "the least I can do is put on a great show highlighting some of their achievements, hopefully raise a bit of money in the process." That show is ICON 3: a celebration of drag, art & life happening June 10, 8:00 p.m. at Town Hall in Seattle's historic First Hill neighborhood, and if this celebrated artist can be believed the event promises to be the best one yet.

I sat down for breakfast with Aleksa Manila to talk about ICON, SCS and whatever else she might have on her mind. It was an enlightening, friendly conversation, one filled with good humor, warmth and genuine compassion for the Seattle LGBT community. By the end of it, I knew one thing for certain: Her show may be about the talent others bring to the table, but the real icon here is Aleksa herself.



Sara Michelle Fetters: First off, a belated congratulations on being crowned ISCSORE Empress Olympia XXXV. Now that you're three months in, how's everything going?

Aleksa Manila: Thank you! So far, it's even more exciting than I imagined it would be. I continue to meet wonderful people from all walks of life. There are more opportunities to promote the Court of Seattle as a charitable and social organization beyond the state of Washington. It's such an incredible feeling to be recognized as a representative of our city within the Drag and LGBT communities. Even though it's only been just over three months, time is just flying by. I can't believe my year as Empress is already over a quarter complete. This has been, and continues to be, a great honor.

SMF: Not that the Court of Seattle is your only focus priority. You're right in the midst of planning for ICON 3: a celebration of drag, art & life, the annual fundraiser for Seattle Counseling Service. How are things going with that?

AM: Over the years, I have become more and more involved in LGBT health, both political and social, arenas by being visible as a performer and/or spokesperson. I am very proud of ICON 3 because of what it represents and because of the community response over these last two years. SCS' dedication to serve the LGBT communities, its continued longevity and commitment to excellence, is really something I think we all can be exceptionally proud of. For me, this event is just one of the many ways to promote SCS and its wonderful work in our communities. As an organization focusing on mental and physical health, I don't necessarily think they get the recognition they deserve. Hopefully, events like this one can help remedy that oversight.

SMF: In conjunction with this event, you've also launched a new competition creatively dubbed ICON Idol. Can you tell me more about that? What is it you're looking for in this competition?

AM: This truly was the brainchild of SCS Clinical Director Donnie Goodman. Personally, I'm excited to get behind this as it is a great opportunity to showcase young budding Drag kings and queens ages 18 and up in our community. I am happy that Neighbours Underground has a space that caters to a younger audience, even if it is just a few hours on the weekends.

It is essentially a spin-off of American Idol just with a Drag twist. Instead of fans calling in, audience members vote for their favorite performer by donating $1.00 per vote. Combined with the judges scoring, the top two performers get a chance to compete at ICON 3 for the title of "ICON Idol." I hope this competition encourages future Drag celebrities to come out and become good role models for others. Some may just see this as performance, but truly Drag is also about self-esteem, self-confidence and self-courage.

We just finished the preliminary rounds and the semifinals are slated for June 2 at Neighbours Underground. We've had some great performances so far and I can't wait to see who is going to make it to the finals!

SMF: As you say, you're through the first two preliminary rounds, what happens next?

AM: ICON 3 happens next, and I'm so excited to see who the final two are going to be. The performers so far have been remarkably talented and watching them perform has been a real joy. It's really heartening to see the next generation get a safe venue to express their talents. This isn't something we have had in Seattle for quite some time. For it to happen now, and for it to occur with my help and the support of SCS, really makes me feel great.

SMF: So, with that said, I guess it is safe to say you are pleased with the response so far?

AM: Most definitely. The audience from first show to second has only gotten bigger, the talent has only gotten better and the money raised for SCS has only grown larger. I can only imagine the semifinal featuring the top three performers from the preliminaries will be our most exciting show yet!

SMF: Does that mean you think ICON Idol can become a recurring competition?

AM: I would love to see ICON Idol become an annual event to coincide with ICON. With all the enthusiasm and excitement, the support we've had from Neighbours Underground, the continued help from everyone over at SCS, it's very easy to see this event taking place again next year.

SMF: Back to the actual ICON 3 on June 10. Why is this fundraiser important to you? What makes it such an important community event?

AM: It's near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I believe in SCS' mission and its commitment to our communities. What they do is so very important to the continued success and health of our LGBT brothers and sisters. They've been here since 1969, quietly helping to lead the way in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. When you look at the thousands of people that have gone through their doors over the decades, the sheer amount of individuals they have helped embrace a better, fuller life, it is really quite extraordinary.

As for the show itself, we've got Sean Paul, Mark 'Mom' Finley, Sylvia O' Stayformore, the Queen Bees, Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse, Your Gay Lover, Suni Dae and Nina Maxwell just to name a few of our stellar performers. I guarantee, people will not be disappointed. They will be entertained. ICON 3 is an extravaganza of Drag's best. It's a show celebrating our diversities, showcases our talents and embraces life lived to its fullest. But, above all else, ICON 3 is about pride. Pride in ourselves, pride in our friends, pride in our peers, pride in our organizations and, most of all, pride in our entire LGBT community.

SMF: Why SCS? What makes what they do so valuable to the LGBT community at large?

AM: SCS is a Seattle gem. It provides mental health programs and chemical dependency services, including the world-renowned Project NEON, to the LGBT communities of the Seattle area. It has been recognized with award after award for the various services it provides. Leaders, both political and social, come to SCS for input and advice time and time again. As a nonprofit agency, SCS relies on funds and donations from the community and ICON is just one ways we can help raise money for them to continue their important work here in the community.

SMF: What's next for Aleksa Manila? Where does she go from here?

AM: A week long cruise in the Caribbean with my husband and 'kids.' [chuckles] A girl can dream, right?



Aleksa Manila and Seattle Counseling Service present "ICON 3: a celebration of Drag, art & life" to be held Saturday, June 10, 2006 at Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. with the show starting promptly at 8:00 p.m. Advance V.I.P. tickets are $35 and can be bought by calling (206) 323-1768. General Admission tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door. For more information go to www.seattlecounseling.org.

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