by Gaysha Starr -
Special to the SGN
Since 1982, legendary drag entertainer and LGBTQ activist Darcelle XV of Portland, Oregon has sponsored La Femme Magnifique International, a drag pageant for The Most Beautiful and Glamorous Female Impersonators in the World. Winners have hailed from Portland, Tacoma, Denver, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and contestants have competed from as far south as Mexico City and north of Vancouver, British Columbia. What also makes this pageant special is that at the time the contestants compete, they must be drag queens and not have any gender reassignment or be on hormones.
Last September, at the Oregon State Convention Center, Darcelle crowned her 49th and 50th international winners, Seattle's own La Femme Magnifique Washington Amora Dior Black and La Femme Magnifique Washington Plus LaTrina Bidet. (In 1997, Darcelle created the Plus category to include plus sized drag queens, adding 16 additional winners to the esteemed international family.)
Their crowning last year, however, was overshadowed, because at the end of the pageant when Darcelle traditionally announces the next year's theme that is to be incorporated into the next year's contestants theme wear category, she instead told the audience that Amora and LaTrina would be the last winners and after 32 years she was retiring the pageant.
By popular demand and a group of strong willed former La Femme Magnifique titleholders rallying around Darcelle, she announced in January the show must go on. On Sunday, May 18th at Neighbours Nightclub, Darcelle XV, Sinfinite Productions and I will host the 33rd Annual Seattle Pageant and Amora and LaTrina will crown their regional successors.
The competition promises to be fierce and diverse, as some of the contestants have been doing drag for less than one year, while others have been practicing the art form for over 20. At press time, the five contestants for La Femme Magnifique Seattle that have thrown their wigs into the ring are: Niikiita Chanel, Gabrielle Grimaldi, Letigre Love, Jessica Paradisco, and Diamond St. James Black. For Seattle Plus the only queen running is Celys St. James Black.
They will compete for a first place cash prize of $500 each and both winners and first runners-up will then head to Portland, Oregon over Labor Day Weekend to compete for the international titles and a $1,000 cash prize against representatives confirmed from Honolulu, Boise and Portland, with additional prospective contestants from other cities.
The competition categories for both the regional and international pageants are Black and White Presentation, where contestants can wear any combination of black and white, Formal Wear, Talent Presentation and Las Vegas Showgirl. Here they must balance heavy feathered and embellished headdresses while wearing skimpy, sparkly bodysuits and high heels, as if they don't have a care in the world. In between each category presentation, past La Femme Magnifique titleholders and special guests will perform.
The judges selected have backgrounds in entertainment, beauty and fashion or are local personalities and they are instructed not to look for the most real looking drag queen that can pass as a woman, but to look for glamorous and polished showgirls with stage presence. Regardless, if it is a drag pageant or 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' what makes a drag winner is her charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.
With the crop of new drag titles that have surfaced in Seattle recently, titles like La Femme Magnifique or Imperial Court titles like the Empress, Imperial Princess, Miss Gay Seattle or Miss Gay Washington stand the test of time and are a permanent part of LGBTQ history. If a titleholder maximizes her reign, it can be a stepping-stone onto bigger things, including a solo career outside of Gay nightclubs, if that's what she wants - like Portland's 1992 international winner, Poison Waters.
While Oregon leads with 17 international winners and Hawaii second with 11, Washington has 8 international winners - Coco Vaughn 1986, me in 1994, LaVanda Dela Rosa 1996, Lily Armani 2010, Lady Chablis 2011, Athena Kiss 2011, Amora Dior Black 2013, and LaTrina Bidet 2013.
Amora had been doing drag for less than a year before she ran for the regional pageant last July and got her drag start when DJ Floyd from RPlace approached him as a male and told him he should do drag because of his charismatic personality, and after observing him dancing at the club. Since winning both titles, Amora works as a regular entertainer at RPlace performing different nights, and also can be seen at venues like the Can Can and OutWest, traveling for public appearances, and is also helping launch a new drag pageant system, Miss Premier, this fall.
She advises the contestants running for La Femme Magnifique, 'Just go into the competition confident and with drive. Show everyone why you would be the best representative to compete at International. Have fun as well, even when the nerves kick in, breath and relax, let it flow.'
Amora's title partner, LaTrina Bidet comes from a different drag background as she was a former Imperial Princess and Empress of Seattle and has been to many La Femme Magnifique Pageants for almost 20 years. For her, rather than using the title as a stepping-stone into a secondary career, she accomplished a long-term goal and used the getting ready process to strengthen relationships with both family and friends.
'Competing for La Femme Magnifique has been a goal of mine for many years and 2013 seemed to be the right time. From start to finish it was an amazing experience. I could have never imagined the amount of time and effort that was needed to get the 'complete package' put together. I will be forever grateful to my friends and family that supported me through this adventure. My advice to future contestants would be to get a great team behind you, seek out advice and guidance.'
The 33rd Annual La Femme Magnifique Washington Pageant is on Sunday, May 18 at Neighbours Nightclub (1509 Broadway). Admission is $20 with the doors opening at 6 p.m. and the pageant starting promptly at 7 p.m. 21 and over with valid ID. Neighbours alley entrance between Broadway and Harvard Avenue off E. Pike St.
For more information and/or registration, email Gaysha@GayshaStarr.com.
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