By Laura Latzko, August 2015 Issue.
The fourth time’s the charm for Nevaeh.
After competing in the Miss Gay Arizona America pageant three times – as Miss Gay Copper City, Miss Gay Metropolis and Miss Gay Phoenix – and taking third place each time, she set out to try it once more. And she won.
McKenzie was crowned the 30th Miss Gay Arizona America June 28 at the Phoenix Theatre.
“I think being the 30th Miss Gay Arizona America is a huge responsibility,” she said. “There’s only been 29 before you. That’s a pretty elite group. It’s one thing to be a great performer and entertainer. It’s another to be a symbol of excellence.”
In total, nine contestants from throughout Arizona participated in the statewide competition. The pageant honored Miss Gay Arizona America 2014 Grecia Montes D’Occa, who performed multiple numbers, and Reigning Miss Gay America Blair Williams also took the stage. (Read more about the pageant and the contestants here.)
Former Miss Gay America Catia Lee Love and Miss Gay Arizona America Mya McKenzie (Nevaeh McKenzie’s drag mother) served as co-hosts the “Once Upon a Time” themed evening.
With this title, McKenzie (aka Karrington Valenzuela) feels she’s following in the path of her drag mother, Mya McKenzie, who was the 2007 state titleholder.
“It’s probably a bigger deal for her than it is for me,” McKenzie said. “Like any mother, you want to see your child succeed and surpass you, and she definitely has always been like that with me.”
Still, she admits, that winning the state title was a surreal and emotional experience.
“It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things where you have everyone there to see you,” McKenzie said, adding that this was the first time some of her biological family members had seen her perform.
From here, McKenzie and first runner-up Savannah Stevens will advance to the national Miss Gay America Pageant, which will take place in Memphis from Oct. 7 to 11.
The two drag queens have a long history working together, and Stevens was one of the first drag queens to book McKenzie when she started out about six years ago.
“When I won Barbra Seville’s Newcomer, I had this newbie, big-headed attitude where I thought I was the next best thing,” she said. “I wasn’t booked anywhere. Savannah was one of the first entertainers to say, ‘Come do my show. I’d love to have you.’”
McKenzie plans to work with Stevens throughout her reign.
“I definitely have every intention of taking her along [on] this journey with me,” McKenzie said. “It’s not just about me being Miss Arizona. It’s about us going to America and representing Arizona together.”
Prior to competing in the Miss Gay Arizona America pageant, McKenzie took a two-year hiatus from pageantry. During this break, she began hosting her weekly “High Heels and Halos” show at Charlie’s Phoenix and became a regular cast member of Elements: Drag Show every Friday at BS West.
She credits her experience working with Barbra Seville as her inspiration for starting a show that gives other newcomers the opportunity to perform. Which is important for McKenzie, because she maintains that it’s the audience’s response to her numbers make the hard work behind the scenes worth it.
“What’s kept me here, as far as performing goes, is every time I hit that stage and people love what you do, every wig change, every costume reveal, every time you do something different,” McKenzie said. “It’s just the biggest form of flattery.”
The queen/performer/impersonator considers drag to be both a passion and a job – a mentality she believes performers need to survive in the world of drag. She’s also made an effort to be a versatile entertainer, like her drag mother, doing a combination of high-energy pop, Broadway and Latin numbers, with a little comedy sprinkled in.
“I always try to think about what can I do that’s going to make me stand out,” McKenzie said. “I definitely think about what I can bring to [each] show that’s going to keep everyone there to watch.”
It seems only natural, then, that McKenzie would embrace a celestial theme into her drag persona – her first name is heaven spelled backwards, after all.
“Neveah was going to be my daughter’s name when I have children,” McKenzie said. “My mother passed away when I was very young, and I love the name Neveah. It was kind of a tribute to her.”
For her talent number in the Miss Gay Arizona America pageant, McKenzie came out onstage wearing a white body suit with an elaborate pair of heavenly wings.
McKenzie was joined by her backup dancers, who she’s worked with since the very beginning, for a dance performance to a mix of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” and “Work Bitch.”
For the onstage question category, McKenzie was asked what she felt the most important duty of a Miss Gay Arizona America. In her response, she emphasized the importance of giving back to the community.
Community involvement has been important to McKenzie throughout her drag career. And, now as the state titleholder, she hopes to give back to the community like those who have worn the crown before her.
“I’m really excited to work with Neveah,” said Daniel Eckstrom, Miss Gay Arizona America promoter, who’s been involved with the system for the past eight years. “I think she’s going to be a breath of fresh air. She really is going to be somebody who takes Miss Arizona to a new level.”