By Laura Latzko, June 2017 Issue.
Before a panel of judges composed of the Valley’s most recognizable and most awarded drag personalities, 17 hopeful entertainers took to the stage all with one common goal: to walk away with a crown that represents the LGBTQ community.
Serving as the formal step-down for Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride 2016, Naomi St. James and George “Geo” Johnson, this year’s pageant took place March 19 at The DoubleTree by Hilton Tempe.
Under the theme “Egyptian Royalty: Ascension To The Throne,” 11 Miss contestants and the six mister contestants brought their best to talent, eveningwear and on-stage question categories before a packed house.
After more than five hours, the contest culminated with the announcement that revealed Eva Angelica Stratton and Kristofer V. Lee received the top scores of the evening and were thus crowned Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride 2017.
The two entertainers began their reign that evening, though the Phoenix Pride Festival and Parade, April 1 and 2, served as their formal introduction to the community.
The Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride Pageant, according to phenixpride.org, is a community event supported by local organizations and numerous illusionists. As a recipient of the title Miss or Mister Phoenix Pride, the winners will become the faces of the Phoenix Pride organization during their reign. Among their duties as titleholders is promoting pride in our community, state and country; portraying role model qualities with integrity and dignity; and raising awareness of the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Program.
This year’s pageant contestants raised more than $28,000 for the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Program. Because of this collective effort, Victor Avila, Phoenix Pride program manager, said that Phoenix Pride will be able to give away seven scholarships, which combine for a total of $35,000 this year.
Throughout the year ahead, Avila said Stratton and Lee will help to educate community members about Phoenix Pride’s mission and programs, including its grants and scholarship opportunities – roles, he estimates they’ll be perfect for.
“Everybody brings something [unique] … to their reign,” Avila said. “But I do feel that Kristofer and Eva, being millennials, will definitely help us to reach that audience. Currently, that’s who’s trying to get through school.”
The Path To the Pageant
Stratton earned her ticket to the Pride Pageant as Miss BS West 2017, a title fitting for a contestant who regularly performs at the Scottsdale bar. She is part of the cast of Elements and has taken part in Stars of Tomorrow at BS West.
For Lee, the title of Mister Imperial Court 2017 not only earned him a place in the Pride Pageant, but also marked the first title he’s ever captured.
In the months leading up to the pageant, Stratton and Lee both worked closely with their fellow contestants by participating in their various fundraisers. And, in return, others did the same for them.
According to Lee, the six male entertainers running for Mister Phoenix Pride wanted to present a united front.
“What was really important to me throughout this whole process was us being a collective group, because we all had one goal,” he said, “[and to] make sure it was apparent to the community that we’re not at each other’s throats, and we’re not out to get each other. We’re here to make sure the community walks away better.”
During prelims, Stratton and Lee agree that they immediately felt a connection to each other, even though they had never done a show together.
Photos from the Phoenix Pride prelims, Lee said, tell the story.
“Looking at those photos of the whole journey” Lee said, “We just naturally gravitated toward each other.”
Although very different journeys landed them on the same stage, Lee and Stratton share one distinct characteristic: the same Midwestern work ethic that fuels their desire to work hard every day. That drive to strive for greater things for the community they represent, they estimate, will guide them throughout their reign together.
A Quintessential Queen
Originally from Michigan, Stratton has only been living in Arizona for about two years. But, with more than a decade of performing under her belt, she’s won numerous titles in Michigan and Arizona. Still, she maintains, it’s the community impact that makes the Phoenix Pride title special for her. (Find out more about Stratton’s newest title, Miss Gay Arizona USofA Newcomer, in “Eva in Everything.”)
“A lot of times pageantry is for your own self-satisfaction. You are doing pageants because you want to accomplish something for yourself,” Stratton explained. “Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride is completely selfless. It’s much larger than any of us.”
It was her selfless ambition that prompted Stratton to approach this pageant a little differently.
Because the Pride pageants contestants are committed to raising funds for the Pride Scholarship Fund, Stratton focused on using the resources she had on-hand – reusing a pageant gown and reworking a previous talent number – for a shot at Miss Phoenix Pride.
“I felt like if I was going to spend any money, I should just donate to the scholarship fund. I didn’t want to take money away from the money I was raising,” Stratton said. “I was going to use the best of what I had available and make it the best that I could present, and I really focused more on raising the money. It’s our entire community here … Being a trans woman, being an entertainer and being a pageant queen, I thought this was my opportunity to give back.”
Although her primary focus is her Arizona title, Stratton said she wants to be a voice for LGBTQ people in her home state as well.
“I understand that my drag started in Michigan, but it brought me here,” she said. “So, I feel like I’m representing them as well as representing Arizona.”
The Lion (Hearted) King
Lee, a native of Ohio, relocated to the Valley 11 years ago and started his career as a male entertainer at a Mr. BS West competition two years ago.
Unlike most male entertainers in the Phoenix community, Lee doesn’t have a dance background – instead he focused on theater and choir during his school years.
Born under the astrological sign of Leo, Lee has always found his way to the stage and describes his performance style as very theatrical.
“I feel like I’m three quarters male lead and one quarter drag king,” he said. “I can learn choreography, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me. What comes naturally is being emotive [through] facial expressions [and] getting my point across that way.”
Still, he credits many local drag queens, including his drag mother, Saellah Vi, with influencing him as a performer, leader and titleholder.
As soon as Phoenix Pride’s contestant criteria changed to make him eligible to compete for the title (ahead of the 2016 pageant), Lee was interested.
Ultimately, it was Lee’s commitment to helping the community, especially LGBTQ youth aspiring to attend college, that drove him to compete this year.
“What’s most important about this title is making sure that our community is visible, has the support that it needs to remain viable and has individuals that are out there raising money,” Lee said. “I thought that I could do it, and it was something I was extremely passionate about.”
The Dynamic Duo
For both Lee and Stratton, serving this community in their new roles has a far greater meaning than just the jewels and the title. Additionally, both titleholders have resolved to make the year ahead about the community, not about them.
“Being Miss Phoenix Pride has been one of the most educational, humbling, honoring moments yet in my life,” Stratton said. “It really is, because it’s not about us … It’s about our community as a whole and everyone and anyone who identifies [with] our community.”
In the coming year, your Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride are looking forward to engaging with, and learning more about, different facets of the community with the goal of increasing unity.
“We have this amazing chemistry … this passion, this drive … to make sure that every area of our community can be represented,” Stratton said. “If [there is something] we don’t know, [we] are the first to say, ‘We don’t know, and we need to educate ourselves.’”
Already during his reign, Lee has had the chance to interact with different types of people in the LGBTQ community, including children.
“What’s great about this title is that we have the opportunity to be around and talk to individuals that don’t go to bars,” Lee said. “As a performer, you audience is very limited, if that’s your only avenue.”
Still, your best opportunity to catch Mister and Miss Phoenix Pride in action is at your favorite community bars – and, on the stage is where the dynamic duo shines brightest.
For more information on the Phoenix Pride Pageant or the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Fund, visit phoenixpride.org.
Former Miss and Mister Phoenix Pride Titleholders
2016: Naomi St. James & George “Geo” Johnson
2015: Trixxie Deluxxe & Dee Jae Galaxy-Broadway
2014: Barbra Seville & Eddie Broadway
2013: Khloe V. Monroe & Jensen Dean
2012: Grecia Montes D’ Occa & Jensen Dean
2011: Olivia Gardens & Freddy Prinze Charming
2010: Diamond Dallas & Nikki Kidd
2009: Chane’ Jordan & Brandon Packer
2008: Afeelya Bunz
2007: Claudia B.
2004: Paula Sha’ & Tomi Boi
2003: Anita Champagne Pride
2002: Aurora Gayheart
2000: Mimi Rae Rose
1999: Paula Sha’
1998: Pussy Lahoot
1997: Diane Daniels
1995: Felicia Fahr
1994: Roxy Blue