By KJ Philp, November 2016 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2016 here.
If the list of Olivia Gardens’ accomplishments could be summed up in a single statement, Team Echo has decided that “been there, done that” would be it.
From her earliest performances with the Arizona Gender Outlaws to swaying across the Dancing With The Bars stage to being crowned Miss Phoenix Gay Pride 2011 and Empress X of the Imperial Sovereign Empire of Arizona, Gardens is always finding new ways to use her talents to make our community a better place.
Echo: Congrats on a being voted the 2016 Phoenix Pride Parade’s grand marshal by the community! How did that feel?
Gardens: Thank you! When I found out that I had been selected as grand marshal, I was overwhelmed. It was such an honor to have been recognized by the community, and I never would have imagined that I would even be considered as a possible selection. As the parade made its way down Third Street, I was proud to see the thousands of people gathered to celebrate the diversity of the Phoenix LGBTQ community.
Echo: Congrats are also in order for your reign as Empress X of the Imperial Sovereign Empire of Arizona (opposite Emperor X Steve Marino)! Reign X raised a record amount for the court; can you tell us how you did it?
Gardens: I was introduced to the Imperial Court eight years ago, when I participated in a fundraising event. At the time, I knew very little about the history and mission of the court, but I did know that they raised money for charities and had a LOT of fun doing it. To this day, that observation still holds true. In 11 years of operation, the members of the court have raised over $200,000 for charitable organizations.
During Reign X, Steve and I were very fortunate to have the support and partnership of many individuals, businesses and organizations throughout the community. The credit for raising the record amount of money really goes to all of the court members and community volunteers who participated in our fundraising events throughout the year.
As a monarch, I get the privilege to be involved with the court for as long as they will have me! I continue to serve the court as board president this year, and I am excited to report that Reign XI is successfully continuing our mission of fun, charitable fundraising!
Echo: If we had to come up with a tagline for your list of accomplishments, it would likely be “been there, done that.” You’ve served a Miss Phoenix Gay Pride 2011 (beside Freddy Prinze Charming); you’ve performed with the Arizona Gender Outlaws; you made Dancing with the Bars 2015 look easy, with dance pro Rik Dault – tell us a little bit about each of these experiences and what they mean to you.
Gardens: Working with Freddy Prinze Charming and Phoenix Pride was one of the most rewarding experiences for me personally and professionally. It was my first experience as a leader and spokesperson in the community, and I hadn’t considered that as a role at which I could be successful. I gained confidence in myself as a person and as a performer, and it began a partnership with Phoenix Pride that continues to be a valuable part of my life.
The Arizona Gender Outlaws were responsible for MAKING me (wink, wink) perform in drag, at a time when I expressly refused. In retrospect, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me started, but they will always have the credit for encouraging me to take a leap and be open-minded to new experiences.
Dancing With The Bars will always be a treasured memory for me. First off, being able to collaborate with a great cast to raise funds for Aunt Rita’s Foundation was both fun and rewarding. And then, to be able to work with a wonderful dance professional, Rik Dault, was just icing on the cake.
Echo: You’ve done the most since Olivia Gardens debuted; tell us about bringing her to life.
Gardens: I started performing as Olivia Gardens in 2009. I used to watch Savannah Stevens, now Miss Gay Arizona America 2016, perform at her weekly show back around 2008. We became friends, and she invited me to perform one night. At the same time, I reconnected with my friend Scott, aka Pandora Destrange, with whom I worked together on a couple of theater projects. Both Savannah and Pandora encouraged me to perform in drag, and so Olivia Gardens was born. In fact, neither were fond of my name choice, but I always maintained that I would name myself after my favorite restaurant.
Echo: What is Olivia’s goal when performing?
Gardens: Olivia wants to have fun and engage with the audience. I think we have a different goal every time we go on stage. Sometimes we want to inspire, sometimes we want to entertain, sometimes we just want attention. I think Olivia has a unique sense of humor and is candidly aware of her shortcomings.
Echo: You’re currently hosting both Naughty or Nice Bingo (Mondays) and the Garden Variety Revue (Wednesdays) and at Kobalt. Where else can our readers catch you before 2016 is up?
Gardens: There are so many fun events coming up before the end of the year! I’ll be performing in and emceeing several shows, galas, and fundraisers before 2016 is up. Readers can follow me on Facebook or find out about many of the events on Echo Magazine’s Community Calendar!
Echo:Where are you most likely to be spotted when not on stage?
Gardens: At the nearest Olive Garden, of course. Actually I try my best to support other shows and events when I’m not on stage.
Echo: Do you have any future pageant plans you’d like to share with us at this time?
Gardens: Well, I don’t want to jinx anything! However, I have admired the Miss Gay America pageant since I discovered it as an audience member in 2008. (wink, wink)
Echo: You hail from the tropical isle of Oahu, but was there a defining moment when you knew that was YOUR home/community?
Gardens: I’m very fortunate because I’m able to be a part of two wonderful communities. I’ve been in Phoenix since 2003, and I think it was after I had the opportunity to network with multiple organizations as Miss Phoenix Gay Pride that I felt a real sense of being a part of the Phoenix community. Hawai`i will always be “home” to me. It is where I grew up, and it is an integral part of my cultural identity. One thing we learn in Hawai`i is the value of `ohana, or family. Whenever the Phoenix LGBTQ community gathers in celebration or support of each other, I’m reminded of that sense of `ohana. I think that’s the best way to describe what community means to me.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
Gardens: My left, because I have two of them.
Echo: Who are some of your role models/inspirations and why?
Gardens: There are too many to mention! However, Echo Magazine Hall of Fame member Barbra Seville is one of my role models in the drag community. I admire her ability to inspire people to gather together for a positive goal.
Echo: Do you consider yourself a role model? Why/why not?
Gardens: I would consider myself a role model in so far as I have assumed leadership positions in the community. I think that when we achieve a role or a title to which others may aspire, we all have the responsibility of being a role model. I hope I have been, or will be, a positive role model in the community.
Echo: What advice do you have for up-and-coming entertainers?
Gardens: Follow your own path. Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves….be an active participant in your success. Get a gimmick. Be kind to others. Be humble. Be self-aware.
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2016, what would you say?
Gardens: 2016 has been full of wonderfully rewarding experiences.
Echo: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Gardens: I see myself learning from, and being inspired by, the “next generation” of entertainers and leaders in our community. Also, I’ll still be eating at the Olive Garden.