Miss Gay Arizona America

Pageant celebrates 30 years of highlighting excellence in female impersonation

By Laura Latzko, August 2015 Issue.

For the 30th year, Miss Gay Arizona America highlighted excellence in female impersonation as part of its annual pageant June 28 at Phoenix Theatre.

As part of the pageant – one of the oldest in the state – nine contestants gave audiences a taste of Arizona’s diverse drag scene with a variety of pop, country and Latin dance numbers.

The contestants included Miss Gay Tucson America Bianca Solei, Miss Gay Copper City America Savannah Stevens, Miss Gay Copper City America First Alternate Jimena Cavali, Miss Gay Phoenix American First Alternate Candi Colee, Miss Gay Queen of the Desert America Lady Christian, Miss Gay Queen of the Desert America First Alternate Jessica Michaels, Miss Gay Cosmopolitan America Lady Ashley, Miss Gay Cosmopolitan America First Alternate Kedence McKenzie and Miss Gay Phoenix America Nevaeh McKenzie. (Read our interview with Miss Gay Arizona America 2015 Nevaeh McKenzie here.)

30 Years of Excellence

Daniel Eckstrom (left) and Nick Ray at the 2015 Echo Readers Choice Awards. The Miss Gay Arizona America pageant won the 2015 awards for outstanding Drag Pageant. Photos by Fernando Hernández.

According to Daniel Eckstrom, pageant promoter, the 30th anniversary has made him reflect on how far the LGBT community has come during that time.

“It was very emotional because 30 years is huge, especially within female impersonation,” Eckstrom said. “Within the past few years, LGBT rights have come to the forefront. Just to think, 30 years ago, being gay, being transgender or being a drag queen was not the popular thing.”

In his eight years with the system, Eckstrom recalled working with a wide variety of contestants and their many talents and accomplishments.

“Just to be able to celebrate the 29 people who came before, and really paved the way for the people who are doing it now, was just such a heartfelt moment,” Eckstrom said. “It has really meant a lot to me to be a small part of that and hopefully [we can] catapult [the pageant toward] another 30 years.”

Eckstrom said in its 30th year, the state pageant system continues to grow in popularity and appeal.

“This system is really something contestants around the state want to be a part of,” Eckstrom said. “I think a lot of people want to be Miss Arizona America. You can see that from people coming back year after year, not stopping until they reach their goal. It really is a way to give back to the community and make a year of memories.”

“Once Upon a Time”

Former Miss Gay America Catia Lee Love and Miss Gay Arizona America Mya McKenzie returned to co-host the “Once Upon a Time” themed pageant, as part of which contestants dressed as Disney princesses and former titleholders as villains for the introduction portion.

As part of the evening’s itinerary, Miss Gay Arizona America 2014 Grecia Montes D’Occa and reigning Miss Gay America Blair Williams were honored and both brought their signature performances to the stage. Before stepping down, Montes D’Occa presented big sister awards to Lucinda Holliday and Tc Taylor.

Former Miss Gay Arizona America titleholders Barbra Seville, Tori Steele and Celebrity Starr celebrated their 15th, 10th and fifth anniversaries, respectively.

Nevaeh McKenzie performs at the 30th annual Miss Gay Arizona America pageant June 28 at Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Fernando Hernández.

Crowning Miss Gay Arizona America 2015

As part of the pageant’s preliminary night, June 27, the contestants participated in male interviews and performed solo talent numbers at The Rock.

The final night of the competition showcased the contestants in evening gown and talent categories. Then, the top five contestants – Nevaeh McKenzie, Savannah Stevens, Candi Colee, Lady Christian and Bianca Solei – answered onstage questions.

The panel of judges, composed of fellow drag queens and community members and led by head judge former Miss Gay America Patti LePlae, announced Lady Christian as the male interview winner; Nevaeh McKenzie as the solo talent winner and Savannah Stevens as the evening gown.

The judges then announced Nevaeh McKenzie had earned the title of Miss Gay Arizona America 2015.

McKenzie and first runner-up Savannah Stevens advance to the national Miss Gay America Pageant Oct. 7-11 in Memphis, Tenn. Stevens returns to the national pageant for the third time this year.

Montes D’Occa will join Stevens and McKenzie at nationals this year as the first alternate to Miss Gay Northeast America.