By Laura Latzko, July 2017 Issue.
Competing on the national stage at the Miss Gay USofA At Large pageant in Dallas this September won’t be an entirely new experience for Sonja Jae Savage.
The newly crowned Miss Gay Arizona USofA At Large Title previously competed in the Miss Gay USofA Newcomer Pageant as an alternate for Miss Gay Supernova USofA Newcomer and as an alternate for Miss Gay Minnesota USofA Newcomer. She’s also competed nationally at the Miss Gay United States Pageant.
But what makes this shot at a national title different for Savage is that being crowned Miss Gay Arizona USofA at Large May 7 at BS West marked her first major state title since her first pageant, competing for the title of Miss Phoenix Gay Pride, just over four years ago.
Echo Magazine caught up with Savage to find out more about her experiences in pageantry, her evolution as a performer and her new title and here’s what she had to say.
Echo: At what point did you realize who wanted to be as a performer?
Savage: That’s come over time. I had an idea of what I wanted, but of course drag evolves. Every time I did a pageant or did a show in a different place, I learned more about myself.
Echo: What did winning the title of Miss Gay Arizona USofA at Large mean to you?
Savage: It means a lot for multiple reasons. One, I stepped out of Arizona, so it’s kind of my acceptance back into the Arizona community. That was a big deal for me. Two, it’s my first state title. And three, it’s my first USofA title.
Echo: After having participated in the Newcomer system, what made you go on to the USofA system? Specifically, the At Large division, that celebrated full-figured queens?
Savage: I’ve always been big would probably be the best way to put it … The At Large division has always appealed to me. However, I am on this venture of eating healthy and getting in shape. So, I figured while I have the weight on me, I might as well utilize it.
Echo: Do you feel like your experiences with other pageants, especially Newcomer, helped to prepare you for this title?
Savage: With Newcomer, I was able to learn the system … the expectations … [and] what the system is looking for … Newcomer has sculpted me to be ready for the At Large nationals, to the point where my national package was done before I even won state.
Echo: At thus point in your career, do you feel like you fit into the “pageant queen” category or have you tried to avoid that?
Savage: Of course, you always try to avoid stigmas, but unfortunately, it is kind of inevitable in this situation. I absolutely love pageants. I feel like I’ve learned the most from pageants, so for me they are kind of like home.
Echo: Do you think the idea and definition of what a pageant queen is changed recently? How so?
Savage: I feel like anybody can do pageants. You just have to find the one that best fits you as an entertainer … I think the one consistent [benefit] is they do polish you.
Echo: What are your favorite songs or artists to do as a performer?
Savage: I like songs that have energy but not too much energy…I don’t do back handsprings in the show, but I like things like Clean Bandit, Kiesza or something that is going to have a little bit more energy and have a feel-good feel to it. I also like a good power ballad.
Echo: Do you make a lot of your own costumes?
Savage: I make my costumes. I actually made my burgundy and gold gown I wore for state … I actually learned once I started doing drag. Truth be told, I got tired of paying people to make me costumes … My grandma and Faleasha Savage taught me to sew.
Echo: Tell me a little bit more about your talent number during the pageant. What inspired that talent?
Savage: I do a Karen Walker impersonation, from “Will and Grace” … It’s basically a comedy skit. I talk a lot of trash to the judges and pick on them a little bit. I really like Karen. She’s my favorite. She’s kind of funny. She’s kind of, I don’t want to say rude and crude, but she is. Sonja doesn’t hold back, and she says what’s on her mind. Sometimes, it’s rude and crude. It just fits. That was Sonja in a nutshell.
Echo: Over the years, have you had moments at pageants where you’ve had to improvise?
Savage: I’ve had presentation costumes rip. I’ve had hair come apart. I’ve had hair not mounting onto my head correctly. Pageants are a learning experience in general, whether you are a contestant, whether you are in the back room, whether you are a spectator.
Echo: What type of preparation went into getting ready for the At Large pageant?
Savage: A lot, in regards to [everything from] having hair designers from across the country do my hair and spray tanning to making sure that my mesh matched my gowns and flying friends in from Minnesota to help with my talent.
Echo: Do you try to run your show in a similar way?
Savage: It is very organized. I’m a firm believer in drag is business. If it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense. That’s a big deal for me. I don’t believe in drag time. I don’t run late.
Echo: As a state titleholder, are there any organizations or causes you want to work with more?
Savage: I want to get involved more. I can’t really say what because I’m still relearning the community, but I have a platform to do so now.
Echo: Tell me something unusual about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
Savage: I’m a really big geek about the Titanic history … And World War II. I like World II stuff a lot too.
For more on Savage, check out her show Feisty First Fridays Boycott Bar or find her on Facebook.