Release Date: Wednesday, August 8th 2012
New Miss Gay Arizona to be crowned in Tempe
By Kellie Hwang
As a child, Richie Black fondly remembers watching Miss America pageants with his grandmother when she baby-sat him.
The 41-year old Phoenix resident was intrigued by the extravagant productions, and as an adult, even sought out old videotapes of pageants to watch over again.
"I didn't realize at the time that they were so campy, but when I saw them as a kid, there was something about them," Black said. "They were fun, and something about them was so exciting."
Without any pageant experience, the drag performer jumped right into the pageant world, entering into the Miss Gay Phoenix competition in 1994 as Celia Putty. He won.
For years, Black consistently placed in the top 10 in regional and national competitions, becoming a staple of the gay pageant world.
But he still had never won the Miss Gay Arizona America Pageant. In 2000, Black retired.
"I wanted to focus on other things in my life, on building a life, and I really didn't think I would come back to pageants again," he said.
When he turned 40, Black realized his life was great and stable. He started to miss the pageants, so he returned to the stage in 2010. Last year, he finally won the Arizona pageant. This year, he'll pass the crown off in style at the 27th annual pageant.
Black discusses what the pageants are like, what he has learned from them and how he hopes they will grow.
Question: Was it difficult to come back after 10 years?
Answer: I thought that part of my life was done, but it's always been in my blood. I really didn't know what to expect until I got out onstage for the first time, and it started to all come back and my body already knew what to do. It was a big deal to win after all those years because I really believed at one point that I would never become part of the sisterhood.
Q: What's it like backstage before a show?
A: It's probably very similar to the Miss America pageants, except the girls running around are a little taller. You probably won't catch any real girls in the bathroom shaving at Miss America. But it's very supportive, which is the best part. It really is a sisterhood.
Q: Do you change your talent every year?
A: I like to create stories and situations. I usually start with doing something where the audience thinks they know where it's going, then something odd happens like a tree falls on me and knocks me out, or my dress rips. Then, I go into a dream sequence. It's kind of my thing, to get that "What's happening?" from the crowd. I like to draw emotion out of the audience.
Q: Have you been quite involved in the community since you were crowned last year?
A: The winner isn't required to go out and do community service. The pageant is more about celebrating the art of what we're doing. But we want to represent the pageant and are involved because we want to be. I made a pledge for the AIDS Walk, and if I raised a certain amount, I would walk the race in my heels. If I raised more, I would wear a full dress, and even more, I would pull my basset hound in a red wagon. I was surprised by how quickly I raised the money.
Q: Are you sad to pass on the crown?
A: It feels good to be able to carry the banner and pass it on to someone else. In a pageant, you're constantly being watched, and people are looking for details that are not right. It's nice to not have to worry about it this year.
Q: How would you encourage people to come, especially those who haven't experienced the pageant before?
A: It will definitely be a show, and it's like seeing a real pageant: the hostesses are funny, there's great entertainment and the 11 contestants put their heart and soul into all of the production numbers. We are all required to be men -- we can't have any modifications to our body and we live as guys -- which a lot of people don't realize. Those who have never been to an event like this before have to say to themselves, "That's a man in there," which is the best part.
Miss Gay Arizona America Pageant
What: The 27th pageant features a night of sparkling evening gowns and diverse talents, and Celia Putty, Miss Gay Arizona 2011, who will pass on her crown with an elaborate performance.
When: 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway.