Wong of Wisdom
This month, as we kick off our official preliminary season, I have dedicated this article to all the future MGAs.
Dear Future Miss Gay Americas,
It has been about four months since I was crowned Miss Gay America 2017. Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, I have been able share the daily ins and outs of what it takes to be MGA and in some strong way, have found it therapeutic to have you all join me on my journey.
I have been very active on social media for many reasons. Remember, it is an extension of our character and the way of our world today. For me, it is an opportunity to share with pageant fans and friends the commitment and responsibility of holding a national title and the feedback I have gotten from fellow queens has been quite positive. I am glad to see that these efforts are being noticed. This momentum is great; however, my main reasoning behind all my posts is that I want you to grow with me. I want you to know what you are getting into when you win, and I hope to inspire and encourage you to not only uphold the traditions and legacy of the system, but to continue to strive for individuality.
We are now going into the official qualifying season for Miss Gay America 2018, but I have been plotting and planning since the morning after I won, even though Michael and Rob encouraged me to take a week. Yesterday, Dextaci sent me a text: “How you feeling?…it’s almost here!…” My response was, “It’s been here for months!” I went into the 2017 season already upholding the standards and expectations of what I believe to be a successful Miss Gay America -- or as Sally Sparkles would say, “wearing my invisible crown” -- even before I qualified. Every decision and move I made was as if I was already MGA. Now that I have won, I am more relieved than anything that I have the chance to legitimately apply my work.
Staying organized and making lists has allowed me to confidently go into what is sure to be a whirlwind for the next few months with confidence. I cannot say that I am emotionally ready, but I definitely am prepared. I am so appreciative of all the promoters for their proactivity and for being so communicative. I am grateful to my MGA sisters for responding to my calls and texts and for sending me messages of encouragement. But most of all, I am honored to work on behalf of you who want to be the next Miss Gay America. Not a day has gone by that I have not spoken to or texted at least five hopefuls. And every time I get off the phone with one of you, I say to myself, “This person could win”. I am so proud to be a part of the process from the other side and I am dedicated to ensuring a solid experience for everyone.
This year the Miss Gay America system has been diligent about establishing a strong presence in the community. We have already had tons of monumental success and I look forward to the months to come as we focus on the search for our next MGA. With all the excitement building up to New Orleans in October, there has been quite a buzz of questions directed to me from promoters and contestants alike as to what the national office is looking for in the next winner.
For example, I received this in an email: “You broke the mold last year by wearing a strapless gown. Trends tend to follow the winner. Should I go strapless this year?” I find this question interesting, as I believe that though there are certain criteria where one could have a winning strategy based on our points system, there is not a definitive answer as to what a winner makes.
My response is easy: Be you. Do what best fits your persona and exudes the most character reflective of, quite simply, yourself. Apply this to your entire package. Use every opportunity to tell your story even if you are “not being judged”, from the moment you walk into the door to the moment you leave the contest, and keep in mind the power of your social media. #BeExcellent. Be MGA.
At my orientation in Key West last December, Asia, Rob, Michael, and I compiled a list of traits that we would like to see in a Miss Gay America. It started as an extensive list of about thirty attributes, but at the end of a beautifully sunset day, this is what we came up with.
The next Miss Gay America should be:
I was texting with Jerry Peek earlier, and at the same time thumbing through archived photos of the early years of MGA. I cannot help but get emotional thinking about what Jerry has done for us. We have a unique opportunity to celebrate our individuality, uniqueness, and beauty. Though we do not know what the future holds, I encourage you to really focus on what makes you magical.
I am so proud of everyone and I cannot wait to experience your gifts.
Miss Gay America 2017
“Enjoy every moment, embrace who you are, and be the MGA that you want to be.”
“Give the judges no reason to give you anything less than first.”
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” -William Earnest Henley
In addition to my monthly column, I'd like to highlight one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity to share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA.
This month I celebrate Christa Collins! Christa is a two time Top 10 finalist at the Miss Gay America national pageant. Christa Collins, is a former Miss Gay Missouri America 2013, Miss Gay Mid-America 2015, and First Alternate Miss Gay Heart of America 2016. Holds a degree in Vocal Music Performance, was a Principal Dancer at the Kansas City Ballet, he was in the First National Touring company of the Will Roger’s Follies and he was in the chorus of Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway. He now teaches Dance and Voice in Kansas City and Stages ballets for two different dance estates.
He’s married and helps maintain the family restaurant Californos in Westport.
I am so excited that Suzy Wong as decided to feature the Top 10 Finalist to speak on the MGA Newsletter. I am Christa Collins. As we begin another pageant season, the country is in turmoil. We have become so divided and angry that we have failed to listen to each other. We have forgotten to see each other as individuals. As we move forward we must remember to listen, and be objective. Think of how you would want someone to understand your side of the story. It's not always about being heard sometimes, it's just about listening and being there for your friend our particular family member no matter what side of the aisle he or she is on. During these times,people are looking for something to distract them and they turn to us as female impersonators and/or drag performers to help them forget about what is going on in the outside world. So, we mustn't turn against each other because we have historically been on the front lines of history. StoneWall, the beginnings of the AIDS Epidemic, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Prop 8, and so many others too numerous to name. We were there raising money, giving of our time, energy and support. WE will surely be there now to help through these times and looking stunning while we do it. This Sisterhood, this Legacy, these Friends that we have made and bonded with over the years. This FAMILY, that is Miss Gay America will continue to thrive, and grow and change and Support all people and communities no matter their race, religion, color and/or sexual orientation. The words to the Sister Sledge song “WE ARE FAMILY”, are littered with instructions on how to be a family but, there are very simple rules. Love each other, respect each, listen, and don't judge, and be kind. Remember Kindness goes a long way,, and it never hurts to smile. Thank you for listening, I can't wait to run into you this year on the pageant circuit and meet you down in New Orleans for MGA 2018.
Christopher Barksdale-Burns/Christa Collins
I have contemplated really hard as what to write this month. After consulting some MGA sisters and friends, I have been encouraged to express what’s on my mind and to share a closer insight into the world of Suzy Wong. So for this month, I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent from my normal writing style, and just share “me”, and in some way find a little therapy through the process.
On his radio show, Ryan Seacrest’s quote of the day stated, “Judging a person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.” When I heard him say this, I thought of its poignancy.
A stigma has preceded me…not really by reputation, but just pre-conceived notions as to who I am. I’m not sure why it’d be such a topic, or the cause of such opinion but I have been made aware that “people talk”. This has always been present and it saddens me for I am one who doesn’t expect anything from anyone other than authenticity. I normally wait for people to share with me before I inquire about their story. I love learning what makes their minds tick and feed off of their passions. I also find beauty in whatever situation or environment I am in. That being said, I am seldom asked for my story.
I know that I work in a seemingly fancy world and have been blessed with a supportive family and opportunities for a promising professional career, but as far as Arnold goes, I most appreciate the simple moments and am equally motivated by two main components: the opportunities for success and the fear of failure. When I work within the circuit, I often hear, “you aren't at all what I thought.” I always respond with a giggle and soft, “Thank you?” With that in mind, I never have gone into a situation expecting anyone to live up to an expectation or to ‘be’ anything other than who they truly are. I’m just open to what whatever comes my way. I enjoy developing relationships, finding inspiration from new environments, meeting new people, and experiencing their stories.
Although strong and confident as I am when it comes to my business and brand, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and am quite an emotional person. I cry at the drop of a hat (usually happy tears). I love stories of triumph through adversity. I love witnessing the beauty of relationships. I love the promise of children. I am a positive person. I do not rant or channel negativity in my life. I never see failure, only opportunity for growth. So to learn of even one comment about my character-- to be questioned about my intentions, to be made to feel undeserving of success due to past achievements-- confuses me and honestly, it hurts.
In a past interview, I was asked:
“For many, participating in the MGA system is a life changing event, a welcome source of confidence, structure, and family. Several queens have even claimed they were “raised” by the MGA and that the MGA saved their lives by giving them the support they needed to get off alcohol or drugs. [Compared to many of these queens, you grew up in a good home and live a privileged life.] For you, has the MGA been more of a goal or a challenge, vs. a life-altering or life-saving experience? What does being in the Miss Gay America system mean to you personally? What impact has participating in the MGA had on your life?”
When given this question, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I needing to justify my intentions for wanting to be MGA? And just because everyone’s backgrounds vary, does that mean one person’s participation is more legitimate?’ My motivation is just the same as all my sisters that I have bonded with though this system as we are all impassioned by the quest for excellence. I replied,
“Regardless of personal background, to me the MGA system is just as much life changing, a source of confidence, structure and family. I am a work horse and have been supported to seek success in all that I do. Through my experiences and opportunities, I have been challenged to push hard in my daily life and have an opportunity to share and celebrate my successes. MGA has provided an emotional growth for me. I am in wonder of the dedication and love that is rooted within the system. Participation in the MGA system is a choice I made based on nothing but passion. As far as MGA being a ‘goal’: honestly, MGA has to be a goal in order to win. But the goal of the physical crown isn’t the reason why I competed. I found something that I believe in, that resonates within me, and I feel that I can share my gifts to elevate it.”
As stated before, I absorb whatever people wish to share with me. In last month’s MGA monthly, Monica Moore was featured and I loved how she gave us a little insight of who she is and where she came from. I really liked that; I feel like it allowed me to get to know her a little bit more. So because of her sharing, I’d like do the same.
I am Arnold Myint, aka Suzy Wong. I was born and raised in Nashville, TN and will be 40 years old in April. I am an Aries -- a fire sign-- and live up to every characteristic of the zodiac. Both my parents come from a family of nine siblings and were raised in third world poverty. They worked really hard and found education to be their ticket to live the American dream.
My father was a boxer came to the states on a scholarship (because that’s the only way he could get here), and studied in upstate New York where he worked for IBM. Later, he was a university professor and found his way to Nashville, where he opted to teach at a historically black institution, Tennessee State University, where he taught notables like Oprah Winfrey. He was smart with his money. I have the first watch he ever purchased, and it still works! I live in the first house he bought, though it has a bit more sparkle now. I recall late night conversations with him, and him telling me that his only promise was to never have his children ‘be without’ as he was when growing up.
My mother is a culinary legend in Nashville. Her family lived on the outside walls of the king’s palace in Thailand. They lived in a humble studio and made their income selling stews and curries made of old produce that they would bargain shop at the markets. She came to the states and worked in LA in a cigar box factory and eventually found her way to Nashville as an au pair for a doctor’s family, which afforded her to attend college. To date, my mother runs her restaurant and market and oversees the operations of two of my establishments. She doesn’t spend money on herself-- but thoroughly enjoys it when her brothers spoil her with gifts. She is the catalyst for my commitment to charity work and supporting orphanages for children with HIV in Asia.
From childhood to my mid-twenties, I was a competitive figure skater and discovered the sport at a birthday party. My parents didn't really understand what I was doing; they never came to my practices and when they did, I would fall apart. My godmother would take me to competitions, or I would travel alone and stay with my coach. Every season, I remember my godmother coming to see my parents to persuade them to pay for my training…it was so embarrassing. It was tough to train every day from 5am -10am, and then 2pm -5pm, 5 days a week-- especially when I never saw my family in the stands. Looking back, I feel in some way this pushed me to be who I am today. When I find something that turns me on, I’m all in. I medaled at the national level four times, and toured the world performing with a multitude of companies like the Ice theater of New York, Disney On Ice, and skated for three years with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The fondest memories from this are the friendships I made with fellow performers, the sense of family and acceptance I felt, and, that finally, my parents came to see me skate.
Between my competitive and show skating days, I studied design at TSU and lived in Thailand for a couple of years where I worked for a record label in artist development. (Btw, I speak fluent Thai.)
I later found myself in NYC where I thought I was going to be a Broadway star. I took dance classes and voice lessons. I auditioned daily. Nothing really stuck so I started working at a restaurant and eventually found my way in the kitchen. I peeled shrimp in a basement for quite some time and eventually ended up going to culinary school. While in school, I entered a cooking contest and won a scholarship that pretty much covered my tuition. I worked for a four star chef, Jeans George Vongeritchten, and upon leaving The Big Apple, started my own culinary pursuits. I was as a freelance beverage consultant for the Cheesecake Factory Inc. over the span of about 6 years, and competed on two reality competition shows: Top Chef and Food Network Star. Currently, I am the owner/partner of three eateries in Nashville, and have worked as a culinary liaison for the tourism authority of Thailand.
And…I do drag. But you all know that part.
There is a term, “Haters gonna hate”. Whenever I am feeling the effects of gossip, my friends like to coach me out of my funk with this saying. But, in my mind, why hate to begin with? My father says, “Don’t say hate…it’s such a strong word.” He’s right. So just as there is that saying, I believe that on the flip side there is “Lovers gonna love”. I much prefer this sentiment, as I see beauty in daily experiences -- and I like to believe in unicorns and rainbows.
After my press trip to NYC this month, I received a text from the wife of one of my bartenders. “Elliston [their 10 year old son] and I were watching you on WWHL and he said, ‘What I like about Arnold and Suzy is that he/she represents ALL the people in the world’.” This warmed my heart. I love the notion that we all have a voice and the power to make an impact, be it for just one person. I work hard to honor my parents and to support my community. I am loyal and celebrate accomplishments. I believe in respect, compassion, and love. I seek success so I can give back and hopefully inspire.
Well… that may have been more than I wanted to share, but I’m glad I did. I thank you for being an integral part of my life and hope you have a better sense of who I am.
As we go into pageant season next month, it is my wish that we see the positives in our sisters and that everyone’s efforts and accomplishments are celebrated. We all come from different places --geographically, emotionally, and financially-- but we are bonded. And because of that bond, we are all stronger.
Remember, “Lovers gonna love”.
#EatDrinkInspire #BeExcellent #Slay
Miss Gay America 2017
Wong of Wisdom
To thine own self be true
- William Shakespeare
Be the change you want to see in the world.
In addition to my monthly column, I'd like to highlight one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity to share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA.
This month I celebrate Miss Gay Arizona America 2016, Savannah Stevens! Savannah has been a female impersonator for 16 years in the Valley of the Sun. After 5 strenuous years competing for the title of Miss Gay Arizona America, Savannah was crowned in June 2016. Later that year Savannah would place Top 10 and eventually become 3rd Alternate to Miss Gay America 2017. One of the many highlights of my Miss Gay America was holding Savannah up when she was called as a Top 10 finalist! Not only is Savannah the reigning Miss Gay Arizona America, she is also the woman behind several of my beautiful wig creations!
My name is Christopher Zizzo, I was born in Madison, Wisconsin but have called Arizona home since the age of 6.
I currently hold a supervisory position with the Starbucks Coffee Corporation and have been with the company more than 4 years! I am proud to be employed by a company that celebrates, respects and embraces diversity!
My passion for the performing Arts began at a young age and I became involved in dance and theater freshman year of high school and continued past high school into community theater, and eventually developed my female impersonation persona and career. Savannah Stevens has been a large part of my life for 16 years. During that time I have been fortunate enough to do what I am so passionate about while giving back to a community that has given so much to me!
I first competed for the title of Miss Gay Arizona America title 5 years ago and continued to strive and fight for the opportunity and honor of hearing my name called Miss Gay Arizona America! I heard my name called 1st Alternate 3 years in a row which is still honorable and exciting, but I have to admit I started to feel a little defeated. Through the unwavering love and support from my partner Wes Eichsteadt, my good friend Daniel Eckstrom , the Savvy Squad and a village of family and friends telling me to never give up and MGA 2011 telling me to " never let anyone determine your self worth ", I went back to Miss Gay Arizona America with a new vision passion and drive in my heart! I finally got to hear my name called Miss Gay Arizona America 2016!
It was time to get started preparing my package to compete for the title of Miss Gay America 2017! It was so good seeing and catching up with friends and making new ones! Imagine how excited I was when I got to introduce myself as Miss Gay Arizona America 2016 Savannah Stevens!
I was eager to compete in my solo talent, production talent and wear my brand new purple gown, made by my friends at www.divinesyncdesigns.com.
Final night (my birthday ) I said a little prayer to myself that I would love to finally make it into the top 10! While standing on stage for the announcement of the top 10 I got to hold hands with my dear friend MGAA sister and someone I deeply admire and respect Barbra Seville! Michael and Rob starting calling finalists into the top 10 spots and my grip on Barbra Seville's hand got tighter. " the last finalist joining the top 10 is...Savannah Stevens " it all became a blur from all of the tears that shed, I was on cloud 9! After we recompeted in gown and talent I remember my partner and dresser Wes and my promoters Daniel Eckstrom and Nick Ray telling me how proud they and how I need to remain calm and focused if I should make the top 5! Easier said than done! LOL
So another wish on my birthday came true, I made it into the Top 5! It is so hard putting into words how I felt but I imagine it's like winning the lottery!
I was so extremely honored to join hands with 4 other incredibly intelligent, talented individuals, and friends, Dextaci, Kelly Ray Sheldon, Sofia Anderson and Suzy Wong!
The time was finally here Michael and Rob called 2nd Alternate Sofia Anderson 1st Alternate Kelly Ray Sheldon which left Dextaci, Suzy Wong and myself standing together holding hands. The energy in the building was electric and is something I still feel to this day. I think I will always remember when Dextaci said " well girls it's one of us!" It was powerful!
"Your new Miss Gay America 2017 is, Suzy Wong! " the entire room erupted into a roar of applause and cheers! I am so proud of my friend and top 5 sister Suzy Wong for setting a goal and working hard to achieve that goal . Suzy you are truly an inspiration to not only me but an entire generation and organization! Thank you for being a friend, mentor a true symbol of excellence!
My journey does not end there I am still living my dream every day by being the best MGAA I can possibly be! I have already been honored to oversee and administrate 2 preliminaries here in Arizona and excited that I have 3 left! My step-down as MGAA will be held June 25th 2017 at the beautiful Tempe Center for the Arts and will have 10 extremely qualified and incredible contestants vying for the title of Miss Gay Arizona America. I am thrilled to announce that the theme of this special evening is "Bond . . . Excellence is forever "
I am looking forward to learning and evolving with what I consider the most prestigious pageantry organization in the country and coming back very soon to capture my next goal and dream of becoming Miss Gay America !
Please visit my monthly news column at
Miss Gay America 2016
3rd Alternate to Miss Gay America 2017
On the first page of my MGA journal I ask myself, “What is your goal?” This question seems simple but if you think about it, it can go so many ways. Had I asked this prior to winning, I would have responded with a quick and definite, “To be Miss Gay America”. But now that I am, the question gets a bit deeper. So . . . what is my goal? As I search for this answer, in a quest to move forward in a productive fashion, I look back and reflect.
Kirby Kolby asked, “Certain steps have been taken by the new owners to make the pageant more progressive, such as hiring a PR director, more online access, and procuring a new location and venue. What specific ideas do you have as the potential next Miss Gay America, to help move this pageant forward?”
I replied, “As some of you might know, I’m an aspiring television host and personality and I’m very familiar with publicity and the importance of marketing today. And I joined MGA because I was a little boy that liked to wear dresses and I took a year off (last year) to collect my thoughts and really search deep within. After meeting Rob and Michael this year, I decided to come back because I really see their vision. And I believe that with me being progressive, a little edgy, a little current, I can bring things to be relevant within the system.
“One thing that I’d like to see is us doing community service more. I would love for prelims and title holders to do reach out, with their community because that is not necessarily in need of a publicist. We will be out there with the people . . . working with the people and they will get to see how great our organization is. So that’s what I would do; is encourage community service within our company.”
This was my on-stage question and answer from final night and since I was in a complete black-out during this category, I thank Versage for documenting it. That being said, I’m glad to have been prepared enough to answer the question this way, as community involvement has been my motivation ever since I was a child with my family visiting my first orphanage in Thailand. I’m also relieved I answered the question this way, because I whole heartedly believe that everyone not only has a hypothetical opportunity, but the actual ability to leave a legacy, regardless of scale. My final night answer has helped to define my goals as the reigning Miss Gay America. I am impassioned by the ideas of building our brand, expressing our culture, bonding our allies and celebrating ourselves.
Now with the crown, I reached out to some other reigning national title holders with an idea. Being that many of these queens were already my friends, I wanted to do something special, something memorable. So we organized a photo shoot and revue show as a symbol on unity among pageant systems. I find it peculiar how even with the LGBT community facing obstacles of acceptance in mainstream society and government, within our own community we often see segregation, judgement and negativity. It is my hope that our minor effort of coming together encourages people to open their hearts and minds and band together as a stronger collective working towards a common humanitarian goal.
This month I spent a week in Key West for my official orientation. I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was I going to be lectured to the entire time? Were my essay answers going to be “wrong”? Am I walking in to a lion’s den of judgement? Will I still be MGA?
After a treacherous travel day, my week with owners Michael and Rob along with Asia O’Hara was so fulfilling and validating. The organization has many exciting things in the works. Our press and media presence is sparking a renewed interest in MGA and I am honored to be a participating factor during this time of transition. While in Key West, between pool breaks, drag shows, and dining at a restaurants that serve only desserts, we as a team worked on handbooks, discussed scenarios, and fine-tuned a business plan for up and coming projects; all with the best interest of the contestants and promoters in mind. I was a vocal and respected contributor on every topic, and any doubts or insecurities I had about my legitimacy are no longer. On the final day, I hugged Asia and she whispered, “I’m so proud of you, you are going to be fabulous”. And with that kind gesture, I have found a new family.
The holiday season has been full of many highlights. I normally host a huge family Thanksgiving at my house, but since my dining room has been transformed into Suzy’s official MGA sewing room, a table scape and fine china weren’t in the cards this year. So for turkey day, with my sister out of town, it was just my father and mother who came over for a rare moment of candid conversation and wine, and wine, and wine . . . resulting in Mom pretty confident that she could be a future Miss Gay America.
Being a professional ice skater for a majority of my life, I was never really home for a traditional Christmas. As I feel that every day is a blessing, I always try to pay it forward as much as I can. This year, I cooked for a family who lost their son (my friend). Initially, I donated a chef dinner for twenty as a fundraising effort for the funeral costs. This evolved to the winner of the auction gifting it to the victim's family. While in their home, I was surrounded by warmth and love. I felt like part of the family, an extension of their son. Having never met before, for some reason I was meant to be there and felt as if I filled his spot for the day. There were tears as I hugged his 4 foot 11 inch mother (my mom is also that tall) and I definitely bawled my eyes out when I got in my car to leave. But the biggest thing I will take from this is how open this family was to me, not only as a chef but as Miss Gay America. In this circumstance, I was a flamboyant chef/drag queen/friend of their gay son . . . the only gay in the room. They didn’t pass judgment, but rather embraced my presence.
2016 started off full of promise. I got a network deal for my own cooking show and started to see the professional light at the end of the tunnel. My years of development, coaching, meetings, and financial investment were finally paying off. #TeamArnold was in place and things were really moving. Completely elated and proud, I was on cloud nine. Sadly, being “the business”, my deal was canceled and I was left confused, hurt, and depressed falling into my friends’ arms completely shattered. Soul searching, I went into the summer evaluating my purpose, writing my goals, planning my next big thing. I purchased a house in Palm Springs with my talent manager, and ultimately shared the stage with so many friends, as I was crowned MGA.
2016 was a roller coaster. It had its ups and downs, flipped around a couple of times and really shook me up. But at the end of the ride, I had a great time as I never ride alone, and I’m always with a friend holding their hand.
Sometimes things don't go according to plan and sometimes you are blessed beyond words. As much as I want to believe that I control my future, I realize that there are certain factors beyond my capabilities. However, the one thing that I find has always been in my grasp are my emotional attachments to people and the support around me. When looking at the question on page one of my journal after writing this all out, the answer for me becomes a little more clear. The one thing constant in all of my experiences is the people I share it with. Be it friends, family, strangers or bosses, my goal is to grow and learn, to share and be inspired. My goal is to find commonality.
Looking forward to 2017, I embrace the opportunities given to me and am prepared to represent everything that the Miss Gay America Organization stands for. I am honored to be in a position to work for and with all of you. I am hopeful for continued growth and success and most importantly, I look forward to writing many more pages in my journal and for the next roller coaster ride with you by my side. Thank you for being my goal.
Miss Gay America 2017
Wong of Wisdom
The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
In addition to my monthly column, I’d like to highlight one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA.
This month I celebrate Monica Moore! Monica trains and shows horses and dogs and had the opportunity to perform with exotic animals in many circuses traveling the United States. Monica is a two time Top 10 contestant and is the reigning Miss Gay Tennessee America Regional!
Hello MGA friends, family, and guest:
For those of you who do not personally know me, my name is Brandon Ford and on stage I am known as Monica Moore. I will be going into my 25th year of being a female impersonator this New Year. I live outside of Tampa, Florida where I am a full time entertainer and in my spare time make and design wigs and costumes for other entertainers. I have been interested in becoming Miss Gay America for as many years as I can remember but started to compete in 2009. I have had many highs and lows in my MGA pageant years but don’t regret any of it. I have grown as an entertainer and in my personal life by being a part of the large MGA family.
I grew up in a small upstate NY town where boys were expected to play football and be active in sports yet I still became a cheerleader and danced, never fitting in like so many of us did not in school…but being part of Miss Gay America I knew that I totally belonged here. Being part of pageants has opened so many doors for me and introduced me to people and lifelong friends that I would have never made if I did not compete for MGA.
I’m not sure my bank account is as big as my lifelong dream and desire to be Miss Gay America, but in one way shape or form I will always be involved. If I am never fortunate to be crowned MGA I know I have been welcomed into a family that could never be replaced by any other pageant system; after all I’m a big old dude in a dress and so are many of my other sisters in this big dream chasing family we know, live, and love known as Miss Gay America!!! I truly hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year. I’ll see you all at a pageant near you! XOXO
Miss Gay Tennessee Regional
Wong of Wisdom
In my first month since being crowned, I’ve been traveling coast to coast-- working with our MGA publicist in NYC; debuting my first national walk and performance at Mr. Gay USofA in Dallas; joining Barbara Seville and the mayor of Phoenix at AIDS Walk Arizona, in leading the USO caravan in the Palm Springs Pride Parade; and scouting out the venue for MGA 2018 in New Orleans… to list a few adventures. The support from press and media has been encouraging, from local to national coverage like NPR and American Express. And most visibly, the feedback from the new brand image campaign and merchandise, “#BeExcellent”, is positive and promising.
Finally back in “BNA” (btw, that’s the airport code for Nashville), I’ve started to unpack and reorganize my life, and have been diligently sewing and stoning everything in sight in preparation for a busy year-- that actually starts this week. I will be joining the reigning Universal Show Queen, Miss Gay USofA, Miss Continental, and All American Goddess for a national revue show in Orlando, in addition to an appearance on a radio show and a photo shoot celebrating the support and unity between the national pageant systems. I have two days of “me-time”, where I will be in L.A., then I’m off to Key West for my much anticipated father/daughter weekend with Michael and Rob. Asia O’Hara, Maya Montana, and I will be performing in a revue show while we are there. I will return to the city where I was crowned Miss Gay Western States, Phoenix, for Christmas where I will cook for and honor the family of MGA supporter and friend, Gabriel Medellin, who recently tragically lost his life.
With all of these things happening, I can’t help but be emotional; however, the one thing that continues to be most special and humbling is the growth of friendships from my current and future MGA family. Every day I spend about two hours chatting with my various sisters. I love getting random messages and having friendly banters, and I am honored that my (reluctantly) blunt opinions are sought for gown and talent choices.
As I go through pics from Memphis, I smile as if thumbing through a yearbook. I revel at our fierce costumes, like Asia’s indigenous opening number; I giggle at the power puff girls (Savannah, Dextaci, and me); and I celebrate the presence of Norma Kristie. But there is one image that stands out for me above all others. Stephanie Lane won the evening gown category in her group during preliminary night, and when her name was called, tears of pride flooded the room, followed by a standing ovation.
This for me was one of my greatest moments ever at MGA. I recall my second year competing and joking that my gown wasn’t going to be ready in time. Stephanie messaged me offering to loan me one of her Coco Vega gowns if I was in a pinch. She has always been kind to me. Approaching me from day one with open arms, non-judgmental, funny and comfortable to throw the first joke. I have never felt more proud or more connected than to Stephanie Lane’s emotional acceptance of her award. During a beautiful chat with her the other day, I asked her if she was pleased with her year. Her response: “A picture is worth a thousand words” (and thanks to the photo capturing the moment, it truly is). Then I asked her “Why MGA?” Her response was so poignant. “You aren’t always blessed to be able to do what you dream of, and at MGA you can live that dream.” She then asked me, “And what about you?…Why MGA?” I was a loss for words.
MGA 2017 in Memphis has so many precious memories. I am overjoyed and filled with love from the support of my team, friends, family and most of all, my fellow contestants. Despite being competitors with all of our eyes set on the crown, I wanted nothing less than the best experience for everyone. And though some may not have finished where they’d hoped, I applaud us all for presenting pageantry at its best; one full of diversity, class and most importantly, heart.
Though being Miss Gay America 2017 is an honor in every sense, I see it more as an incredible opportunity; one that allows us a voice, a chance to make a statement, to share a passion. I have made it my priority to make this year be “our year”. I am dedicated to giving everyone a regal experience from beginning to end of their MGA journey. I am so pleased that many former contestants and new queens to the system have contacted me with interest of competing this season. I look forward to a high quality contest all year long as we gear up for the main event in October. It is going to be an excellent year.
Thank you all for your dedication. I am continually inspired.
Miss Gay America 2017
I don't think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good…
The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. -Oprah Winfrey
In addition to my monthly column, I’d like to highlight one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA.
This month I celebrate Kelly Ray Shelton. Kelly takes my breath away. She lights up a stage in a way that you can’t buy or learn. To me, Kelly has the “it’ factor. We enjoy sipping on bubbles together. She makes me smile.
Kelly Ray has graced the MGA stage and top ten many times. She is the reigning Miss Gay Heart of America and placed first alternate at MGA 2017.
What a year!!! On New Years Day in Ft. Lauderdale the decision was made to go back to MGA. After coming so close to winning, Jorge and I started making plans for Memphis. We thought "lets do the First Prelim"in St.Louis which happened to be Miss Heart of America. It was a great decision! David and Corey became more than promoters they became team players. From the first of March to the first of October it was a mission... Miss Gay America!
Somehow, someway we were able to get everything we wanted and needed to compete in Memphis. Even the beat down in June by 3 youths couldn't block our blessings, in fact it fueled us. We dreamed larger than ever! I had everything and more than I could've imagined. The two categories I was most excited about didn't quite go as well as I hoped. Male interview and onstage question. After the pageant I had to marinate in all the should've, would've, could'ves, like I'm sure many of us did. I share my experience as a lesson and hopefully a blessing to myself and any of you that may learn from my experience. This I know for sure, though much money was spent, you just can't put a price on the lessons learned. The memories made, the week with close fiends. The week making new friends, and the connections made with bar owners and promoters. As well as seeing and striving for excellence, beautifully executed by all the formers and especially by Asia.
One hope I have is that no one will never ever miss a roll call! I'm sure we can all learn from our own experiences to make us all better and not bitter. So at this time of year when I reflect on the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad, I need you all to know the week with you all in Memphis was worth every cent spent. It was worth every hour of effort!
So I hope this special note to you all helps motivate and inspire you to continue on your path of fulfilling your dream of becoming Miss Gay America. And to Suzy Wong I hope you have the best year of your life. In just a short time your light is shining bright and you are sharing your excellence with us all. Looking forward in sharing many treasured moments with you this year!!!!
May God continue to Bless us all.. Take care and I hope our paths cross soon!
All My Love,
Kelly Ray Shelton
Miss Gay Heart of America 2016
Being honored with the title of Miss Gay America 2017 earlier this month, there were a few things that I had to jump right in on doing; promo pictures, interviews and this highly anticipated newsletter. So on Monday, October 10th, I started the process. Every day since then, I’ve been writing a lot and erasing even more; thinking about what to say and how to say it, talking about topics like family and my ice skating history, researching quotes and song lyrics, pulling from past inspiration. And though every night as I think to myself, “this is good”, I wake up just not feeling it, until today.
Earlier this week, I posted a video of a school teacher in South America that has down syndrome. Today, at a stop light around the corner from my house I noticed that someone responded to that post, “#nolimits”. I was inspired; I couldn’t wait to get to my computer. So here we have it…the first edition of “Sincerely, Suzy”.
In 2012, based on a suggestion from my friend and former Entertainer of the Year, Dee Ranged, I entered Miss Gay Nashville America at my home bar, Play, in Tennessee. Not really knowing what I was getting myself into and with the minimal research I did on the system, I planned a concise talent, had a great solo talent, presented a pretty solid interview, and because I was so excited about my ruby rhinestoned platform shoes, literally twirled my way out of qualifying to the next level. At judge’s critiques, everything made sense, but I was offered a spot as a representative to compete at Miss Gay Tennessee America. With knowledgeable coaching and a bit more awareness of what this system is, I ended up winning the title and headed to my first MGA experience, needless to say without those ruby platforms, and placed 11th.
It was at Miss Gay Tennessee America in Memphis that I met a tight knit group of formers and through them, befriended many local supporters. Since those formative years, I’ve returned to Memphis numerous times and have always felt somewhat of a homecoming. I am impressed with their sense of community, the support they lend each other and the family bonds they have created. And though surrounded by all of the pageantry, glamour, and quest for excellence, I find myself inspired and humbled by one family; Dana Beech and the amazing Super Chase.
I initially met Dana and her partner Renee through my MGTNA sisters. We’d see each other out at events and share an occasional drink. She is charming and funny, grounded and welcoming, and a supporter of the Miss Gay America system. Thanks to the development of social media, much like with many of you, I have been able to keep up with her daily play by play. A big part of this is her son, Super Chase. Chase has cerebral palsy along with other diagnosis due to complications at birth. He is in fact super, because from what I understand, he is the oldest survivor of one of his conditions and has defied all statistics. That in itself is just remarkable. But what I am in awe of is Chase’s awesome character. He loves to swim and in the past couple of years I’ve noticed him really coming into his own. He is simply full of life. And based on our friend Pat McCooter, “When he sees you, he gives you a super hero name…and that’s who you are from that point on.”
As I stalk Facebook daily, I always smile when I see Dana’s post and “Super Chase - The incredible adventures of a real life...” (that’s actually the page). I smile for Chase’s progress, I smile for Dana’s openness, I smile because they are smiling. I love learning with him (they are covering all the states right now). I love working out with him and sharing the joy and excitement of playing catch, and hearing him scream “Mom!”. I love experiencing the crazy Halloween treats and craft projects he and Dana get into.
In our crazy world of worry and strife, Dana shares Super Chase’s life as it plays out and through that, he lights up mine; just by being an excited, bright eyed kid. So to Dana, Renee, and Chase, I applaud you and thank you for filling my heart with optimism, joy and love.
We say that MGA is a sisterhood. We are bonded through a common passion and though we all have different stories, we share similar goals. But it’s moments in life when I take my friends' advice to “stop and smell the roses”, and look at all that surrounds me, that I am just simply amazed and grateful. Because of this sisterhood, I have found myself. Because of this bond, others have influenced my life. Because of our passion, my family is huge. Because of Super Chase, I am inspired with #nolimits. For me, the prize isn’t the title, but our journey together.
Miss Gay America 2017
Wong of Wisdom
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
In addition to my monthly column, I’d like to highlight one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA. This month I’d like to celebrate Deva Station she and I both like to cry at the drop of a hat. We both love kids…they make us cry too. :
Deva Station is a 3 time top 10 finalist a former Miss Gay Ohio America and a former Miss Gay DC America!
It's so hard to believe that MGA 2017 has been crowned and most of us are already planning, or deciding what to do next!
Once the decisions have been made and planning begins, the year flys by and it's time to take the National stage once again. I've been competing at MGA for 6 years and have never done any other system. I truly believe that each year at MGA is like a college course; each year you learn more about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Each year you return to your daily routine/day job/drag job, a little bit stronger and a lot more confident.
This year, the same as any other year; it is extremely overwhelming to hear your name called into the Top 10. Getting there however is where the growth and learning take place. If I were asked to give any newcomer to MGA advice, that advice would be not to lose yourself in the process. So many people want to help you succeed and sometimes it can become quite the task to filter all of the information, yet remain true to your vision & your character. Believe in yourself and surround yourself with a team that also believes in your vision. As my mother always said, "too many cooks spoil the broth".
Enjoy the process, one of the most rewarding things about MGA are the friendships we build along the way. Sometimes the package itself might not bring the rewards you wanted, but those friendships burn bright long after the stage lights go dim. Some of the most influential people in my life along with my strongest relationships have been built at MGA. I've learned that seeing someone I care about achieve their dreams can be just as rewarding as achieving my own.
Do your research, find out what has worked and what has not. Listen to your critiques, whether you agree or not; the role of the judges is to make you the best that you can be. To make YOU the next symbol of excellence. Take those notes and apply them, or at the very least try to understand and learn from them. Realize your strengths and build on them, accept your weaknesses and work on them. Look to the Former's, I've never once went to a Forever MGA for advice or guidance, and been given any information that didn't make me a better competitor. I wish each and every one of you a year of extreme success.
In closing, I'd like to say congrats to our new Miss Gay America, Suzy Wong. Your work ethic and devotion are sure to lead you to an amazing year. Your dignity and poise from the start are inspiring. Michael & Rob, THANK YOU for your vision and dedication to the contestants and the evolution of Miss Gay America. Thank you Asia, for believing in me and pushing me to better believe in myself. Blair Williams, you are the meaning of humility and kindness; your friendship and mentoring have honestly made me a better person. To my team, you are the reason I was able to shine. Thank you.
A wonderful promoter once said to me, "you're already a Miss Gay America, you just haven't won the crown yet". I think the applies to all of us.
Much love and respect,