Established in Nashville in 1972–37 years before "RuPaul's Drag Race"–The Miss Gay America Pageant is the world’s first, longest running and most prestigious female impersonator competition.
The pageant will honor the current Miss Gay Heart of America 2016 Kelly Ray Shelton, from Durham, NC, and feature Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong of Nashville. The evening's theme will be "A Night in Oz."
The night will feature the talents of (above, top row, L-R) Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong, Miss Gay America 2016 Asia T Ohara, Miss Gay America 2011 Coti Collins, Miss Gay America 2000 Catia Lee Love and (botton row, L-R) former Miss Gay Heart of America 2008 Jade Sinclair, Columbus’s own Nina West and Virginia West and Miss Heart of America 2016 Kelly Ray Shelton.
Meet your reigning Miss Gay Heart of America 2016, Kelly Ray Shelton (or Kelly Ray as she is known), as she answers five questions in anticipation of her step-down and the passing on of the crown to the new Miss Gay Heart of America on March 5:
1 When and why did you start competing in Miss Gay America?
I entered my first pageant as a freshman at Methodist College. It was a fundraiser that my fraternity sponsored me in. My stage name was Foxy Rocky! The year was 1980. I did Bette Midler’s "Dr. Long John for talent–and I won!
2 What has the experience meant to you personally?
Miss Gay America has taught me a lot over the years. In the early 80's, such teachers as legendary performers like Jennifer Foxx, Naomi Sims, Tasha Kohl, Hot Chocolate and Rachel Wells taught me the most about performing. Such as stage presence, costuming, and how to work an audience. Oh how I miss those early days! I'm so grateful that they were there for me so I could learn all that I did. I'm still in awe of them. These days, after competing as long as I have, I continue to strive to be the best entertainer I can be and the best person I can be off stage.
3 You’ve been involved in the Miss Gay America pageant for many years, winning Miss Gay Heart of America 2016 and Miss Gay America 2017 First Alternate at the nationals last October. For you, as for many contestants, competing is demanding and expensive. What keeps you coming back?
The relationships I've made along the way, the people I’ve gotten to know and love from across the country keep me inspired and motivated to keep on keeping on. As we all know, the expenses are at times are great, and even though performing still–fortunately–pays for itself, it can be tough. This I know for sure, though much money was spent, you just can't put a price on the Miss Gay America experience. From the lessons learned, the memories made, the week with close fiends, the new friends made, and the connecting with bar owners and promoters, as well as striving side-by-side with others for excellence so beautifully executed by all the performers, especially Asia O’Hara [Miss Gay America 2016].
4 What’s your other life? Today, life is still a drag for me! I do as much as I can and at times too much!
The hardest issue is being fully present in my preparations for shows and pageants and being present in taking better care of my aging parents. Both have such deep meaning for me that I can't give up one for the other. I still cut the grass every week I can. It reminds me of where I came from and allows me to think of where I’d like to go!
5 What does your family think? Are they supportive?
My family loves me—but they don't love my drag—so that limits their support for me. Female Impersonation is too much for even me to understand at times, so I stopped trying to explain it all to them, or expect more from them. I know they were really rooting for me this past year, and deep down I know they're proud of the person I am.
Miss Gay Heart of America 2017*
March 5, 2017
Cover charge: $10
775 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43215
*The crowning of Miss Gay Heart of America 2017 should happen between 10-10:30PM.
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