Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Who and What is Mr. Gay America? Meet Mr. Gay America 2018 Judas Elliot

All studio photos by Erika Wagner a.k.a. The Drag Photographer

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Gay America or curious to know what the pageant entails and what it's like to be Mr. America, here is Mr. Gay America 2018 Judas Elliot to explain and enlighten. 

Many in the gay community have long been familiar with the Miss Gay America pageant, whether from knowing a competitor,  attending a preliminary, seeing a Miss Gay America titleholder perform at a local club or as a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race.

But there is a counterpart to the Miss Gay America pageant and title, and that is Mr. Gay America.

Originally known as the Mr. Gay All-American (MGAA) pageant, it was the first contest of its kind. It was founded in 1983 by Norman Jones, a.k.a. (the first) Miss Gay America 1973 Norma Kristie (owner of the Miss Gay America pageant system from 1975 - 2005) and Carmel Santiago (Lady Baronessa, Miss Gay America 1974).

Though the pageant has changed ownership several times, and ceased from 2009-2017, it was revived by the current owners of the Miss Gay America pageant (Michael Dutzer and Rob Mansman) as the Mr. Gay America pageant in 2017. (Read the full history on the Mr. Gay America website.)

Mr. Gay America is considered to be the co-titleholder to Miss Gay America. Today many LGBTQ pageants now also have a male co-titleholder, among them, Miss Continental (Mr. Continental), Entertainer of the Year (Mr. Entertainer of the Year),  Miss USofA (Mr. USofA).

Below our interview with Mr. Gay America 2018 Judas Elliot and loads of glitzy showbiz photos.

How would you describe the Mr. Gay America pageant in a sentence?   

Mr. Gay America is like Miss Gay America, a symbol of excellence, which male leads and performers who have a love for drag and individual expression strive to achieve as professional entertainers.

What’s your elevator pitch for Mr. Gay America and why it is important in the gay community?  

The Gay America system is family of entertainers who are known as symbols of excellence within the community, who have the opportunity to express themselves in front of a wide variety of audiences, lead and participate in community service projects that give back to our community, while doing what it is that we as performers love to do.

Would you call what you do a form of male drag? Drag minus the female impersonation aspect?  

I have always considered what I do a form of male drag. Just like female impersonation drag, male drag can come in all different forms. Myself, I am very big on elaborate costumes, stones, sequins, and perform male covers of female songs.

It is something I have always enjoyed doing and to help explain who or what I was in my early years I called it, “male drag.” I always would get asked what are you trying to be, what is it that you do, and I felt that I really opened the eyes of those curious audience members as to what it is we male leads are all about and how important we are to the drag community.

There are so many people out there who aspire to be performers and want to be on stage and express their art form who aren’t and don’t want to be female impersonators, and that's OK. We just have to be able to teach those around us that what we call drag is just that, drag.

You became Mr. Gay America on July 2, 2018. When did you get involved and what got you into pageantry?  

I first started performing August of 2011 in Morgantown West Virginia at a club called Vice Versa. What got me started in pageantry was, after having performed for almost a year, I attended my first pageant preliminary in Pittsburgh for Entertainer of the Year.

It was a completely new experience for myself rather than just going out to see a local drag show. There were new performers that were incredible to watch, categories I had never seen before, so much thought and creativity with what was being executed. I knew it was something I wanted to try out.

That same year,  a few months down the road I actually attended the national contest for Entertainer of the Year where I was able to watch the Mr. division. While sitting in the audience, I made a promise to myself that I would be up on that stage the following year, and that's exactly where I ended up.

Is your family supportive?  

My family is extremely supportive of what it is that I do and the life I live. For the longest time, I actually never told my family about my drag life because I was really unsure about the response I would get from them. They really weren’t familiar with drag, or performance especially male drag, so I just never told them about my shows or titles I would compete for or any of my winnings.

It wasn’t until last year when I met Lawanda Jackson, when, during my interview coaching she asked me if my parents knew about me and I told her no. She then opened my eyes and made me see why that was such a terrible thing to keep from them and it was I my best interest to finally come to terms and let them know just who I was because it was a huge part of my life.

So a few months had passes and I finally built up the courage to tell them everything I had accomplished and been doing since 2011 and they couldn’t have been more proud and supportive. In fact they already knew about my drag life. More people seemed to know who I was than I thought, because, unlike a female impersonators, my face always looks the same, so a few people who recognized me in pictures with my parents were quick to say, “Oh you know Judas!” So it was only a matter of time before they researched the name.

You now live in Jacksonville, FL. Where were your born?  

I was born in Charles County Maryland. It is about 35 minutes south of Washington D.C.

Is Judas Elliot your real name or stage name? 

I actually get this question a lot. Judas Elliot is not my real name, is it my stage name I came up with in 2011. I selected the name because of my obsession with Lady Gaga, and being the only male performer in my area I wanted to be different and a rebel, and the name Judas just called out to me.

Elliot comes from the drag family that I admired and looked up to at my home bar where I would always come out and watch them perform and they were everything to me and I always said I wanted to be a part of their drag family. My real name is Thomas Curry.

What has being in the Mr. Gay America system meant to you personally?   

Being in the Mr. Gay America System means being part of a legacy, it means reaching a goal, it means being a part of an organization that gives back, and above all, it means family.

How have you benefited from competing in the Mr. Gay America system?  

I have benefited A LOT from having competed for Mr. Gay America. I have had numerous opportunities to travel across the country representing this title. I have met so many people whom I can now call friends, I have made some incredible relationships with people I would have never even met had if it not been for winning Mr. Gay America. I have been able to give back to the community that has supported me since my beginning. The list can go on and on from the benefits I have received being a part of Gay America.
The Miss Gay America crown comes with considerable administrative responsibilities, such as overseeing the judging at the various state and regional preliminaries. Does the Mr. Gay America title come with similar duties?  

Mr. Gay America is exactly like Miss Gay America when it comes to administrative duties. We Mr.’s work on selling preliminaries, oversee the judges during competitions, review scores, and conduct judge and contestant briefings before each event.

Mr. Gay America probably has the most administrative duties I have ever seen a titleholder complete, which in my opinion makes them so much more likable and relatable because it's our job to become so involved and invested I helping people want to become a part of the 'America family.
Mr. Gay America 2018 Judas Elliot, Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station and Miss Gay America promoter, David Pardue.

The Miss Gay America pageant, as with the Mr. Gay America pageant, has always been about community service and giving back. What community service projects or charities are you involved with in your reign?   

Something I admire so much about the Gay America system is the fact that our community involvement is so strong. I have had the pleasure of being a part of many projects and service work to help show appreciation and to give help and support when and wherever I can.

Some projects and charities I have been a part of throughout my reign have been most recently Toys for Tots during the holiday season and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Also, something that really set the bar high for the Gay America system that showed we like to give back, was this past year at Miss Gay America We all got to be a part of three amazing projects during the off day of competition.

I had the opportunity to visit the local children hospital wing in St. Louis where myself, Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station and a few others spent the day with the kids teaching them on who were, and letting them tell us who they were. We did arts and crafts, let the kids wear our crown and medal. All and all it was one of the best days of my reign thus far.

Above: Judas Elliot with Miss Gay America 2018 Deva Station at Miss Gay America 2019 last October at the Ferrara Theater at the America's Center Complex in downtown St. Louis. Photo by BjKj Illusions.

At Miss Gay America 2019 in St. Louis, you were very emotional during your performances on the final night. It was very sweet, moving really, to see such an honest outpouring of emotion. What was going through your head while you were on stage?  

What wasn’t is a better question! When I won in July, almost the entire year of the current Miss Gay America Deva Station's reign had passed. She and I only had about three months to work with each other and the bond we created was INCREDIBLE. It was quite shocking on how fast she and I hit it off and all the things we were able to do and see in such a short period of time.

So the night of her step-down was just an emotional experience because it was like I was losing a part of me, but at the same time out relationship was only just beginning. Meeting Deva was another amazing benefit I received from winning Mr. Gay America. We talk on a regular basis still, and I know we'll be friends for many years to come.

You are clearly a big fan of glitzy, showbiz outfits. Beads, sequins, rhinestones. Your costumes are more fantasy than fashion. What is the inspiration for your stage looks? What are you going for?  

My inspiration used to come solely Lady Gaga believe it or not, haha, but over the years my inspiration comes from many different things and people. I tend to save pictures from other people's Facebook profiles, Pinterest, Google, award shows, all of which influence and inspire my looks. And like most other performers, once the look is constructed, you always have to “drag” it up with stones and studs and make it look like a million bucks!

Who designs and makes your outfits?  

Most of my show outfits I actually make myself. I have been sewing for a few years now and have taught myself how to make a lot of things. With the help of many people who taught me how to sew from the get go, I'm able to do most of the work. I also have a handful of designers with whom I have worked who have made some incredible things for me, such as Joshua Aponte, Patrick Howell, Troy Meeks, Troy Ford, Kat Kelly, Jeffrey Kelly, Cristian Crespo, Tori Sass and a few others.
Above: Judas Elliot's favorite outfit.

What is your favorite outfit?  

I think my favorite outfit would be my first beaded jacket  I ever received for my first year I competed at Mr. Entertainer of the Year. I would choose that one as my favorite because it was the first expensive piece I had ever received at the time and I remember the moment I opened that box I started to cry because it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and held that was mine! I still have it to this day and even when it comes time that it doesn’t fit anymore, I'm going to put it in a frame.
You have a great relationship with “The Drag Photographer” Erika Wagner of Florida. How long have you been shooting together and how did you meet?   

We have a great relationship. I have been shooting with Erika Wagner for a little over three years now. We actually met through Trinity Taylor. At the time we were both living in Kentucky and Trinity invited Erika to come up to Louisville to do a shoot with some interested performers and I happened to be one of those performers. I saw a little bit of her work and really wanted to get some nice professional promos done. So, I met her and did a three-look shoot and the rest is history.  Now, I meet up with her once a month for a photoshoot.

What’s the backstory for a typical shoot? Do you collaborate, plan, or do you just show up with a suitcase and create on the fly?   

When you shoot with her as much as I do, you always have to mix it up. Most of my shoots are planned, however there have been many times where we create on the fly or she has some cool ideas that she asks me to try out and I just go with it.

Her artistry has come full circle with what she is able to create. She not only take amazing photos of me but she has also create some out of this world composites which are forms of photos but she goes beyond what is in the camera lens. I have been in a dessert, been to Egypt, in the middle of a forest, in the sky, Oz, a castle, under water, you name it, all because of her. She is spectacular at what she does and I would recommend her services to anyone and everyone who have the opportunity to shoot with her.
The crowning of Miss Gay America 2019 Andora Te'tee with Miss Gay America 2017 Deva Station (left) and Miss Gay America 2000 Catia Lee Love (right). Photo by BjKj Illusions.

Curious? Already a fan? Mr. Gay America 2019 will be crowned this July 7 at Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis. Watch for Mr. Gay America pageant preliminaries, often in conjunction with Miss Gay America preliminaries near you, especially in the Mid-West and South and Southwest, where pageants are wildly popular.

For more info please visit the Mr. Gay America website, Instagram and Facebook pages as well as the Miss Gay America website and Instagram and Facebook pages. Judas Elliot's Instagram page is here.

If you liked the photos by Erika Wagner a.k.a. The Drag Photographer, read our interview and see her top ten photos, featuring Miss Gay America 2018 First Alternate and RuPaul's Drag Race Season 11 contestant, Brooke Lynn Hytes here. Visit Erika's Instagram page here.

Related: Miss Gay America 2019 Andora Te'tee joins Longtime MGA Veteran Barbra Seville's Wonderful 100 in raising $40,000 for AIDS Walk Arizona

Related: The Big Heart of Miss Gay America: Pageant Owners Announce Creation Charitable Foundation to Mentor, Benefit LGBTQ Youth: Pageant owners crown Lady Gaga (photo) the first ever Honorary Miss Gay America, donate $5000 to her Born This Way Foundation, and launch the Miss Gay America Foundation to mentor, benefit LGBTQ youth