King of Queens

It's a man's world at the Miss Gay Missouri pageant

Miss Gay Missouri 2003

Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard

6 p.m. Sunday, March 9. Call 314-421-4400 for tickets, priced at $30.

Just think the phrase "Miss Gay Missouri Pageant," and a torrent of tacky images probably floods to mind -- something, maybe, like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets Divas Live meets a Harding-Kerrigan rematch. Not so, says Joie DiMercurio, pageant owner and Miss Gay Missouri 1992: If anything, the drag queens vying for the Show-Me State crown this weekend would never risk a snag in their $3,000 custom-made evening gowns just for a shot at a good catfight.

"This pageant is all about poise. It's not a crass hootin'-and-hollerin' kind of drag show," DiMercurio says. "There are stances to stand, ways to smile. It can be a little catty at the end, but I think that's just because everybody thinks they're going to win."

After preliminary rounds Friday and Saturday nights at the gay bar Magnolia's -- where 25 contestants will be whittled to ten -- Sunday night will see the pageant, subtitled "Gateway to Glamour," hit the Pageant. It'll be the first time the contest, which marks its 30th anniversary, has left gay-bar environs, thanks to ever-increasing attendance. (Locally known for years as the Mandrake Ball, the contest was renamed to allow the winner to go on to the nationally sanctioned Miss Gay America pageant.) Competition categories stick to the standards -- interview, talent, evening gown -- with the exception of Creative Costume, which at previous pageants has seen contestants strut the stage bedecked in get-ups resembling a music box, cotton candy, a dining-room table, a light-up chandelier and a cannon that shot confetti. Says DiMercurio of the over-the-top outfits, "This is a contest where, if you want to win, you've got to give a little more."

And the crowd -- an enthusiastic amalgam of gay men and the straight women who adore them, mostly -- gives right back. Just as backstage bitchfests are rare, so is booing. "The people that come to the pageant, it's, like, their playground," DiMercurio says. "There's so much padding and so much pantyhose, and people just eat it up."

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