Vamping and Tramping at the Miss Sin City Pageant

Ow! My head hurts. Bad girl! No more drinking! But this headache’s worth it. Because last night I went to a beauty pageant spectacular. A bizarre spectacular, maybe, but a spectacular all the same.

Queens by the dozenPhoto by Mike Le Duc
Queens by the dozen

Imagine this: A bevy of gorgeous icons, all crammed into Krāve, the cool and quirky nightclub just off the Strip. The place smolders and shimmers in the dim light of huge Chinese lanterns floating like planetoids in the inky-black interior. In front of the stage, clusters of mirrored balls give a techno feel to the room. The spectators are all dressed in black as if for some kind of crazy-chic, leather-and-satin retrospective. I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with more stunningly beautiful women than I can shake a swizzle stick at.

They’re tall. Maybe too tall. And perfectly coiffed. Maybe too perfectly coiffed.

Wait a minute! This is the Miss Sin City USA Pageant, Las Vegas’ beauty pageant for female impersonators. All these beauties are men!

I turn to Scott, a young man from Missouri, in town for a four-day weekend. “How did you find out about this?” I ask.

“My friend Marcus is in the show,” he answers. “I came to see him perform.”

Marcus! I work with that kid. “How do you know Marcus?”

“We dated for a while, about six years ago.” Scott’s obviously hesitant about revealing this information. But hell, it’s a new century with a new president. Can’t we all just get along? Get over this prejudice against interracial dating?

Mike Le Duc, the designated photographer from the Folies Bergere, tells me he came at noon to get shots of the rehearsal, and the stage was still under construction. He points toward the middle of the club, where the walkway has been extended since that afternoon. Hmm, no wonder the start has been delayed. Who knows what’s happening backstage.

Stephan Reynolds – dancer, choreographer and the promoter of the pageant – gets talking about the acts. He has choreographed the choruses and all the individual talent numbers.

“I run a boot camp for the girls,” he says. “If this is their career choice, they have to take it seriously.” Reynolds is passionate about the art of female impersonation; he says it can change the world. He says his mission is to provide positive role models for a new generation of female impersonators, performers who see that it’s not just a drag show but an art form. “My girls always finish top in talent at the national pageant.”

The new queenPhoto by Mike Le Duc
The new queen gets a crown

The contestants, I realize, aren’t in it for the money. The winner receives $1,000, almost enough to buy a pair of heels and a customized gown. Last year’s winner, Nina DiAngelo, donated her prize to charity. Maybe they do it for the recognition and the approval of their peers, but the audience is the real winner. We get spectacle, glamour and drama.

It’s now 1:30 a.m., and the pageant was supposed to start at midnight. Is it possible that Cinderfella‘s pumpkin has broken down on the way to the ball? Mike and I are crowded against the back-of-the-room bar, which is closed. We still have to fight for our ground as the restless crowd tries to find the perfect vantage point.

A handsome young man (dressed, oddly enough, as a man) introduces himself as Jacob. He explains the late starting time: “It’s a little known fact that gay time is the slowest time on the planet. It runs at least two hours behind schedule. I live with a man, but I’m not into the gay lifestyle.” He taps his watch. “I’m always on time.”

I award him a mental rim-shot. Then, just as I’m about to break out my last twenty and buy a round of Rockstar for my new friends, the show starts.

StruttingPhoto by Mike Le Duc
Strutting down the runway

Visions of loveliness parade onto the stage and strut down the runway, every one draped in ballroom finery and dripping in rhinestones. The contestants strike a pose and stand frozen until the scene dissolves into choreographed acrobatics. The crowd cheers with alcohol-enhanced enthusiasm.

A fashion show of costumes follows; the pageant’s theme is “Haute Couture.” My fave is an S&M G-string with straps crisscrossing the abdomen up to the nipples of padded boobies. I have to applaud. I see a dress straight out of a Thirties movie, and I realize: Glamour isn’t dead, it’s finally out of the closet.

“Make welcome! Make welcome!” The emcee calls and we all cheer for a night of heels and hair. All of it high. All of it outrageous.

We toast them all. Hmm, that could explain the headache.


16 responses on “Vamping and Tramping at the Miss Sin City Pageant

  1. Dude! I must have been in the dark, or highly sheltered not to have ever heard about this… I need to check it out some year. It must be a pretty fun beauty pageant to watch.

  2. Come back to this story in about a month…. We are changing the display format for the photos and they will be large enough you’ll be able to see evidence for Holly’s “…They’re tall. Maybe too tall. And perfectly coiffed. Maybe too perfectly coiffed”….. commentary.

    Fun article!


  3. I think you all owe me a new keyboard! Theere should be a warning about swilling energy drinks while reading this article. And perhaps next year we’ll all go to the pageant. And drink a lot.

  4. This sounds like fun!! Let me know next time in advance. Reminds me of Hotel Street in Honolulu years ago.

  5. Since I live in California I didn’t go to this event, but this article was so descriptive and entertaining that I almost feel like I did. In fact it seemed so real that I think I’m developing a headache. Or maybe it was that bottle of wine I drank earlier….

  6. A marvelous review of what sounds to have been an unforgettable feast of dazzling excess.
    The monotone attired spectators had the obvious good manners to not out shine the parading queens.
    Hoping to witness the pageant of “kinky boots” sometime in the future.
    Thanks for the entertaining write up!
    I’ve subscribed to all things “Holly McKinnis” this website.

  7. Nice write, Holly.

    We needed you in Singapore back when Bugi Street was in flower. I can’t even imagine how the language would have prospered under your creative pen (we didn’t have keyboards in those days).

    Nightly, late in the evening, in the pre-war quarter not far from the old Asia Hotel, tables would be set out in Bugi St (under the sign of the Singapore Bicycle Dealers Association). And going on midnight, the transvestites would begin to show up — drop-dead beautiful Asian damsels, splendidly coiffed and attired, some in high boots, come to seduce the unwary and make bar money — at least until their 5-o’clock shadows became obtrusive in the early morning hours.

    Visiting Merchant Marines liked to likker-up naive young seamen and promote assignations w/ one of these seductresses. And if they were successful, and the innocent expectant lad courteously took his new date by the hand and nervously led her into the shadows beyond Bugi St (to revelations one is reluctant to imagine), the tableful of naughty seamen would raucously celebrate another score and the money traded hands.

    These evenings often ended when the Watermelon fights began and the bobbies arrived. Sadly old Bugi St long ago gave way to the bulldozers of modern Singapore.

  8. A great article and holy left nothing out. The night was a most interesting event. From the onset of the night I didn’t even know exactly what I was about to take pictures of but the community that gave their talent to the all night long event gave me more than just a beauty contest. As the hour peaked 5am the flow of talent was abundant and seemed to have a bit of every corner of the strip contributing. I’d be glad to follow holly on her adventures and photo document them anytime.

  9. Well done, Holly,… maybe TOO well done!
    I got a kick out of your snarky take on the beauty pageant.
    Joan Rivers better watch her ass!
    The tiaras were especially bouffant, no?
    I raise a carefully plucked eyebrow in your honor.
    Cheers George

  10. This was the most entertaining show I’ve seen in a long time great pageantry and wonderful dancing. Great time!

  11. I had the honor of being at the Miss Sin City pageant. It was absolutely fabulous. Better then anyone could have ever imagine. The costurming was great and the talent was over the top. The stage was fabulous. I can’t wait until next year.


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