POSTED ON AUGUST 11, 2010:
Miss Gay America looks fairly similar to its Miss America counterpart
When Aron Harvey turns to the TV screen to see Miss America contestants strike a pose and beam a smile, he is filled with a sense of familiarity that many other men will never understand.
The hairspray and lipstick these contestants encounter in the pageant world evoke a distant memory. After all, Harvey has, quite literally, walked a mile, or at least the length of a stage, in their shoes.
Ten years ago, Harvey, who also goes by the stage name Catia Lee Love, glided across the stage in front of a cheering crowd to be crowned the next Miss Gay America. Contrary to what some might think, Harvey said the Miss Gay America and Miss America competitions are not that different, regardless of whether a man or a woman decides to wear the pageant gown.
"(Miss Gay America) operates very similar to the actual Miss America with obvious plumbing differences," he said.
Today, Harvey is able to look back on his quest for the crown with fond memories. But 10 years ago, much of Harvey's free time was filled with multiple sequins, dozens of hair pins and plenty of stress-induced sweat.
Harvey's entrance into the pageant scene began with his dream to start a costume company. After attending his first drag show, he knew those contestants could be his target customers.
"I decided to enter a contest, so they could see the costumes," he said. "Well, no one could afford what I did, but they loved the entertainment."
And with his competitive ballroom dancing background, Harvey knew how to entertain the crowd.
With the Miss Gay Oklahoma pageant including a three-minute long solo talent portion, proving he was talented enough to be announced the winner was an important part of his strategy toward victory. And his competition was creative, with Miss Gay Oklahoma contestants doing anything from a one-person Broadway production to a difficult song on the clarinet.
So Harvey stretched out his muscles, doused on the hairspray and headed out on stage to do a Latin number to "Let's Get Loud" by Jennifer Lopez. But even when Harvey did exceptionally well in the talent portion, he knew he still had to rack up the points in the other sections of the competition, including a separate, longer talent section, a business interview, an on-stage question and an evening gown portion. He quickly learned a pageant can often play mind games with its contestants, he said.
"Pageants are tricky," he said. "You can go in and think you're positively winning something and, because it's more of a math game than anything else, it's very easy to not win even when you're doing very well ... There's always those little monkey wrenches."
After three attempts, Harvey won Miss Gay Oklahoma and moved on to Washington, D.C. to win and become Miss Gay America in 2000. But the whirlwind of activity did not end after the heels were off and the gown was hung up.
"With Miss Gay America, you travel the country just like Miss America does," he said. "However, unlike Miss America, your focus is on helping the promoters operate their concept ... It's a little more like a job, where with Miss America, it's more about the platform, charity work and appearances."
Although Harvey did not win thousands in scholarships like many women contestants in other pageants, he said the experience was worth it.
"If you're a good entertainer and a good MC and liked by the public, then you will appear at preliminaries for the rest of your existence," he said. "You don't ever really win what you put into it, but you make up for it in the long run."
Even after his year as the face for Miss Gay America, Harvey could not step away from the excitement of drag pageants, eventually stepping up to be the new owner of Miss Gay Oklahoma America and Miss Gay Oklahoma USA. He saw opportunities within the Miss Gay Oklahoma USA pageant, even though he never competed in the competition.
"I chose Miss Gay America (to compete) because it is the only drag pageant that requires the contestants are non-augmented below the neck," he said. "That was something very important to me because I treat this as more of an industry than a lifestyle. I knew that I wanted to be able to leave the industry the same as when I entered it."
Within the past few years as owner, he has watched the drag pageant scene change. When Harvey wore the crown, winners predominantly performed at nightclubs and in theater settings. This year's Miss Gay America Coco Montrese, however, was invited to a Miss America function.
"We're starting to see a lot more integration into avenues of exposure that weren't there a few years ago," Harvey said.
Although the drag pageant has become more professional, Harvey said one thing remains consistent from year to year -- the energy.
"Everything in a drag pageant is a real girl pageant on steroids," he said.
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