Miss Gay US of A at the Palladium: We Were There, and You Should've Been Too

After a week of preliminary events, the Miss Gay USofA pageant descended on the Palladium on Friday, bringing hundreds of drag queens and fans thereof to Dallas.

Thirty-six contestants from across the country all vied to be the next Miss Gay USofA (not to be confused with Miss Gay America or Miss Gay National). For 2013, the theme was "Thunderdome," with the tag line "May the odds be ever in your favor." It may be mixing franchises but the death tournament theme is fitting for a pageant. And not just for the contestants: With so many towering wigs in the crowd it's surprising the audience members never got violent.

"You had to sit in the front row," said emcee Sophia McIntosh to one queen with a cockatoo plume of hair and a gold hood.

Last year's winner, Lawanda Jackson, appeared covered in silver, picked up a spear and danced so hard she shed sequins across the stage. As she finished the contestants came out, all covered in spikes and leather and black feathers. Twelve of the 36 queens assembled made the cut to compete, and the other 24 were dismissed.

The pageant is split into talent and evening-gown portions (there's also an interview portion that doesn't happen onstage). There's a winner for each of the three categories and an overall winner, plus four alternates. The following are highlights from the talent portion, which consisted entirely of lip-synching.

Shae Shae LaReese does the Harlem Shake with her back up dancers and four midgets. She's dressed in a jump-suit with drawings of human musculature and highlighter-colored wigs on her arms and legs. If there's a unifying theme here it's hard to pin down, but there is a lot of choreography.

Alexis Mateo, second runner-up from the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race, berates a mock RuPaul for snubbing her for another Drag Race contestant. Mateo then violently vogues down the catwalk, lip-synching to a song about how much she hates RuPaul - "I don't like RuPaul, I don't see her, I don't like RuPaul, don't care to be her." Drag Race alumnae Alyssa Edwards (Miss Gay USofA 2005) and Shangela join the back up dancers at the climax.

Multiple contestants, including Armani Davenport and Symphony Alexander Love perform as old women, serving Golden Girls realness. They hobble-dance across the stage and occasionally fall over, segueing from "I've fallen and I can't get up" to "My Neck, My Back."

Sunny Dee-Lite lip synchs to the Cher TV show. She's joined by Diana Ross and Bette Midler but it seems Miss Dee-Lite's real talent is for costume changes.

The costume changes you guys: Mahajanay DeMornay's tree costume splits in half and flies off the stage, revealing that she's actually wearing a lion costume. Sasha Lauren's dress changes color half a dozen times and at one point she disappears from the stage and pops up in the audience.

Between acts flocks of blond mohawks sail through the crowd as drag queens rush to the women's room. Previous pageant winners take the stage to perform short numbers while admirers line up to shower them in tips.

After an ungodly amount of time passes for all 12 contestants' talent, it's time for the evening gowns. Everyone's hair is high and tight, shaped like seashells - conchs, puka shells - or dimpled fruit. And everyone is SO SPARKLY. Most of the dresses were so sequined or embroidered the resulting glare ruined all photo ops.

The queens all returned to the stage for the final judgment. Shae Shae LaReese won the talent portion. Sunny Dee-Lite won for evening gown. And LaReese and Coti Collins tied in the interview portion, both with perfect scores. With two wins to her name, it's no surprise when Shae Shae LaReese got the crown. She sank to her knees clasping the plaque she got for the talent portion, while former winners cinch the lattice-like crown on her head, their own wigs rising souffle-like over their crowns. She rises, not to give a speech, but to descend to the catwalk, moving her mouth to the lyrics of Beyonce's "Halo," while the crowd surges forward, cash in hand, to pay tribute to their newest queen.

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