And your 2011 Voice of Pride winners are …

Voice of Pride individual winner Dru Rivera, from left, and group winners Spare Parts, made up of Angie Landers and Robert Olivas. (Photos by Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

On Sunday night, the Rose Room hosted the 2001 Voice of Pride finals and, with some surprises. The competition started in early June and whittled down from hundreds of entrants to a strong handful of talent. With 10 solo finalists and three groups competing for top honors, the night belonged to both new and old faces.

The competition for group contestants grew exponentially. Steelos and AMP(H) rounded out the group finalists but by the end of it all, one group rose above the rest. Spare Parts set a high bar delivering oodles of chemistry and charm. As soloists, both are fine performers, but Robert Olivas and Angie Landers brought out something in each other that I hadn’t seen from either before. Landers was letting the audience have it as she poured her heart into Jason Aldean’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Olivas let her shine but didn’t disappear by solidly holding up his end of the vocals and even performance. It really was a great moment as they finished to rousing applause, and this was only their first song. They followed up with the punchier “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland. With simple but effective choreography, they delighted with a strong showing and even the bauble at the end of the song added charm rather than detriment.

“After six years, it’s finally happened,” Olivas said while walking to the Round-Up Saloon for a post-victory celebration. Their excitement on stage after the announcement was a genuinely sweet moment.

In the individual competition, the decision had to have been a difficult one. Each of the 10 finalists delivered strongly and feasibly, any of them could have deservedly taken it home. But in the end, Dru Rivera crooned a beautiful “Cryin’” and rocked out with “Dream On,” and he ended up with the title of Voice of Pride. I figured he’d place high, but thought the winner might have been between Angie Landers and Kristen Philips. Landers was riding high from her strong performances with Olivas, and Philips killed everyone in the room with her rendition of “River Deep, Mountain High.” But Vanessa Guzman rallied with a strong second song — a fun and engaging “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James. But it was Rivera’s connection to his inner rock god that I think pushed him to the top. He body-slammed the audience with his take on the signature Aerosmith tune and proved that even classic rock can win over a gay crowd. The other top finalists included 4th runner-up Joel Canales, 3rd runner-up Juliana Jeffrey, 2nd runner-up Kristen Philips and 1st runner-up Vanessa Guzman.

It was a riveting moment because I think Rivera’s victory came as a surprise to some being that there were more familiar faces in the running, but the audience still roared and applauded his win. Interestingly, it was his first time to participate in the event. As the winner, he won a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to Puerto Rico and a performance at Pride in September.

—  Rich Lopez

Queer locals of 2010

Twelve months isn’t all that long a time, but the impact someone can make on an entire year during any part of it can reverberate well beyond the calendar year. When we thought back on the culture in 2010, these are the 10 men and women who stood out most — for good or bad.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Israel Luna, filmmaker, left

Kelli Ann Busey, ticked-off activist, center
The most vocal debate in the gay community about the arts that occurred on a national scale started in Dallas, as Busey, a trans woman, objected to the title of Luna’s “transploitation” revenge melodrama Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives. GLAAD got involved, protests were lodged when the film played at a festival in New York City, accusations and insults flew … it wasn’t always (ever?) pretty, but it did get people talking.

Mel Arizpe, Voice of Pride winner, right
After numerous attempts, Arizpe delighted her fans by winning VOP in August as a soloist and for a duet with her girlfriend … who herself came in second overall. Talk about keeping it all in the family.

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Jorge-Trinity

Jorge Rivas, photographer, left
Following Adam Bouska’s NOH8 photo campaign, Rivas started Faces of Life, a series of portraits of locals aimed at raising money for AIDS Arms. Like Bouska, Rivas hopes to take it nationwide.

Trinity Wheeler, theater queen, right
Wheeler hasn’t lived in Texas for a while, but when he returned to his hometown of Tyler to direct The Laramie Project, he faced vocal resistance. The play was still put on, and became a success.

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Jeffrey-Jack

Jeffrey Payne, leathermen, left

Jack Duke, leathermen, right
Payne, the outgoing International Mr. Leather of 2010, was nearly replaced by Duke, who ended up in third place overall. Payne set a high standard as IML champ, having an award named after him and starting a foundation to help the hearing impaired within the gay community. Duke has led an active role in the leather scene locally, statewide, nationally and internationally, showing the world Dallas knows leather culture — and gentlemen.

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Danielle-Harold

Danielle Girdano, cyclist, left
Girdano wanted to raise money to bring awareness to teen
suicide even before the issue made national news, so she biked from Minnesota to Dallas, pulling in just in time for the Pride parade.

Harold Steward, arts visionary, right
Steward gave the black LGBT community a shot in the arm, co-founding the Fahari Arts Institute which hosts the popular Queerly Speaking series at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

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TKO-Softball

Team TKO, softballers
Member teams of the Pegasus Slow-pitch Softball Association did gangbusters at the annual World Series in August, but none did better than the players on Uptown Vision’s TKO, who collectively won the B-
Division trophy by defeating the Long Beach Rounders in the NAGAAA tourney in Columbus, Ohio. When it comes to sports, it’s hard to beat a Texan — Tony Romo notwithstanding.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas’ vocal adrenaline

VOP runners-up raised the bar for everyone this year

Voice of Pride winner Mel Arizpe knew this was a great year to win the contest, with the new groups category and the trip to England, but she also knew it was the toughest yet. She and the other finalists all agree the competition was stronger than ever: Third through fifth place took home prize money, but also released a collective sigh just to make it on the proverbial podium this time around.

Runners-up Juliana Jeffrey, Angie Landers and Robert Olivas give some insight to their experience at this year’s competition and how firsts always seem to happen, no matter how long they’ve been competing.

— Rich Lopez

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The Bridesmaid: Juliana Jeffrey, 2d  runner-up
Competition songs: “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts and “So Small” by Carrie Underwood.

Why these songs? I love the Underwood song, no question. I pick songs I really love or feel like I’m going through. I was just like Eek! But I don’t think my first song was a good choice.

What changed from last year? The talent was a lot better. Everybody was good and I think more people are finding out about it. It felt different this year — there wasn’t a lot of bonding like before. Every year I’ve made a friend. There was a lot more pressure.

TROIKA | Jeffrey, left, Landers, center, and Olivas gave the also-ran list star power. (Dallas Voice/ Arnold Wayne Jones)

Did the trip to England affect your performance? Who doesn’t wanna go to England? But personally, I try not to think about the prizes. It’s added stress. I like amazing singers and that makes me wanna be better.

You’re a VOP veteran. Would you rather win or keep placing and racking up change? Hey, all I can say is my rent is paid! The reason I do it every year is because I have so much fun with people I meet. We hang out.

Any immediate musical plans? I’m 29 but I don’t really have anything to show for my singing. So, I need to get more serious about that. But I gotta work these 40 hours a week. It’s tough, but I gotta make a demo.

Any thoughts on next year’s Voice of Pride? I know what to expect and I know what motions to go through so that’s relaxing. I think next year I will broaden my song choices. I just don’t wanna put myself in a box. I tell myself I’m gonna step out of this country box, but I never really know what judges are looking for. I just go with what feels good and pray for the best. I just try to do me.
The Breakthrough: Angie Landers, 3d runner-up
Competition songs: “I Drove All Night” and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion.

Any second thoughts? No, though I tend to think that I should have shown my country side as well as my pop side. There’s always next year.

How was it when your name was called? Oh my gosh, it was such a surreal moment.

Do you pick songs you like or that will sound good? I only perform songs that touch me or I enjoy, but for competition I try to choose songs that show off who I am and what I can do.

How do you prepare? Practice — in my living room!


The Dude: Robert Olivas, 4th runner-up

Competition songs: “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train and “Remember When It Rained” by Josh Groban.

Why these two? I love those songs and I wanted to show my range. I’ve been paying attention to the judges’ comments and I wanted to win the crowd. But dang, the gays love their women singers.

Yeah, you were the highest placed male this year. The competition was gonna be so strong and it was all about the women this year.

How’d you strategize? I made it my business to go to the preliminaries and see the competition. I’ve grown to see what judges are looking for.

When did you start singing? I started singing about four but didn’t have training until my girlfriend at the time talked me into taking a vocal class at UTEP.

What did you learn about yourself this time? I’ve only made finals three times so I’m proving that I can be consistent.

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It takes two

Mel Arizpe, far right, and Laura Carrizales had quite  summer. The real-life couple took the No. 1 and 2 spots in the solo competition at Voice of Pride and scored the inaugural group competition victory. As Mi Diva Loca, the duo won over the crowd with their second performance, a medley of pop hits which might have been risky. “Because it wasn’t a whole song, we wondered if the judges would see past that into our harmonies,” Carrizales says. “These were just songs we liked.” They also got to perform at Pride in Manchester, England.

If you missed ’em before, though, you can catch them (plus third place Juliana Jeffrey) riding in the parade Sunday, followed by a performance at the festival in Lee Park afterward.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

VOP winners shine in Manchester

Arizpe, Carrizales wow crowd with performance on final day of 10-day Pride celebration in England

Ed Walsh  |  Special Contributor edwalsh94105@yahoo.com

Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales
TALENT ABROAD | Mel Arizpe, right, winner of the 2010 Voice of Pride competition, sings a duet with her partner — and VOP first runner-up — Laura Carrizales during their appearance at the Manchester Pride celebration on Monday, Aug. 30. (Photo courtesy MRNY.com)

MANCHESTER,  England — A couple from Dallas brought a bit of Texas to England this week and stole the show on the final day of Manchester Pride 2010, the city’s 10-day Pride celebration.
Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales were the winners of Dallas’s Voice of Pride, an annual contest sponsored by the Dallas Tavern Guild. Arizpe came in first place, winning a trip for two to Manchester and $3,000.

As luck would have it, Arizipe’s girlfriend, Laura Carrizales, won second place in the contest.

So naturally, Arizipe took Carrizales for the trip to the UK.

The couple, performing as “La Diva Loca,” also won the Voice of Pride’s duo category.

All those talents were put to good use at Manchester Pride 2010 on Monday, Aug. 30. The couple took to the stage at 2:40 p.m. and performed for a short 10 minutes — but they enthralled the crowd for each second.

Arizpe took to the stage first. “All the way from Dallas, we’ve come to sing to you all,” she told the British crowd in a Texas twang before launching into the  Whitney Houston hit “I’m Every Woman.”
The Brits roared their approval.

Carrizales joined Arizpe next on stage for their duet medley of four different songs: The Fugees “Ready or Not,” followed by En Vogue’s single “Never Gonna Get it,” and two different versions of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” — first the fast dance version, then the slower “Glee” version.

The Dallas couple made sure that their abbreviated version of “Poker Face” included the line, “I wanna hold ’em like they do in TEXAS please,” with a strong emphasis on “Texas.”

And the crowd was thrilled with the Gaga tribute, many dancing and singing along.

The medley, put together by their friend Danny Anchondo, was the same duet performance that helped them win the Voice of Pride group category.

Said Arizpe after the show, “I was happy they were responding. I think they really enjoyed the duet.”

Carrizales said they were concerned about the sound system, but in the end, she noted, it sounded great.

Mel Arizpe and Laura Carrizales
AFTERMATH | Laura Carrizales, left, and Mel Arizpe relax after performing onstage at Manchester Pride. (Ed Walsh/Special to Dallas Voice)

Arizpe and Carrizales appeared confident and relaxed on stage. They said that it helped that they were performing for strangers who they would never have to face again if they gave a bad performance. “It was a comfort that we didn’t know anybody,” said Carrizales.

The couple also said they were impressed by the scope of Manchester Pride: “It’s 10 times the size of Dallas,” said Carrizales. “They block off a whole section of the city [in Manchester].”

Added Arizpe, “We get a good turnout in Dallas but nothing like this.”

The idea to award Dallas’s Voice of Pride winner with a trip to Manchester was hatched by Andrew Stokes, who is both the chairman of Manchester Pride and the chief executive of the city’s official tourism office.

Stokes came up with the idea after visiting Dallas and visiting with his friend George Carrancho, who is part of American Airlines LGBT-dedicated “rainbow” sales team. Stokes watched part of the Voice of Pride competition while he was in town.

“I thought what a great thing it would be to bring the winner to Manchester,” Stokes said.

He worked out the trip with Carrancho and American Airlines, who helped sponsor the trip. Stokes and Carrancho introduced Arizpe and Carrizales before the couple’s performance.

So what’s it like for a couple of Texans in England?

Carrizales and Arizipe said they were welcomed warmly by the English and were given the VIP treatment during the four days they were in town. They were surprised that they were asked to march at the start of the parade, right behind the grand marshal, actor Sir Ian McKellan. That was an impressive honor considering that there were 101 contingents in the parade.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens