As she prepares to pass her title to a new queen, reigning Miss Gay Texas (and Miss Gay America) Asia O’Hara reflects on her amazing successes
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
The work of a pageant queen in never done. Especially when you’re overseeing some of the biggest pageants in the country.
That’s what it’s like for Asia O’Hara. The former Miss Gay USofA (and former Miss All American Goddess) is the current titleholder of both Miss Gay America and its feeder contest, Miss Gay Texas — considered the top national and the top statewide drag titles in the nation. And if you think being a pageant queen is all tiaras and lip gloss, well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
“Miss Gay Texas is the largest preliminary [to Miss Gay America in the fall], so I travel from city to city [across Texas] to administrate and facilitate the competition,” she says moments after stepping off an airplane. “Nothing is as labor-intensive [as the Miss Gay America system] because of all the duties and rules. I maintain quality control, I’m the score tabulator, I perform. And I do that nationally as well.”
It’s enough to make a queen feel like Cinderella.
But if being, arguably, the No. 1 drag superstar in the nation not crowned by RuPaul sounds like a “be careful what you wish for” scenario, it has also been a tremendous honor for O’Hara.
And by next week, she’ll be passing the torch to another starlet. The finals for Miss Gay Texas return to Dallas starting with prelims from July 19–21, with the coronation of the 2016 champion at the Rose Room on July 22.
“It’s going to be a really interesting year, because we have a mix of those who are familiar with the system and those who haven’t competed in it before,” she says. “A few have been competing off-and-on for a decade while for others, this is their first state-level contest. That offers the audience and the judges a wide array of contestants and a very good pageant experience.”
Even in the time Asia has competed, the world of pageants has changed.
“Especially in the America system, we pattern ourselves after mainstream entertainment, music and fashion, so we are kind of at the mercy of mainstream artists — that kind of drives our industry,” she says. “Ten years ago, the industry standard was new and organic and eclectic. Now, we have a more feminist thread with a strong, almost masculine presence onstage: Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato — stars who are not as dainty and feminine as we’re used to. To harness that [style] then make it look like female impersonation and not look like men in dresses takes a lot of finesse.”
Then again, learning the craft of drag is less underground. We have Drag Race. We have YouTube and Etsy. “You can learn to mix music and emulate characters and sew by Googling it,” O’Hara notes. “It’s given [next-generation contestants] an edge.”
But nothing can make you a champion without an innate appreciation for the essence of creating a new persona and selling it onstage. Contestants are judged by the style of their costumes, but also the fit, how well the color complements their complexion; how their hair works with the shape of their face, and how confident they appear, from their shoes to their nail polish.
Knowing “the look” is something O’Hara has done since she first began doing drag more than a decade ago. For most of that time, she’s designed her own costumes, though she turned her designs over to others to make for her. Around 2011, the company that made her garments asked if she would be interested in working for them as a designer.
“I didn’t do any sewing or construction or pattern-making, but I started to learn there about fabrics and textiles,” she says. “Then I went to work for a textile company and started making my costumes. A colleague asked me to make a costume for her daughter’s dance recital. [After initially resisting], she said, ‘You have a God-given talent — and don’t put it on a back burner.’” Now, O’Hara’s day job keeps her busy styling looks for other people.
It’s a good way to stay within the orbit of the pageant world when her reign ends — first with this month’s contest, then in October when her term as Miss Gay America passes.
“You know, we call ourselves ‘forever’ Miss Gay Texas instead of ‘former.’ It is something you are forever. I’ve realized that I’m not really stepping down, I’m helping induct a new member into our legacy and add a new jewel to the crown. Mine will always be there, but with hers next to mine.”
And this may well be her last year actively on the pageant scene. Although there are two more national contests she has won, “nothing is as prestigious as Miss Gay America, which has been going on for 40 years… and USofA is a close second. So while we all gravitate to things we have been successful at, I won’t be jumping into another pageant,” she says. “After [I step down], I will find some time to build some greatness in my personal life. I will force myself to focus on other aspects of my life. I want to be more well-rounded.”
And that’s how you win the interview portion, folks.
Miss Gay Texas finals take place July 19–21, with the finals at the Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs Road, July 22. MissGayAmerica.com/Miss-Gay-Texas-America.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.