For Kathy Griffin, star of Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, the D is for drag this weekend as she headlines the Best in Drag beauty pageant for the 11th consecutive time on Oct. 5 at downtown L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre. Following an opening monologue, she’ll turn things over to host Patrick Rush before taking a seat on the judging panel alongside Melanie Griffith, Holland Taylor (The Practice), Kathy Kinney (The Drew Carey Show) and Dot Jones (Glee).
“Nobody wins anything,” Rush glibly tells The Hollywood Reporter, although the annual show has raised over $3 million for Aid for AIDS, dedicated to providing housing and at-home care to patients of the disease. “It’s not like they get a Miata and a college scholarship. They end up getting to sit in the gay pride parade in a convertible in the heat.”
That might not go over so well for Miss Alaska, Tastee Freez (Seth Hancock), who will mimic part of the Frozen hit “Let it Go” for the talent portion of the competition. But it might be just right for Miss Hawaii, Suh Nami (Sean Kim), whose evening gown, requiring 200 yards of fabric, turns into a tidal wave. Miss Maine, Dotty Rae Johnson (Todd Wing), is “just a dude in a dress whose talent is ax throwing,” says Rush. “He’s sort of our handsome woman as we like to call him. The humor comes from the fact that none of these guys are beauties. We have a guy who works at Koontz Hardware, got a Wells Fargo banker. We use the word beauty loosely. I would say four out of six contestants, it’s probably their first time in heels and drag.”
As an anime character, Miss New York, Poh Mi Saki (Nicholas Mancini), might be able to forego the heels, and Miss Washington, Willamina Wonka (Marcus Barela), will feature an everlasting gob-stopping swimsuit while Miss New Mexico, D’vida Loca (David Flores), is just trying to stay calm for the big debut. “I’m a hundred percent nervous,” confesses Flores, a Wells Fargo assistant manager from Los Angeles. “But as soon as I get on that stage, I feel the love and energy from that crowd and I just feed off of that.”
Flores’ mother, stepfather, brothers, sisters and grandparents will all be there to support him Sunday night, along with some 30 bank employees. He came to the contest committed to winning, but as they got into rehearsals, he found himself floundering — only to be bolstered by his fellow contestants. “The closer we get to the date, we’re holding our hands together and walking through this,” says Flores. “The joy on everybody’s face and how everybody’s interacting with each other … I’m in this for the amazing experience.”
What started in the early nineties in a one-room West Hollywood apartment as a joke is now selling out the Orpheum for the benefit of Aid for AIDS, part of Alliance for Housing and Healing, a nonprofit leader in providing housing and other services for AIDS/HIV sufferers in the Los Angeles area. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a 2008 finding showed that the disease is prevalent in the homeless community, with an infection rate of 3.4 percent as opposed to 0.4 percent of the general population. This year’s Best in Drag has already raised over $400,000 before the queens even take the stage Sunday night.
“All I want to do is give back whenever I can and however much I can and in any way that I can,” says Flores, smiling nervously. “This is definitely going to be one of the most extreme ways that I’m giving back to the community.”