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April 28, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
By day, David Ragsdale can make the perfect sandwich at Subway. By night, he can do a perfect front flip in high heels. Ragsdale, the first alternate in the Miss City of Columbia Pageant, is one of four Columbia contestants in the Miss Gay Missouri America drag queen pageant. He competes under the stage name D’Manda Respect. D’Manda wasn’t always the stage star she is now, though.
“When I started the art form of female impersonation, it was tragic,” Ragsdale says. “I didn’t know anything about lady panties.” After four years of strutting in stilettos on stage, he hopes to take home the crown at this year’s pageant, held April 28-30 at SoCo Club.
The Miss Gay Missouri America Pageant, founded in St. Louis in 1972, is the second oldest preliminary to Miss Gay America. The Columbia contestants, along with 12 others from all over the state, will compete for the crown with hopes of bringing the title back to central Missouri for the second time since 2004.
Five judges evaluate contestants in categories such as evening gown and talent. The judges also privately interview the contestants out of drag. “The male interview is the hardest part,” Ragsdale says. “I feel like they are getting a little too close to me. I started drag because I wanted another world through D’Manda Respect. She can do things that Dave never could.” The winner is expected to represent the pageant and Missouri’s drag queen community in both male and female personas.
SoCo owner Marty Newman has been planning details around the show’s burlesque theme with pink, black and glitter as the main ingredients.
“We are very proud to host the pageant,” Newman says. “Everything will be pink, like you are in a Pepto-Bismol cloud.” The stage curtains were sewn by competitor Jason Dorman, whose stage name is Ginger Nichole. The curtains frame the burlesque backdrop and nine glittering disco balls. Newman bought a new spotlight for the occasion to draw more attention to the queens. The bartenders are mixing pink martinis, and Newman made an 8-foot tall gold glitter pageant logo and a plush pink carpet to guide guests into the lounge at SoCo. After lobbying to bring the pageant to CoMo for seven years, he’s sure that SoCo is prepared.
The final night’s attendance is estimated to be about 500 people.
Jeff Thompson, the only former Miss Gay Missouri America winner from Columbia, will be onstage, in the crowd and backstage during the entire competition. He will smooth over every wrinkle, whether in the gowns or event plans. Just don’t expect to see wigs flying or stilettos stomping.
“They are my competition, but they are also my sisters,” says Dorman, “If my dresser sees something out of place on another contestant, she will help them, if they are nice.”
The prize packages for the top five contestants amount to $3,500 total in cash and prizes, including jewelry, flowers and plaques. The winner will travel around Missouri to other preliminary competitions throughout the year to promote the pageant and encourage contestants. The final Miss Gay America pageant will take place in Columbus, Ohio this October.
“It is so much more than a crown,” Thompson says. “You become part of a wonderful sisterhood. It is an honor and a deep privilege.”