It's like the Miss America pageant, but for female impersonators.
Contestants are judged on their evening gown, stage presence, speaking skills and talent (sorry, no lip syncing). The winner gets to travel the country for a year, representing the competition and meeting all sorts of faaaabulous people.
Michael Dixon of Tampa, a.k.a. Daphne Ferraro, is among drag queens nationwide vying for the crown as Entertainer of the Year. He won a regional competition this spring and heads to the national pageant July 31 to Aug. 2 in Louisville, Ky.
"I've always told myself that before I retire, I want to win a competition,'' he said. "Any time you're a national title winner, it means you've mastered the art form.''
To raise money for the trip, he created Evolution of Drag, a theatrical production starring Stephanie Shippae, Melanie Minyon and about two dozen other names in local drag. It premiers Sunday at the Honey Pot in Ybor City.
Dixon co-wrote the multimedia show with Addison Taylor.
The show mixes live acting with audio and video. A Las Vegas scene, of course, includes impersonations of Cher, Liza Minnelli and Christina Aguilera. The Broadway portion — an over-the-top take on the Little Shop of Horrors — doubles as Dixon's talent show number in the national competition. For the Big Ole Gay Finale, he sashays out in his evening gown.
Dixon, 30, started writing the script years ago but recently recruited his friends to bring it to life on stage. If well-received, he hopes to take it to other venues. When Dixon isn't Daphne, he works full-time in marketing for Kforce, a large staffing firm in Tampa. He has degree in fashion design and marketing and interned for Vera Wang in New York City.
He grew up fascinated by clowns and theater makeup and first did drag for a high school talent show. He's hard to miss in a crowd, standing 6 feet 5 — or 7 feet in drag.
"Once I did drag," he said, "I could be whoever I wanted.''
Michael, the marketing guy, and Daphne, the drag queen, are opposites, he said. Daphne is chatty and outgoing. Michael is quiet and shy. People who know him as Daphne may not recognize him as Michael.
Nina West, the reigning 2008 Entertainer of the Year, said Dixon has all the qualities of a national winner.
"He's talented, he's creative and he's incredibly fun and organized,'' said West, who lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Winning the crown would transform his life, as it has her's.
"It's very prestigious,'' she said. "Instead of being a local entertainer, it's boosted my career on a national scene.''
Contributing: Helen Anne Travis