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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Life Is Best in Drag!

By Sherri Beachfront Lewis

November 9, 2010

The Orpheum, Los Angeles. Photo:  JPI Studios

The Orpheum, Los Angeles. Photo: JPI Studios

Welcome to the Show of Shows, Best in Drag 2010, a glorious celebration of generosity, friendship, fellowship and faux fur! It's the fun in fundraiser. (Check out KABC News' coverage of Best in Drag!)

Andrea Krauss, Jeannette Bon Durant and Sherri Lewis. Photo: Andrea Krauss.

Andrea Krauss, Jeannette Bon Durant and Sherri Lewis. Photo: Andrea Krauss.

I'm rushing downtown to the Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles, to get my volunteer on! I'll be working, not walking, the pink carpet this year with my girl friends Andrea Krauss (Regent Entertainment) and Jeannette Bon Durant (Marketing Communications Manager for Aid for AIDS). Andrea, Jeannette and I are all survivors: Andrea and Jeannette from cancer and yours truly with HIV.

I so admire these women who have continued to work and be of service as they went through their difficult treatments. Now their hair and health has returned and they are victorious!

This is the event we look forward to all year. Our Halloween. Our gathering of love and service, rhinestones and boas! But for us "real girls" we get to watch those BIG girls turn it out!

This year's contestants are:

Miss Alaska - Bridgetta Nowear aka Taylor Goodrich
Miss Kansas - Charity Case aka Wendel Duppert
Miss Louisiana - Riga Mortess aka Donato Crowley
Miss New Jersey - Juana De Ginah aka Luis Camacho
Miss New York - Ann Let's Be Frank aka Tas Steiner
Miss North Carolina - Kitty Hawk aka Johnny Chaillot

Scroll down to the bottom of this page for pictures of these contestants, celebrity judges -- and more!

Miss Alaska and Miss New Jersey wait for the final results. Photo: JPI Studios.

Miss Alaska and Miss New Jersey wait for the final results. Photo: JPI Studios.

From its humble beginnings in a modest living room in California, "The Battle for the Tiara" (its original name, later to be changed to Best in Drag) has continued to raise money and spirits for men, women, children and families living with HIV/AIDS.

Stephen M., first-ever recipient of the Patrick R Service Award. Photo: JPI Studios.

Stephen M., first-ever recipient of the Patrick R Service Award. Photo: JPI Studios.

Patrick Rush began hosting because, as he jokingly says, he was "the only one who had a suit!" But by 1989 that suit became a tuxedo, and Patrick's Irish good looks and quick wit -- combined with his compassionate heart -- made him the perfect producer and beloved Master of Ceremonies for 18 years. (I interviewed Patrick Rush for my here! Networks podcast series, Straight Girl in a Queer World, before 2008's Best in Drag, and he talks all about the history of the event -- find the episode here!)

Patrick retired his Master of Ceremonies position in 2009, but not without leaving a legacy behind, The Patrick R Service Award that provides an annual award to a student enrolled in a vocational school who is HIV positive, recovering from an addiction for at least one year, and is a Los Angeles County resident.

Host Jason Dudey with Best in Drag star Lotta Slots. Photo: JPI Studios.

Host Jason Dudey with Best in Drag star Lotta Slots. Photo: JPI Studios.

The new host this year was Jason Dudey, a longtime BID supporter, friend and stand-up comedian who proved to be the host with the most. Big shoes to fill, eh hmm, but he did.

This year BID star Lotta Slots aka Jeffrey Drew did her last perfect back flip and has retired her wigs, heels, boas and rhinestones -- at least from BID. But I have no doubt that Lotta will be flipping everyone off, I mean out, somewhere soon.

Year after year Lotta kicks off her heals after she dazzles them in the show's opening number, the audience shouting to her for a back flip, tossing money at the stage as she banters back at the audience agreeing to $1,000 for a perfect back flip. Lotta kicks off her heels and steadies her stance as she prepares. We all take a breath and a prayer and away she goes. Perfect landing, right on her feet! The crowd goes crazy and throws more money at the stage, which continues throughout the show.

We wish you a Lotta love and thank you for all you have done for so many all these years. We laughed, we cried and we booed. We love you Lotta Slots!

Lotta Slots, aka Jeffrey Drew.  Photo: Mark Melnick

Lotta Slots, aka Jeffrey Drew. Photo: Mark Melnick

With all the color and glamour, the reality of AIDS is still stealing the spotlight but not the hope. We volunteers are here year after year, with mad love, commitment and friendship -- from the crew, to production, to choreographer/director Tom Pardoe, to the no-frills celebrity judges who make their own way to the theater for this event that continues to entertain, inspire and make Best in Drag Aid for AIDS' #1 fundraising event of the year.

The generosity of celebrity judges, who have continued to grace the pink carpet since the beginning -- Kathy Griffin (My Life on the D List), John C. Reilly (Cyrus, Chicago), Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), Jayma Mays and Dot-Marie Jones (Glee) just to name a few -- give freely of their time and money to support the cause.

Celebrity judges Dot-Marie Jones, Jayma Mays and Sara Gilbert. Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judges Dot-Marie Jones, Jayma Mays and Sara Gilbert. Photo: JPI Studios.

Ninety-two percent of all revenue goes to Aids for AIDS' client programs. Their mission statement: To provide basic necessities of life to men, women, children and families living with HIV/AIDS through a safety net of essential housing and direct supportive services.

Total money raised -- presented by the Italian Greyhounds. Photo: JPI Studios.

Total money raised -- presented by the Italian Greyhounds. Photo: JPI Studios.

After hours of working the pink carpet, Andrea, Jeannette and I find our seats and kick off our shoes. The show opens with everyone's favorite straight girl in a queer world, Kathy Griffin. We are hysterical, laughing out loud with pure glee at how fabulous life can be even in the face of adversity.

Since there's not enough space to write it all, a picture can say a thousand words. Here are a few below; click this link for even more.

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More Photos

Onstage after the show.

Onstage after the show. Back row L to R: Miss Kansas -- Charity Case; Heather Tom and Jayma Mays (judges); Miss New York -- Anne Let's Be Frank; Miss Best In Show, Miss Alaska -- Bridgetta Nowear; Miss Louisiana -- Riga Mortess; Kathy Kinney (judge); Miss New Jersey -- Juana De Ginah; two Italian Greyhounds (showgirls). Middle: Bear with Miss Alaska; two Italian Greyhounds (showgirls); Check Puppy; Dot-Marie Jones (judge); MC Jason Dudey; Holland Taylor with Sara Gilbert, Linda Hamilton, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris (judges); director and choreographer Tom Pardoe; Italian Greyhound. Front row: Color commentators Dee W. Ieye and Lotta Slots; Italian Greyhound; 2009 Winner Sybil Rights; John C. Reilly (judge) and Italian Greyhound. Missing: Kathy Griffin (who opened the show). Photo: JPI Studios.

Comedienne Kathy Griffin. Photo: JPI Studios.

Comedienne Kathy Griffin. Photo: JPI Studios.

Opening number with Lotta Slots and the Italian Greyhounds. Photo: JPI Studios.

Opening number with Lotta Slots and the Italian Greyhounds. Photo: JPI Studios.

Color commentators Dee W. Ieye and Lotta Slots. Photo: JPI Studios.

Color commentators Dee W. Ieye and Lotta Slots. Photo: JPI Studios.

Miss Alaska -- Bridgetta Nowear -- in the evening gown competition. Photo: JPI Studios.Poster of Miss Kansas -- Charity Case. Photo: JPI Studios.

Miss Alaska -- Bridgetta Nowear -- in the evening gown competition. Photo: JPI Studios.

Poster of Miss Kansas -- Charity Case. Photo: JPI Studios.

Miss Louisiana --  Riga Mortess. Photo: Mark Melnick.Miss New Jersey -- Juana De Ginah. Photo: Mark Melnick.

Miss Louisiana -- Riga Mortess. Photo: Mark Melnick.

Miss New Jersey -- Juana De Ginah. Photo: Mark Melnick.

Miss New York -- Ann Let's Be Frank. Photo: Mark Melnick.And the winner is ... Miss Alaska! With last year's winner, Sybil Rights aka Johnathan Wallace (left). Photo: JPI Studios.

Miss New York -- Ann Let's Be Frank. Photo: Mark Melnick.

And the winner is ... Miss Alaska! With last year's winner, Sybil Rights aka Johnathan Wallace (left). Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judge Linda Hamilton. Photo: JPI Studios.Celebrity judges Holland Taylor and John C. Reilly. Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judge Linda Hamilton. Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judges Holland Taylor and John C. Reilly. Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judges Sara Gilbert, Jayma Mays, Kathy Griffin, Anna Faris and Chris Pratt. Photo: JPI Studios.

Celebrity judges Sara Gilbert, Jayma Mays, Kathy Griffin, Anna Faris and Chris Pratt. Photo: JPI Studios.

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Sherri Beachfront Lewis was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987 after a routine blood test for her marriage license. She was one of the first women to be diagnosed with HIV in the United States and still be alive and well. In the past 20-plus years, Sherri has worked with and coordinated numerous HIV/AIDS research and advocacy efforts. She's been a columnist for Arts & Understanding Magazine, a national HIV/AIDS publication, highlighting the stories of women living with HIV/AIDS. She has graced the cover of POZ Magazine and been featured in the Washington Post. Sherri has performed with Sheryl Lee Ralph and Patti La Belle at DIVAS Simply Singing, and with Broadway CARES/Equity Fights AIDS in her hometown of New York City.

Sherri recently reclaimed her entertainer's identity as Sherri Beachfront, an 80s pop diva, as the host of Straight Girl in a Queer World -- a series of 60 podcasts for Here! Networks in which she interviewed a wide range of fascinating guests between 2007 and 2008. Download and listen to Sherri's podcasts!

Become friends with "Straight Girl in a Queer World" on Facebook!

Speaking engagements: Sherri Beachfront Lewis is available to speak to groups. Contact Sherri about speaking at your organization or event!


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Interviews With Sherri:

Former Pop Star Sherri Lewis Talks About Living With HIV (October 2009)

This Month in HIV: Tips and Tricks for Coping With HIV/AIDS (November/
December 2007)

Washington Post Profiles HIV/AIDS Advocate, Singer Sherri Lewis (December 23, 2008)


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