Party With a Purpose: New York's Best in Drag

Contributing Editor
Best in Drag 2018, Mariette Moure (Credit Adam Fredericks)

When I sauntered into the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, June 11, for New York's "Best in Drag" event, I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, I've seen more than my share of drag shows and been to countless benefits. This drag pageant competition was raising funds for two of New York's premiere HIV/AIDS service organizations, The Alliance for Positive Change and GMHC.

But when I entered the theatre, I stopped in my tracks and my eyes popped out of my head. There on the stage, as a preshow, were six or seven hotter-than-Tabasco-on-Taco-Tuesday, nearly naked fellows -- their outfits consisting of mere straps (Straps!) -- boogying to sick beats on the stage. "Now this," I thought, "is how to start a benefit."

I found my seat and was informed that the hot boys were not just eye candy but also selling tickets. These tickets were how the audience would vote for their favorite drag queen of the night, and the more tickets you purchased, the more voting power you would have.

The lights dimmed, and the show began. The evening was hosted by former New York's Best-in-Drag winner and America's Got Talent performer, Delighted Tobehere.

Related: This Latinx Drag Queen's HIV Disclosure Brought Down the House in Brooklyn

"I'm Delighted Tobehere, and I hope you are, too!" she said. The self-described seven-foot-tall singing queen of all trades was a glamorous and charming host, keeping the competition and the entire evening moving quickly with her quick wit and sharp repartee. The entire evening was overseen by ballet and Broadway great, director Robert LaFosse.

Alliance executive director and CEO Sharen Duke welcomed the audience. "New York's Best in Drag is a party with a purpose," she said. "It raises awareness while raising funds to support our work to end the AIDS epidemic."

The drag performers competing were diverse and uniquely marvelous. And they had the best drag names! Seriously. There was Lady Quesa'Dilla, Champagne Bubbles, Didi Cumswell, Mariette Moure, Mini Horrorwitz, Ruby Fox, Sasha Pierce Davenport, and (maybe my favorite drag name ever) Carlos the Über Driver.

Judges for New York's Best in Drag 2018 were actor and singer (and son of the late great), Richard Pryor Jr.; the current Lola in Broadway's Kinky Boots, J. Harrison Ghee; and legendary New York columnist Michael Musto.

Kelsey Louie, CEO with GMHC, also addressed the crowd, cautiously entering wearing a conservative suit and f-me pumps. "The drag community has always been there for GMHC," he said, "and events like New York's Best in Drag are so important because they bring visibility to the work we do to end the AIDS epidemic, and the work that still needs to be done."

First up was the talent portion of the pageant. Let me tell ya, the queens brought it! There were singers, dancers, and lip syncers, but my favorites were Mariette Moure, who flourished in a ballet performance (along with a swarthy partner) in which she was even up on pointe(!), and Didi Cumswell, who accompanied her lip sync of Teresa Brewer's 1956 song, "A Sweet Old Fashioned Girl," with a sweet old-fashioned striptease.

At intermission, boxes were placed at the foot of the stage for the audience to put their tickets in to vote for their favorite. To keep things exciting even during the break, the go-go boys were back on stage shaking their goodies and selling more tickets.

After intermission, we were treated to a mini-concert by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, who camped it up with a few numbers. Those boys never fail to bring fun and energy to an event. And let me tell ya, you haven't lived until you've heard their "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"/ "I'm Every Woman" medley.

But back to the drama of the competition! The audience votes were tallied, and the finalists were ready to be announced. The finalists were Champagne Bubbles, Didi Cumswell, Mariette Moure, and Mini Horrorwitz. Each was then brought to the stage to answer a pressing question having to do with current world events. Each queen was eloquent, and I was impressed with how well versed they were on HIV issues.

Before the crowning, the 2016 Best-in-Drag winner, Lady SinAGaga, took the stage in an all-white ensemble and proved with a dynamic lip sync why she had worn the crown. A touching moment came afterward when she told the audience how much being named Best in Drag had meant to her, and how it had made her become more involved in the activist/advocate community.

Finally, the moment we all were waiting for: the crowning of New York's 2018 Best in Drag. The judges tallied their votes for the final decision and chose Didi Cumswell as first runner-up and, taking the tiara for first place, ballerina extraordinaire Mariette Moure.

But the real winners of the night were The Alliance for Positive Change and GMHC, which not only partnered to make the evening happen but also raised much-needed funds to support programs at their respective agencies.

If you wish to support either organization, contact them directly for information on how to donate. As Delighted Tobehere said, quoting her friend Bob the Drag Queen, "There's never a bad time to tip a drag queen or donate to a good cause."