Miss USA Crystle Stewart and her gay ties.
By Donalevan Maines
“In the pageant world and modeling world, I’m surrounded by them,” she explains. “I’m blessed, because they have the best taste, and they’re very encouraging, very insightful, and very motivating.”
In fact, it was two gay men from Dallas who encouraged Stewart not to give up on her dream of becoming Miss USA after falling short four times at Miss Texas-USA, including twice as first runner-up. (She had also been first runner-up twice at the Miss Houston-USA pageant.) Stewart says, “I was at a point that I wasn’t going to enter again, and yet I didn’t want to go through life thinking ‘what if?’”
That’s when veteran pageant guru Mike Graham contacted Stewart, seeking to sponsor her, along with jeweler Joe Wilmoth and Houston attorney Bo Boyd, who had been Miss Texas at the 1993 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. (The pageant prowess of both Graham and Wilmoth was featured in the 2000 documentary, Queen: The Making of an American Beauty , a behind-the-scenes look at the 1998 Miss Texas Scholarship pageant. In 2005, they teamed up to help Morgan Matlock, a legend in pageantry, win the Miss Texas crown in her last year of eligibility after more than a decade of failing to capture a state teen or adult title.)
Stewart says that Graham, Wilmoth, and Boyd “had seen me lose” on broadcasts of the Miss Texas-USA pageant, and although they were affiliated with Miss USA’s rival Miss America program, they wanted to try to transform Stewart from an also-ran to a winner.
“At first, I thought, ‘What do they want from me?’” she admits. But they convinced Stewart that all they wanted was “to see me win,” she says.
With their financial backing and coaching expertise, Stewart jumped back into the game with a killer wardrobe, renewed vigor, and what she called her three Ps: “patience, persistence, and perseverance.” In July 2007, on her fifth attempt, Stewart finally captured the elusive Miss Texas-USA crown.
When Stewart won Miss USA the following April, it was almost anti-climactic. In truth, the other state winners didn’t stand a chance against Stewart’s newfound confidence.
Stewart also credits her success to a plethora of other gay fans in Houston, including hairstylist Albert Luiz and his partner Amin Kabani (see “Tresses Dresser,” this issue), co-principals in An Albert Luiz Salon in Sugar Land.
In addition, Stewart has won a gay following in the fashion centers of New York City, where she has lived for a year as Miss USA.
“Gay men can give you really good advice because they know men and they know women,” she says. “If I have trouble with a boyfriend, who better to go to than a man? But gay men also can answer a lot of questions about beauty and fashion.”
Pageant fans who watched Stewart’s long journey to Miss USA will get to see her crown her successor when this year’s Miss USA pageant is telecast on NBC-TV on Sunday, April 19. The two-hour finals will cap a dazzling year for the former teacher’s aide, who once worked with autistic children in Fort Bend County.
“It feels like an amazing moment in our country in general, to witness our first African-American president, and I get to see that as an African American representing beauty in the same year,” Stewart says. “With Democrats, I think we are by far the closest we’re going to get in seeing rights for gays and other minorities. I think President Obama’s whole initiative is to treat everyone equally, and hopefully he will bring positive changes for the gay community. As a country, I think we have raised the platform higher for the rest of the world to see, that we are not stagnant, we are growing,” she adds.
What are Stewart’s plans after she relinquishes the Miss USA crown? She says she is trying to decide between returning to Texas and opening a charm school or staying in the Big Apple to host an entertainment program. “That could lead to a small acting gig, then maybe something bigger. And with me, I always want to reach for the stars!”
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine, including his article about two Houston men who help create beauty contest winners (“Power Behind the Throne,” June 2006).
Reflection of beauty: hairdresser Albert Luiz puts the finishing touches on Miss USA 2008 Crystle Stewart’s hair at the 2008 Miss Universe pageant, held in Vietnam this past July. Stewart passes on her title to 2009’s Miss USA on April 19 at the Theatre for the Performing Arts in Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The new Miss USA then competes in the Miss Universe pageant, scheduled for August 30 in the Bahamas.
One out of 65,061: when entering Missouri City, Texas, visitors notice that Miss USA 2008 is a proud resident of that city. Stewart has used that title to support causes benefiting people with HIV and AIDS, including AIDS Walk Houston and Latino Commission on AIDS’ Annual Gala Cielo Latino. Missouri City has won a few competitions itself. In 2006, Money Magazine named it one of America’s 100 best places to live. And in 2000, Black Entertainment Television (BET) named it one of America’s best places to live for middle-class African-American families.