As ‘Jill Jordan,’ Johnny Maddox is the queen of pageant history
by Donalevan Maines
One historic homecoming deserves another for Johnny Maddox, who caps his 35-year career as female impersonator Jill Jordan at the 25th crowning of Miss Gay Texas USofA at Large, just two months after attending the 75th anniversary of the Texas preliminary to Miss America.
“That was like going on a time machine to Fantasy Island,” Maddox says, describing the reunion in Arlington of more than 40 former Miss Texas titleholders and hundreds of fans, former contestants, and volunteers.
“I was over the moon,” he says. “It put a whole new perspective on the 25th anniversary of Miss Texas at Large. I was there from the start, and I’m proud of how it’s grown and lasted from 1985 until now.”
Maddox enjoys a rich history with both drag and what he calls “real girl” pageants, beginning with the 1969 Miss Texas pageant he attended with fraternity brothers from East Texas State University. “When I turned the page of the program book and saw Miss Denton, Phyllis George, I said, ‘This is the winner.’ Somebody said, ‘You may be right. She’s already won swimsuit and talent.’”
The future Miss America also won Miss Congeniality, but placed third overall. It wasn’t until the following year that George won the Miss Texas crown on her 1970 march to national victory in Atlantic City.
Maddox toyed with drag on New Year’s Eve “going into ’72” and Halloween 1973 before entering the Miss Gay America pageant in the spring of 1974. “I went straight to the big time,” he laughs. “First of all, in male interview, the judges didn’t believe that this guy who looked like a halfback was a contestant.” After wowing them in interview—which would become Maddox’s specialty as a pageant coach—the judges couldn’t believe his transformation into a blonde glamazon.
“I wear a size 14 double E shoe,” he explains. “In the ’70s, stores didn’t carry dresses long enough, so just to see me in men’s shoes and men’s socks—well, you just had to make do. It was catch as catch can.”
Out of 54 contestants, Maddox made the top 15. “The face was undeniable, hair looked good, and I was a natural at doing pageants. I just did what Phyllis George would do!”
In 1978, Maddox caught a lucky break when Sandi Miller (“The first girl I coached in interview,” he says) won Miss Texas at 5’ 11”, then sold him the dazzling bugle-beaded evening gown she wore at Miss America. ›
“It was a $3,500 designer evening gown, and she sold it to me for $200,” he allows. “The turtleneck part we cut out so that it fell on my shoulders, and it looked perfectly fine.”
In 1985, Maddox judged the first Miss Texas at Large pageant. “It was held in San Antonio. There were three contestants, and each one won a category,” he recalls. “Second runner-up was Autumn Leaves, the interview winner. First runner-up was Bernadette, who won evening gown. Janice Dumont won talent, and she also won the pageant.”
Maddox entered the second annual pageant and placed second behind Cookie LaCooke. (Don’t get him started.)
In 1987, he says, “I returned with the same interview, same gown, same talent, and dared ’em not to crown me.” Sure enough, he won, but without a national “At Large” pageant to advance to, it wasn’t until 1993 that he would compete for Miss Gay USofA at Large.
“I felt like it was something I wanted to do, and needed to do, so my friends drove me to Hickory, North Carolina,” where he won interview (of course) and talent, performing a live monologue by the Bananas character from the play The House of Blue Leaves, then lip-synching “I’m Coming Home Again” by Gladys Knight.
Jacqueline St. James of nearby
Raleigh, North Carolina, won the pageant, but Maddox made the top 10. As any fan
of “real girl” pageants knows, it’s all
about making the top 10. After that, it’s
a crap shoot.
Maddox never entered again, but he’s always been a vocal supporter of “At Large” pageants for female impersonators who weigh at least 200 pounds. “You need to have pockets to fit into, so more people will have more of a chance to be somebody,” he explains. “At Large pageants are important for the same reason there’s a need for Classic,” he says, referring to Miss Gay USofA Classic, a recent pageant addition that’s limited to contestants over age 40.
“A 40-year-old cannot compete with a 20-year-old, and a 20-year-old big girl cannot compete with small girls 99 percent of the time. I know there are exceptions.” (He’s one of them. Jill Jordan won Miss Gay Southwest USofA in the mid-’90s.)
Maddox has also left his mark on pageants as a promoter, emcee, and producer of both Mr. and Miss contests, many of which gave future stars their first opportunity to perform in nightclubs.
For example, speaking of Whitney Paige, the reigning Miss Gay USofA Classic—and former Miss Gay Texas USofA, Miss Gay Texas USofA at Large, and Miss Gay USofA at Large—Maddox says, “Her first pageant was Dallas County—my pageant. So I’ve known a lot of people since they started. I’m connected to so many of them. I’ve been part of their lives. My memories are so personal and so special, and I’m looking forward to re-living a lot of them and then tying it all up with a little bow.”
However, at this reunion, Maddox won’t just be “doing what Phyllis George would do.” After this summer’s Miss Texas celebration, Maddox has a new role model in Bonnie Bland, Miss Texas 1948, who was the oldest former queen to return for the homecoming.
“I want to be the Bonnie Bland of the pageant,” he says. “I loved her. She is just so matter-of-fact. I saw myself in her. Of course, old people can say what they want. And I will be the oldest one there.”
Donalevan Maines wrote about USofA Pageants founder Jerry Bird in the May issue of OutSmart magazine.