A transgender woman who moved to Houston four years ago to make a fresh start has been crowned the new Miss Gay USofA.
“I stayed on a friend’s couch. It was the only option I had,” says Janet-Fierce Andrews, who swept a field of 34 contestants at the national pageant held in Dallas May 20–25. “It’s a long story, but I left my hometown of San Antonio with one suitcase and one bag. I had to sink or swim.”
Needless to say, Andrews swam.
“Janet worked really, really hard,” says Craig Henderson, the promoter for Miss Gay Texas USofA, the state preliminary that Andrews won last August at Rich’s in Houston. At each pageant, Andrews dazzled the judges in expensive gowns and talent costumes, and she thrilled audiences with elaborate production numbers.
“There is just a connection or sense of purpose when I’m onstage,” Andrews says. “Also, I’m in control. I am a control freak. I make my own mixes. I know exactly what I want to do.”
Growing up in the Alamo City, Andrews was the center of attention in her family, which she never sees anymore. “When I was five years old, at family get-togethers I would always be dancing. I entertained at any opportunity at school or at church, which was the only extracurricular activity I had. I went to private schools, and I was homeschooled. For a while, I took ballet. I was very, very, very sheltered.”
Her first exposure to female impersonation came in 2001, when her coworkers at a telemarketing call center in San Antonio took Andrews to a gay bar, The Saint, for a show starring the late Erica Andrews and Shady Lady. “One of my first thoughts was, ‘I can probably do that. I might can do it better.’ The little kid in me imagined how I would look like Janet Jackson, because of her high cheekbones, and because I loved her music from the first time I heard it.”
Andrews returned to The Saint on a Tuesday night and entered the club’s weekly talent competition. “It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but the owner, Raphael Velasco, invited me to come back two nights later,” she says. “On Thursday night, I met Erica. I went from being in a dressing room with amateurs to meeting this group of trans women who were tall and beautiful. It was a huge culture shock.”
About 11 years older than Janet-Fierce Andrews, Erica Andrews was “already an established star” whose early career in pageantry included crowns as Miss Gay Texas USofA 1997 and Miss Gay USofA 1999.
“Erica became my drag mother. More importantly, she became my adoptive mother,” says Andrews, who began transitioning in her 20s. “Erica took me under her wing; she took me into her home. She co-signed for me on an apartment. She would feed and clothe me. It was Erica who tipped me off to Sasha Fierce,” the woke diva/alter ego of Beyoncé on her thumping 2008 I Am . . . Sasha Fierce album.
“She said I had to learn that choreography, which was very challenging. It became a global phenomenon,” Andrews adds, explaining that her escalating fan base insisted that she add “Fierce” to her stage name.
When Erica Andrews died suddenly in 2013 due to complications from a lung infection, her drag daughter was devastated and heartbroken.
“Your drag family is really important,” Andrews says. “My parents didn’t accept me anymore, and I don’t speak with or have any relations with them. I found myself thinking, ‘This isn’t the outcome I wanted,’ and I decided to throw myself into my career full force by moving to Houston.
“I travel so much that people still ask me, ‘You live in Houston?’” she adds. “But I left San Antonio in July of 2014.”
Andrews works regularly at Hamburger Mary’s in Montrose, sometimes sharing the stage with former Miss Gay USofA winners Tommie Ross, Lawanda Jackson, Lauren Taylor, or Raquell Lord. “These are some of the most seasoned, professional, kind cast members, so every show is a joy. Having them to learn from is so amazing to me.”
Layla Larue of San Antonio, who was Miss Gay USofA 2004, performed with Andrews in her talent number at this year’s Miss Gay USofA finals.
“The common denominator in all of these women is not just the titles or that they are outstanding entertainers,” Andrews says. “They all have really good business sense. They are divas onstage, but offstage they are incredibly approachable. As a pageant girl, I try to be as humble as I possibly can, because it feels like yesterday that I was that little kid who was so in awe. I want to give off that same positive energy that [says], ‘If I can do this, anybody can.’”
Andrews will crown her Miss Gay Texas USofA successor during a pageant with about 40 contestants at Rich’s in August.
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.