Miss Gay USofA Classic has more than meets the eye.
By Donalevan Maines
When Lawanda Jackson’s four-year-old niece saw her painted, powdered, and plucked as the newly crowned Miss Gay USofA Classic, she gasped, “Uncle Wendall, are you a transformer?!”
Not exactly. Lawanda Jackson identifies as a “showgirl.” “But my mother said, ‘That’s right. Uncle Wendall is a transformer,’” Jackson laughs. “‘And we will explain more as you grow older.’”
Jackson should be able to tell her niece that 2009 was a very good year, as
when she won the title of Miss Gay Texas USofA Classic in Houston in April, then bested 14 other contestants to win the national title in Dallas in May.
“I won all three categories with a perfect score. It was a clean sweep. So the ol’ girl’s still got it!” says Jackson.
Or, as today’s hippest clubgoers say, she can still “turn the party.”
“Where did you hear that?!” she laughs. “That’s right. They say, ‘You turn the party. You turn the party upside-down!’”
Miss Gay USofA Classic is a national pageant for female impersonators ages 40 and older. “I’m living proof that your career isn’t over at 40,” she says. “A seasoned veteran can still be a queen!”
Jackson spent her elementary school years in Houston before moving to Portland, Oregon. However, it was upon winning the title of Miss Gay Oregon 1980 that she decided to move back to Houston.
“A queen came up to me that night and told me that Houston should be my next step,” Jackson recalls. “She said if I can make it in Houston, I can make it anywhere.
“Then one summer I went to the Copa [in Houston] and saw the Fabulous 4: Naomi Sims, Donna Day, Hot Chocolate, and the one on roller skates, Tiffany Jones,” she adds. “The energy was like plugging into a light socket. I said, ‘I want to do that!’
“So can you imagine what it is like for me to perform now with Hot Chocolate?! She taught me how to do Tina Turner!”
On preliminary night of Miss Gay USofA Classic, Jackson sang live as Tina Turner, performing a medley of “Simply the Best” and “Proud Mary.” Both her talent score and overall score were two points behind those of Amber Nixx of San Antonio, the leader going into the finals. Trailing them were Dina Jacobs and another Houston favorite, Kofi.
However, in the finals, Jackson pulled away from the rest of the Top 12 with a production number of Mary J. Blige songs featuring six hiphop dancers. Jackson’s score of 237 easily toppled runners-up Amber Nixx (211), Kofi (204), and former Miss Gay America Nicole DuBois of Biloxi, Mississippi (203).
Jackson immediately began lining up Gay Pride gigs across the continent, among them events in Toronto, Canada; Indianapolis, Indiana; Seattle, Washington; Greensboro, North Carolina; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; and an extraordinary homecoming in Portland, Oregon.
“My signature song in every city was ‘Proud Mary,’” she explains. However, she remembers each event distinctly.
For example, she says, “The highlight of Greensboro, North Carolina, was a five-year-old girl coming on stage and singing with me. She knew all the moves! And it just tore the park completely apart.
“In Indianapolis, a storm came,” says Jackson. “It was outdoors. There were thousands of people, so I kept singing. I looked like a wet poodle!
“Toronto was different,” Jackson allows. “I didn’t understand they were tipping me with Canadian money, and me not knowing what it looks like, I literally stopped the show and said ‘Are y’all trying to fool me with this Monopoly money? Where I’m from, we don’t appreciate this kind of treatment.’
“But they assured me that it was real—this was their currency,” Jackson laughs. “Then I accepted it with open arms!”
An additional treat: the owners of the bar where Jackson performed in Toronto spoke French, “so I had one of them tell me ‘You are a fine black bitch’—in French!” she laughs.
Jackson says she has kept the same apartment in southwest Houston for almost 11 years, even when she has worked for extended periods in other cities, such as Las Vegas, where she and the ultra Hot Chocolate (Larry Edwards) filmed the 2005 movie Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous starring Sandra Bullock.
This month, Jackson will perform close to home, in her capacity as a reigning USofA titleholder, at the 25th anniversary of the Miss Gay Texas–USofA pageant, Aug. 12–16 at Club Crystal, 6680 Southwest Freeway. Promoter Craig Henderson expects 15 former winners of the pageant to be in attendance, including Erica Andrews, Sasha Andrews, Chevelle Brooks, Melissa Crawford, Kelexis Davenport, Kofi, Layla LaRue, Tersa Matthews, Whitney Paige, Porsche Paris, Christina Ross, Tommie Ross, Kourtney Van Wales, Victoria West, and Kathryn York. Reigning Miss Gay Texas-USofA Leyla O’Hara will crown the new state representative to the Miss Gay USofA pageant. Also on hand will be newly crowned Miss Gay USofA 2009, Stasha Sanchez of Atlanta, Georgia.
In June, Jackson added “judge” to her repertoire when she judged the Mr. Gay Texas USofA pageant at Club Crystal, as well as the Mr. Gay Texas USofA at Large pageant, for contestants who weigh 200 pounds or more.
“As a judge, I’m looking for someone who can ‘bring it’ after the pageant is over,” says Jackson. “I ask each contestant what their platform is. Some of them don’t understand what I mean, but what I want to know is whether they can stand alone, and if they are sincere about being an artist. I watch them backstage and how they interact with others, because that is what you do on the road.
“Take the [backup] dancers away, and the props, and what do you have?” she asks.
“My platform is that I want to bring a lot of preliminaries into the Classic system,” says Jackson. “After almost 30 years in the business, I finally get to be a queen, and I’m thankful the time has finally come.”
Jackson’s fans can learn more about her and follow her busy itinerary by visiting www.lawandajackson.com. The first image you will see is Jackson as an extraterrestrial with three breasts, a costume that she designed and wears when performing songs by Rihanna and the Eurythmics.
Donalevan Maines also writes about Linus Lerner and Brian Harlan Brooks in this issue of OutSmart magazine.