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As drag continues to trickle into mainstream consciousness through TV shows and music, some arenas where the art form has been flourishing for decades have had to play catchup. Pageantry is one of those areas: Though many successful pageant queens have found widespread exposure through RuPaul’s Drag Race, the competitions where these talented performers have built their careers often remain out of the spotlight.
Now it’s the same pageant queens who found fame after appearing on Drag Race who are using their platform to give back to the communities that launched their careers. Local legend Latrice Royale, for example, produces the annual Mr. and Miss Pride South Florida Pageant, which will crown two new talented performers at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center Monday, March 23.
“The family aspect of it all is what makes Pride South Florida so special,” 2019 winner Kennedy Davenport says. A friend of Royale’s and a fellow Drag Race alum, Davenport has collected a laundry list of pageant titles over the past decade, including many across the state. “By me living in Florida for eight years, winning Pride South Florida was a goal that I hadn't reached, so I was going to stop at nothing until that goal was accomplished.”
The competitive spirit of pageantry is what invigorates performers such as Davenport and pushes competitors to constantly work toward improving themselves and their craft. “You don’t compete in something you don’t want to win,” says Raul Vegas, the reigning Mr. Pride. “There have been many talents that we’ve seen at Pride South Florida that are unique; because it’s a Pride pageant, it usually calls for something a little bit more unique.”
That ambition to win the crown is ultimately rooted in recognition of the talent of fellow competitors. “Here in pageantry, you have your peers who respect the art critique you,” Vegas says. “You’re competing with extremely talented individuals who are your peers, and you respect them just as well and they’re talented just as much. But you have to be able to deliver your best performance to be able to win the pageant, and not a lot of people can do that.”
Both Davenport and Vegas boast illustrious careers and a long friendship that has paralleled their paths. Their same-year wins at Pride South Florida was a serendipitous triumph they believe had been a long time coming. “One of the greatest moments was when we both won because we had experienced so many things together for so many years, but it was never a moment like that, where she really wants something she wanted and so did I,” Vegas reflects. “We both got to experience that at the same time, and it was quite beautiful.”
Davenport echoes a similar sentiment. “Whenever we get together, it’s a moment,” she says. “Our first photoshoot was very momentous for me: We got to spend time together because we're close, and a few weeks ago, we got the opportunity to perform with Latrice for her Here’s to Life homecoming show, which was a very surreal moment... We got to perform together as king and queen and represent Pride South Florida on her show.”
As Davenport and Vegas prepare to pass their crowns to the next Mr. and Miss Pride South Florida, they both recognize how much this reign, in particular, has meant to them. “It always comes full circle when it comes to Raul and me,” Davenport smiles. “He’s been the one that has always believed in me since the first time he saw me perform, and he just made a way for me when I didn't see a way. And that connection is never gone.”
Mr. and Miss Pride South Florida. 8 p.m. Monday, March 23, at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura; 305-466-8002; aventuracenter.org. Tickets cost $9.35 to $28.04 via ticketmaster.com.