Tiaras, Tears, and a Marriage Proposal

Mimi Imfurst, known in some circles as Braden Chapman, performs “Sweet Transvestite” from the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the pageant’s talent competition. | KELSY CHAUVIN

Mimi Imfurst, known in some circles as Braden Chapman, performs “Sweet Transvestite” from the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the pageant’s talent competition. | KELSY CHAUVIN

BY KELSY CHAUVIN | A rainbow of drag-queen feathers aimed straight, so to speak, to Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa like gay breadcrumbs on Saturday, September 24. They marked the pathway of revelers and participants celebrating the annual Miss’d America Pageant, where Mimi Imfurst won the 2017 crown as confetti fell in the casino’s Event Center.

Imfurst joined eight other dazzling drag queens to compete in the pageant, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Local Atlantic City performer Jenna Tall was named first runner-up, and Roxi Starr of Philadelphia earned the second runner-up spot.

The always electric Carson Kressley of “Queer Eye” and “How to Look Good Naked” fame returned as pageant host, bringing his trademark wit and irreverence to a house packed with nearly 2,000 people.

Carson Kressley returns to Atlantic City to helm annual Miss’d America Pageant

Carson Kressley and Miss’d America 2017 Mimi Imfurst. | KELSY CHAUVIN

Carson Kressley and Miss’d America 2017 Mimi Imfurst. | KELSY CHAUVIN

Atlantic City’s out gay Mayor Don Guardian, who attended with his husband Louis Fatato, joined the stage to declare September 24 the city’s official “Carson Kressley Day.”

The Miss’d America Pageant was first held at an Atlantic City nightclub in 1994, but took a hiatus from 2005 to 2010. The pageant was always meant for fun and to shine the spotlight on all the glamorous queens unable to compete in the old-fashioned Miss America Pageant.

But the event is also dedicated to raising money for a slew of LGBT causes, contributing over the years upwards of $300,000 to non-profit organizations including the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center, and student scholarships.

Miss’d America founders Gary L. Hill and John J. Schultz continue to drive the annual event and its charitable giving through their Schultz Hill Foundation, which partners with the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance. Alliance President Richard Helfant works closely with the pageant and foundation on both its charitable giving and its programming.

A two-time veteran of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Imfurst won over the crowd from the start with a saucy profile that named “the boy next door” as her favorite childhood toy and “sparkly” as her favorite color. She went on to captivate with her swimsuit and evening-gown turns.

But it was her explosive lip-synched rendition of “Sweet Transvestite” from the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the talent competition that most wowed the audience with its team of spot-on, sassy dancers and Imfurst’s seamless costume changes.

After taking the Miss’d America 2017 title, Imfurst, who also goes by Braden Chapman, recalled being told by a parent not to watch “Rocky Horror” because it could “make you gay.” Armed with that memory, Imfurst explained that it was an especially sweet victory to have won the Miss’d America crown in part by performing a number from that film.

“The message is: Don’t dream it, be it,” said Imfurst. “Create change in your own world.”

Jenna Tall, the hometown queen, accepted the runner-up spot with grace and humor — despite naming her “favorite curse word” as “all of them.” And while her disappointment flashed momentarily, look for her to capitalize on her enthusiastic local fan base if she competes again next year.

For the final round, Tall and Starr were among six finalists named — one competitor more than usual, since the judge’s scores resulted in a tie this year.

Mimi Imfurst, the new queen, with Miss’d America 2016 FiFi Dubois. | KELSY CHAUVIN

Mimi Imfurst, the new queen, with Miss’d America 2016 FiFi Dubois. | KELSY CHAUVIN

Miss’d America 2016 FiFi Dubois took the stage with rousing song-and-dance numbers at the start and end of the pageant. But none of her dances impressed the crowd as much as her boyfriend Shane’s surprise wedding proposal. He produced a slideshow marking their five years together, and at its end appeared on one knee with her engagement ring. Fighting back tears, Dubois said yes to the hall’s boisterous applause.

With as much tenderness as could be expected from Kressley, the host resumed the show by saying, “I don’t have feelings and I almost cried.”

As a prime resort destination and repeat host for Miss’d America, the Borgata relocated the pageant to a venue twice as big as the one it used for last year’s contest. By hosting, it also reaffirmed its commitment to LGBT travelers and its OUT at Borgata program to support diversity, offering queer travelers unique hotel packages, entertainment, and access to special events.

In 2016, the Borgata was named one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality” thanks to its perfect score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality Index. The hotel-casino makes its diversity commitments a year-round enterprise, partnering with the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance, Philadelphia’s Independence Business Alliance, and the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

Judges from local businesses including the Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City, South Jersey’s WAYV radio, and Woody’s Bar in Philadelphia took on the tough job of scoring this year’s talented and glamorous drag queens.

But it was Kressley who steered the show and encapsulated its message at the closing press conference.

“Atlantic City is about diversity, inclusion, and having a great time — and celebrating creativity and the arts, and we’re so happy to be here,” said Kressley. “It’s a wonderful event because it reminds us that we can make change in our community and we can support ourselves, and we can also entertain the world. And I think all these queens did that tonight.”

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, specializing in travel, culture, and LGBT life. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kelsycc.

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