Mama Mia: Vista Queen 17 Takes the Stage

10857251_10153074956723718_5218575844651470967_o By Haley Sprankle

You are the Vista Queen, young and sweet, only 17!

Wait… That’s not how the song goes, is it?

17 years ago, Larry Hembree had an idea for a fundraiser that wasn’t your typical drag show.

“This event features men who would not normally (for the most part) do drag, but who we turn into men who really look like amazing drag queens, not just men in a bad dress with some ‘sort of’ make up on,” Hembree explains. “There is always a theme that gives it some focus. The wonderful Clay Owens produces it and it is hosted by Terrance Henderson and Walter Graham, both of who look amazing in drag. There are also some hot men as men in it too! The evening is all about helping Trustus raise money and everyone having one hell of a good time.”

You may be asking yourself, “What constitutes as ‘men who would not normally do drag?” With a ballet routine to the theme from Miami Vice that Hembree “will never forget,” Sherriff Leon Lott won the first pageant 17 years ago. That certainly set the standard for subsequent contestants.

“The production team searches for men who we think will have some fun and who have the potential to raise money from their friends and colleagues and, of course, who have the guts and confidence to put on a pair of panty hose in public,” Hembree adds.

The men dawning the dresses for this evening of drag include Tug Baker, Kevin Bush, Gregory Garrett, Mario Guevara, and Wade Sellers.

“I’m excited about seeing Tug Baker without a beard, seeing Mario Guevara as Amy Winehouse and seeing how the audience connects to Kevin Bush' persona,” Hembree elaborates. “I am also simply curious to see what Wade Sellers looks like in drag, and I am most excited to see how Greg Garrett bring his experience as a professional hair artist to his own self.”

While this is a pageant, it’s still a fundraiser, so the criteria for the queens’ success is based 60 percent on how much money they raise and only 40 percent on the judges’ score, including talent, onstage personality, and final questions. So, how can you help them win?

“You can give for each contestant directly to the contestant, by calling the theatre at 254-9732 and donating for a specific person, as an online donation or by attending the event (it sold out in 23 minutes this year) and making a donation to specific contestants at the event,” Hembree says.

While Trustus is currently raising money for their capital campaign, none of the money raised at the pageant goes towards the campaign or Marv’s, the new bar.

“All the revenue goes to helping with operations at Trustus. The amount of revenue from tickets sales each season only account for 33% of what is needed to meet the theatre's budget,” Hembree informs. “Fundraisers like this one help us make up the difference. Operational expenses include things like payroll (we have 10 full time and part time employees and over 150 other contracts per season as everyone who works at Trustus in any capacity gets paid), electricity, marketing, taxes, costs associated with producing our shows and educational programming and benefits like health insurance.”

At the end of the night, everyone is a winner; the audience gets a great show, Trustus gets better funded, and one queen will leave with the title of Vista Queen 2015.

“[The prize is] a lovely sash and some opportunities to appear in public as the most esteemed representative of the Congaree Vista,” Hembree says. “And of course a lot of grief from friends.”

Anybody could be that queen, so be sure to make it out to Vista Queen 17: Barely Legal on April 13 and donate to your favorite!