More From Tess DeMint: Ed Madden Compares Notes with Former Vista Queen Participant Jason Watkins (Tess Tickles)

Tess Tickles (Jason Stokes) Performing at the 2014 Vista Queen. Photo by Richard Kiraly.

This is the fifth in a series of blogs written by Tess DeMint (aka Professor Ed Madden), a contestant in the 18th annual Vista Queen Pageant, a fundraiser for our beloved Trustus Theatre.

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“Just have fun,” he said.

Last week Bert and I had dinner with Jason and Katy Watkins–Jason is also known as Tess Tickles, the 2014 Vista Queen. I wanted to know what the experience of Vista Queen was like for someone who had been through it, what advice he might have for me, drag novice and VQ newcomer.

When we walked in the restaurant—one of their favorites—the wait staff welcomed Jason by name, circling around us almost like courtiers for royalty. Jason made his way between tables, shaking hands with other regulars. We got a special corner table—one apparently usually reserved for another regular patron and his wife. It was made available to us. The waiter already knew what Jason wanted.

In another corner, I saw Jim and Kay Thigpen. A good sign. This was the place to be.

Katy is an old friend (we tied for “most liberal” when we went through Leadership Columbia together, ages ago), so there was some catching up, new jobs and old acquaintances. But then we quickly got down to business. I asked about costumes, about practicing in heels. I asked about talent.

Jason didn’t have a fitting with a costumer, he said. No fake hips. Katy laughed, “He’s a perfect size 6.”  Both of them talked about particularly beautiful queens, particularly memorable acts, particularly drunken contestants.  She said Tess/Jason was hilarious, though she occasionally wanted to crawl under her seat.

Jason wrote a song for his talent. He pulled out his phone at the table, read me the lyrics.  That year, the sixteenth contest, the theme was “Sweet Sixteen,” so Jason wrote a song about being 16—a boy at a military school, rebellious, desperate for sex, the chorus emphasizing that he could never have dreamed, when he was 16, that he might be a Vista Queen.

“Just have fun,” Jason kept saying, telling me about the madness of backstage. “And just remember, they’re all drunk,” as if that might temper my stagefright. I wasn’t sure.

Tess Tickles and Tess DeMint. It was the old Tess and the new, and their faithful consorts. It was instruction in local knowledge and vernacular practices of drag—what to expect, what to avoid. There at a corner table over sushi and salmon, royal counsel, advice from a queen.