Out in Atlantic City with Miss’d America
As the success of the Golden Globe Award-winning HBO series, Boardwalk Empire has made abundantly clear, Atlantic City has never had a problem with garish splendor. The Boardwalk city with its Monopoly rules has long been a mecca for gamblers and glamorous molls - and this year’s Miss’d America pageant, titled "Boardwalk Empress," was as raucous and celebratory an occasion as any party during "Nucky" Johnson’s reign.
With eight drag queens catfighting for the Miss’d America paste stone tiara, backdoor politicking was to be expected - but it was the abundance of talent from the leggy glamazons that had the audience at historic Boardwalk Hall on its feet.
For years, Miss’d America was the Atlantic City beauty contest that lampooned the nationally-televised pageant while raising monies for local LGBT service organizations - and the city was understandably bereft when Miss America eloped to Las Vegas in 2004.
"Totally Inappropriate" Westenhoefer Totally Speechless
After a five-year hiatus, Miss’d America returned in 2010, with the winner, Michelle Dupree, taking her victory walk on the same 42-foot long runway trod by Vanessa Williams and her stiletto’d sisterhood - and, this year, that legendary runway was once again the scene of cartwheels, splits, and enough naked ambition to make Madonna proud.
The night’s outcome seemed certain as soon as Miss Shi-Queeta Lee (aka Jerry Van Hook) from D.C. took the stage as a red-sequined Tina Turner, complete with a guitar-picking Ike and the Ikettes. This caterwauling dynamo launched into a ferocious rendition of Ms. Turner’s "Proud Mary" that had the entire audience cheering on its feet, even before Miss Lee took a full split directly in front of the judges’ dais. The house went crazy - and the Miss’d America crown appeared to be dangling just above Miss Lee’s head.
Even this year’s M.C., Ms. "Totally Inappropriate" Suzanne Westenhoefer (herself a beauty pageant winner, as in "Miss Lancaster, PA.") was momentarily speechless.
"I Wanna Be a Rockette"
The power struggles had only begun, however, which became evident when Miss Kitty Hiccups took the stage wearing a girls’ school uniform monogrammed K.H. and sang - no, really sang, with her own voice - "I Wanna Be a Rockette" (from the ill-fated Kicks: The Showgirl Musical).
Hiccups, who’s also known as David Hyland, is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music - and when she opened her mouth and sent this song to the rafters, the Miss’d America crown was in play once again.
The panel of judges for this year’s pageant included Michael Musto (also known as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Snooki), and the perennially soigné Miss Coco Peru. While the pageant’s outcome hung in the air, Erika Schiff and the Miss’d America Dancers tore up the stage and runway in a ferocious and steamy production number that bettered anything ever seen on an Oscars telecast. In fact, Ms. Schiff, one of those triple-threat performers who kicks like Cyd Charisse, sings like a sultry siren, and radiates contagious energy, appeared to be rehearsing for her night at next year’s MTV Video Awards show. Watch your back, Rihanna.
Beauty Isn’t Only Skin Deep
The game-changing moment of the evening might well have been when Miss Hiccups took the stage in a gemstone-studded, skintight leopard print gown and parried the question "What would you tell a teen bully?" with a combination of wit and wisdom that highlighted Miss Hiccups’ acumen and grace.
The crown was hers - and after a farewell walk by last year’s Miss’d America, Michelle Dupree (aka Scott Cooper, father of two children and registered nurse), accompanied by a heartwarming video tribute of her year-long reign that proved Dupree’s beauty wasn’t only skin deep, Miss Kitty Hiccups owned the legendary Atlantic City runway.
More than $30,000 was raised during last year’s Miss’d America pageant. This year’s beneficiaries included the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Mazonni Center of Philadelphia, as well as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and the Schultz-Hill Foundation, which provides funds for local LGBT service organizations.
If the applause and laughter from this year’s audience was any indication, next year’s Miss’d America pageant might well be televised. For those of you eyeing that crown, start practicing your routines now - on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
Atlantic City Hospitality
Atlantic City has always opened its arms to visitors.
By 1925, Atlantic City had more than 1,200 hotels, to house more than 400,000 annual visitors, arriving at one of three airports, or via eleven of the fastest trains in the entire world.
There were twenty-one theatres, five amusement piers, three country clubs - and more alcohol than anywhere else in North America. As one historian has written, "Prohibition didn’t happen in Atlantic City."
In other words: once a party town, always a party town. Or as the city’s logo states, "Atlantic City: Always Turned On."
(Story continues on next page: Where to Stay, Where to Eat, and Where to Shop)