Mere weeks after Atlantic City’s controversial Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall, the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance and the Borgata (via its OUT Initiative), got together again for its annual drag Miss’d America Pageant, and this year’s Broadway-themed “Great White Way” event. Billed as an “Hilarious Drag Queen Spoof of Atlantic City’s OTHER Pageant,” Miss’d America did, as it has in the past, bring Carson Kressley in as the host, with the Miss’d America Dancers in full regalia, all scripted and directed by Mark Dahl, and with Miss’d New York, Adriana Trenta coming out as the victor.
“As a charity pageant, Miss’d America is a good way for the casinos to give back to the community by hosting our event, especially as the monies we raise go to various local city charities and state charities as well,” said Mortimer Spreng, a Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance board director and a producer of the Miss’d America Pageant. “I’m like their drag den mother, I handle concerns they have, help them with problems, get them everything they need, and make sure they are where they are supposed to be, on time and ready.”
Not only is Spreng a Miss’d America titleholder (Miss’d 1995, a year after the pageant started), Mortimer is a board member of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, and a face of the AC LBBTQ and drag scenes.
As a longtime native, Spreng knows where all the bodies are buried and has watched this town’s transitions when it’s come to AC’s gay life lines, drag shows and overall environment. “This Miss’d America was a great night,” stated Spreng. “The feedback I got from the audience was that the show was very entertaining, the contestants were all very polished and fun. Of course, Carson Kressley was a panic, very funny with the quips and sharp wit.”
Atlantic City has a history of drag
At a moment when the drag medium is at an all-time glamorous high (with levels of acceptance courtesy the mainstream success and popularity of Ru Paul’s Drag Race), and LGBTQ rights are in question with the current presidential administration (Spreng was part of Atlantic County’s Democratic Committee before Trump’s 2016 election), Atlantic City is in flux.
That’s true too, where the town’s main revenue stream — casinos — is concerned The Borgata has their Out at Borgata initiative, have hosted Miss’d America for years now, and have a lock on drag at the moment, booking as they do, “the RuPaul girls” when they go on tour, and host Drag Bingo). Anthem Lounge at the Tropicana also dips a toe into drag waters hosting “Diva Royale” drag events on weekend nights and Sunday afternoons.
“The gay scene has changed over the years, although the core population has moved off-shore and are aging,” noted Spreng. “Atlantic City itself integrated rather easily, many of the casinos promote themselves as LGBTQ friendly, and they go out of their way to cater to the community. I see gay folk holding hands as they walk on the Boardwalk, and dancing together in all the ‘straight’ clubs, and no one bothers them. The drag scene has stagnated though — there is only one truly gay bar in AC now. They have drag shows, but they don’t have a revolving cast of performers like we used to back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s.”
Ed Hahn, the assistant manager of Atlantic City’s Rainbow Room (“pretty much the only gay bar between Asbury Park and Philly”) since its opening nearly six years, has lived in town since he was a baby.
“The gay scene and the drag scene here has changed as there’s not many places that do the shows — there were at least 11 gay bars in this town and they all had a drag show,” stated Hahn. “You had your pick. Now, we have them once a month, Anthem does them on weekends.”
Hahn believes that AC’s gay and drag scenes host a different level of entertainment and energy than they used to. “Then again, I’m a pot stirrer,” he laughed. “The shows are glamour-filled rather than dedicate themselves to the lost art of making fun of things.”
This relates to what I stated earlier about the drag effect of RuPaul programming and its emphasis on couture looks.
“Back in the day, it was Tinsel Garland, Sandy Beach and Molly Makeup, drag queens who made fun of the form as well as played it up.” As far as the clientele who attends those shows and the gay club that hits the Rainbow Room, Hahn says the clientele is more African-American and Latino than it was back invthe day. “We added Latin Fridays, and it’s been a great success,” Hahn stated. “The casinos? I don’t think they care so much about the gay community here beyond the almighty dollar, with the exception of the Borgata who seem to be genuine advocates of the scene.”
Miss’d America’s New Jersey contestant Jason “Margeaux” Hayes had a fascinating observation about how the pageant could benefit the Atlantic City drag and gay scenes. Along with having a portion of its proceeds go to the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance who distribute the cash various LGBTQ and LGBTQ supportive charities (since its inception, the pageant has donated over $300,500), the Maplewood native noted that Miss’d America “brings queens from all over the country who meet and get exposure to the drag queens of Atlantic City, and vice-versa,” said Hayes.
“Friendships and connections are formed and networks are started, that last a lifetime. Everyone shares in that to further work and the rest of the queens in the country get to see what Atlantic City’s scene has to offer.”