By Laura Latzko, December 2016 Issue.
Since 2008, the Arizona Entertainer of the Year (EOY) had offered state-level platform for a wide variety of entertainers to showcase their talents.
Throughout the past decade, the pageant system has expanded to include all performers.
This year, Arizona EOY will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the crowning of new titleholders in the categories of drag queen, drag king, male entertainer and femme March 4 and 5 at Aqua Nightclub in Phoenix.
This pageant system started with just one category for female impersonators (F.I.) – the Miss Arizona EOY, which Barbra Seville won in 2008.
Bruce Williams, also known as drag performer Jalissa Aundrea Michaels, founded the pageant system and stayed on as promoter until 2013. At that point, Richard Van Stone and Kevin Hilzendeger were co-promoters with the regional Southwest EOY system (which they still own), but they stepped up to take over the statewide EOY system in 2014.
Leading up to this milestone, event organizers remember Williams, who passed away in December 2016.
“[Bruce] was the founder of most of the pageantry in Arizona,” Van Stone said. “He was everyone's mommy and helped give a lot of great entertainers the chance to showcase their talents at the national level. He was also a great mentor to Kevin and myself.”
The pageant will also honor EOYs 2016 national titleholders Alexis Gabrielle Sherrington (F.I.), Bella Nicole Harlow (femme), Preston Dickerson (king) and Rolly Villaverde (Mr.).
This year’s pageant also marks the five-year anniversary of Sasha Bratz, Miss Arizona EOY 2012, and according to Van Stone, “she has a special production number, it’s going to be fun.”
Bratz, who started out as a dancer and choreographer and has been performing in drag for more than a decade, said winning the title of Miss Arizona EOY was a meaningful experience for her.
“To me, it was more than just a crown,” Bratz said. “It’s who I am. I’m an entertainer and I want people to remember me as an entertainer.”
From the moment they stepped into this role, Van Stone and Hilzendeger have tried to create a culture of family within the Arizona EOY system.
“The one thing that everyone says at nationals is that we’re one giant team,” Van Stone said. “We’re all competing for ourselves, but we’re all one unified team supporting each other.”
What Van Stone values most about the Arizona EOY family is that the system allows contestants to showcase their unique talents, personalities and stories.
“EOY doesn’t have any one thing they look for,” Van Stone said. “I tell my contestants, ‘They want you to be the best version of you that you can be.’”
This year’s contestants, many of whom are new to the system, will bring a diverse range of talent to the stage, and attendees can expect to see everything from burlesque dancers and singers to comedians and rappers.
“It is a full spectrum of entertainment, which [is what] I think EOY is about,” Van Stone said. “Everyone is so unique and so talented this year, I have no idea who is going to win.”
Throughout the past 10 years, Van Stone said the Arizona EOY system has become better known locally and also developed a reputation in the national system.
“At nationals, people respect [contestants] from Arizona because they can see we are becoming a powerhouse in entertaining,” he said.
The top two contestants from the each division will advance to the national EOY pageant, which takes place each July in Louisville, Ky.
Arizona Entertainer of the Year Pageant
March 4-5 at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.)
1730 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix