By Laura Latzko, July 2019 Issue.
In the Miss Gay America system, contestants are encouraged to bring polished versions of female illusion that fit with their personal styles. For recently crowned Miss Gay Arizona America Espressa Grande (also known as Cody John Peck), being a symbol of excellence means having a larger-than-life personality, doing both comedic and emotional numbers and speaking her mind on issues that are important to her.
On May 11 at the Tempe Center for the Arts, Grande won the Miss Gay Arizona America crown and Sicarya took first alternate as Adriana Galliano stepped down.
As the state titleholder, Grande will become face of the state system and attend the national Miss Gay America Pageant in October in St. Louis, Missouri.
During the state pageant, nine contestants competed in evening gown, talent, male interview, and onstage question categories.
Grande won the talent category with an uplifting production number set in an office, to music by Dolly Parton, Pat Benatar, and Britney Spears.
She described her journey with the hashtag #elevatedyou because, in the America system, drag queens are encouraged to be the best versions of themselves.
“At first, I thought America wanted a certain type of drag queen, a female impersonator that fit a certain type of mold. What I realized building my package was America doesn’t want that. America wants an elevated you,” Grande said.
During the state pageant, Grande represented the Miss Gay Melrose America prelim system.
Grande won during her second time competing at the prelim. It was also her second pageant.
In its second year, the Miss Gay Melrose America pageant is run by promoters Morgan Pearce and Jay Foster.
Leading up to the state pageant, the two promoters helped Grande with building sets, refining her ideas, raising money and providing emotional support.
Although Grande will now work with state promoter Daniel Eckstrom, Pearce and Foster plan to continue to help her.
Recently, the Miss Gay America system as a whole has undergone a makeover and started to embrace diversity on a larger scale. Foster said titleholders such as Grande will help to bring change within the system.
“There’s a new style of performance out there, and we’re trying to embrace everyone and break the stereotype,” Foster said.
Foster said that Grande’s administrative background, unique style of drag and a focus on the community make her a good fit as a state titleholder.
Pearce noticed the growth in Grande when she competed for Miss Gay Melrose America for the second time.
“She’s a phenomenal performer, but you could see her drag change. She became a lot more refined and has realized the importance of taking who you are but elevating yourself and pushing yourself to the next level,” Pearce said.
Pearce said that Grande is also a strong representative because she is charitable in and out of drag.
Within prelim systems such as Miss Gay Melrose America, titleholders are encouraged to give back. A portion of the pageant’s proceeds went to Project Jigsaw last year and RipplePHX this year.
As the state titleholder, Grande hopes to work more with organizations such as RipplePHX and Hospice of the Valley, where she works as a graphic designer in her daily life.
Miss Gay Arizona America was Grande’s first state pageant.
She started doing drag three years ago as part of a newcomer challenge at Kobalt Bar. Before that, she had done musical theater all through and after high school.
She has also worked as a makeup artist in the past.
Lady Christian, Empress VI for the Court of Arizona, has been her biggest mentor.
Grande hosts the Friday night TGIF show at Cruisin’ 7th. She started as a show director at Cruisin 7th about a year into her drag career.
Grande shared her insights on being the newest Miss Gay Arizona America during a recent interview.
Echo: Do you have any major goals during your reign?
Grande: I’m really, really excited to get started. The next day after being crowned, I already started planning, obviously planning for nationals, which is in October. That’s really the biggest goal at the moment is getting everything finalized and elevated for the national pageant but also starting my reign, which is to be in the community, inspire and help the new entertainers and also bridge the communities between Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff. I truly want to help bring them all together.
Echo: I’m noticing a trend in Phoenix of artistic people holding crowns.
Grande: It’s really amazing to see that artistic people outside of drag are becoming part of the drag scene. It’s such a great time right now to be in the drag community because there are so many different types of drag in Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff.
Echo: Have you always had a similar style of drag, or has it evolved over time?
Grande: In the beginning, I was very rebellious and young-minded. I wanted to shock people. I wanted to come out and do a Top 40 number but put comedic, tongue-in-cheek voiceovers in it. My drag has progressed over the last three years… I feel like now my drag is very comedic, but my favorite things to do are those emotional, gut-wrenching ballads and those human-rights, activist monologues that I mix in with really powerful music. We are living in a society right now where it is really scary. There’s no denying that. When an audience comes to my show, I want them to feel inspired, and I want them to feel like they’re not alone. I think it definitely has always been more of a campy style. I’m always described as a campy comedy queen with a beauty queen face. I’m not afraid to speak my mind and be unapologetically me.
Echo: Does it feel overwhelming to hold such a big title, being newer to drag?
Grande: It was so shocking. It’s very unheard of to win Arizona America on your first try. After it was over, I was very proud. I think the biggest thing that I thought after walking off that stage that night was, “You can win something like this being 100 percent yourself.”
Read more about Espressa Grande online at phoenix.outvoices.us/espressa-g-2019.
Echo: What was the most challenging category for you?
Grande: I think the most challenging category for me was evening gown… I’ve only been competing for about a year, so the whole gown part of it was new. I wanted it to be something that was flattering. I’m definitely not a 5-foot-4, 110-pound soaking-wet drag queen. She’s thick and juicy. I wanted something that was elegant, beautiful, but also wanted to make a statement that just because you are a bigger girl, you don’t have to look matronly. You can still be sexy, and you can still be beautiful.
Echo: That’s interesting. Most people say onstage question is their hardest category.
Grande: Onstage question and male interview are actually my favorite categories because working for Hospice of the Valley, I’m constantly working with medical professionals, doctors and social workers. I just feel very much in my element because I don’t feel nervous talking to people. I think that also has to do with my theater background, being in musical theater for so long.
Echo: Have you noticed other ways that you’ve grown from doing pageants?
Grande: I definitely see growth in my taste level, as far as costuming, performance level and talking to people, because it is a really big part of being Miss Arizona. It’s not only the drag persona. It’s being a leader as a man as well…When I’m not in drag, I’m still representing the title. I feel what it has helped me with the most is being that professional in and out of drag and also at the same time not losing myself and not losing who I am.