By Laura Latzko, October 2015 Web Exclusive.
Barbra Seville can’t be boxed into one category as a performer. When onstage, the female illusionist has comedic, poignant and classically beautiful moments, sometimes within the same number.
During her return to Miss Gay America next month, Seville plans to show the different sides of herself that have made her one of Arizona’s most successful drag performers.
Seville, also known as Richard Stevens, earned herself spot at nationals with her win at the Miss Gay Western States America Pageant on Aug. 23.
First alternate Diva will also attend the national pageant, along with Miss Gay Arizona America Nevaeh McKenzie and Miss Gay Arizona America first alternate Savannah Stevens.
Former Miss Gay Arizona America titleholders Celebrity Starr and Grecia Montes D’Occa will compete this year as first alternates to Miss Gay Rocky Mountain America and Miss Gay Northeast America, respectively.
All of the contestants will compete in evening gown, talent, male interview, solo talent and on-stage interview categories at the national pageant, which takes place Oct. 7 to 11 in Memphis, Tenn.
Miss Gay America, a competition for the top female illusionists in the country, started in 1972.
While Seville previously competed in the Miss Gay America pageant – as the first alternate and titleholder to Miss Gay Arizona America and the runner-up to Miss Gay Southern Elegance America – this is her first time since 2003.
Between her Miss Gay America appearances, Seville has stayed involved in the system as a dresser for other drag queens, including former Miss Gay America Mikaila Kay and top-10 national finisher Celia Putty.
To succeed in the pageant system, Seville said, female illusionists need to pay attention to small details in every category.
“I do have that attention to detail, and that attention to detail has served me well as a show queen, as a Saturday night hostess, as a host at Rainbows Festival,” Seville said.
Seville competed in and won her first pageant, Miss Gay Phoenix America, in 1996. Since then, she has been crowned Miss Phoenix Gay Pride, Miss Gay Arizona USofA and Miss Arizona EOY, in addition to her Miss Gay America system titles.
Seville has found the Miss Gay America system to be the best fit for her because of how it measures excellence in different areas.
“It demands you be a really well-rounded not just entertainer but person," Seville said."It’s not enough to just be a strong queen. You have to be a well-spoken, intelligent man.”
Going into this year’s national pageant, Seville reported feeling more prepared than she ever has in the past, adding that her time as Miss Phoenix Gay Pride 2014 instilled new confidence in her and inspired her to pursue her dream of becoming Miss Gay America.
“It just really made me believe in myself in a way that I didn’t before,” Seville said. “I feel that I’m in a better frame of mind, and I think it all will show on stage.”
This year at nationals, Seville plans to bring looks and talent numbers that are more reflective of her.
“I decided to just do the things I loved the best, and it worked out really well for me at the prelim. So, that’s what I’m going to do at Miss Gay America. I’m just going to go out there and instead of trying a bunch of new things for the first time, I’m going to show them the kind of entertainer that I am,” Seville said. “I just want to do something that I love … I’m not going to put anything out there that I wouldn’t want to watch.”
Since she was a child, Seville has been drawn everything classically glamourous. When she started out in her career in drag, she often performed to show tunes.
More recently, she has started to perform to pop music from artists like Madonna, whom she greatly admires because of her attitude and discipline.
“It’s nice to challenge yourself. It’s nice to improve on what you are doing, but to me, the most incredible part about all of this has been just how supportive people have been of me,” Seville said. “Just the reception I’ve gotten, when I told people about this, it really warmed my heart and made me feel even more ready to go and do this.
During her reign, Seville hopes to help and encourage others to follow their dreams.
“It’s taken me to places and given me opportunities. I’ve met people who’ve become friends ... I would never have thought any of those things were possible, but it is, and that’s why I’m still doing it,” Seville said of her pageantry experiences. “And I think there is an opportunity for me to be that inspiration to other people.”
In addition to with the demands that come with returning to pageantry, Seville still finds the time to host her regular Friday and Saturday night shows at the Rock, grow her AIDS Walk Arizona team – Barbra Seville’s Wonderful 100 – and host the main stage and this year's Rainbows Festival. (Read more about Rainbows Festival here.)
Should she win the national title, Seville would like to work with Democratic and Republican groups to encourage people to vote during her reign. She also aspires to bring the Miss Gay America Pageant to Phoenix in the future.
“I’m getting ready for Miss Gay America because I want to be Miss Gay America, and I think I could be Miss Gay America,” Seville said. “I’m representing this city, this state and the title because I am a part of this community, and this community is a part of me.”