The operative word in drag is "glamorous" and not "beautiful," says Walter Cole, somebody who knows such things and one of the greatest to ever put on the sequined dresses, big hair and long lashes.
"We don't say 'beautiful,'" said Cole, aka Portland's famous Darcelle, the oldest working drag queen in the world. "It's a 'glamorous' person."
Close to 20 top drag queens unite in Portland for Darcelle's 40th annual contest, La Femme Magnifique International, which brings out glamour galore Sunday, Sept. 4, at the Oregon Convention Center. The event returns after two years, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so, the girls are ready to go.
La Femme Magnifique will present top honors to drag queens in the categories of International (overall winner), Plus, Enhanced and Classic. It helps spread the love to all kinds of drag queens, not just the youngest, most natural and skinniest.
They'll be judged on formal wear, talent and Vegas showgirl aspects.
"I like to say there's not a feather left from here to the Mississippi during the pageant," Cole said.
"He's saying, 'Let's embrace everybody who does drag,'" said Cole's good friend, Donald Horn, of the pageant's emphasis on diverse drags.
There are prizes and sponsors. The event's theme is "Come to Paris, the City of Love." There'll be lit Eiffel Tower models on each table, and a big Eiffel Tower image as the pageant's backdrop.
Darcelle has been excited about the return of La Femme Magnifique for a long time, even through a tough time of operating and performing at Darcelle XV Showplace in Old Town. It's been difficult during the pandemic, and with homeless campers, protesters and crime part of the neighborhood, but also Darcelle, 91, doesn't quite have the giddy-up of the old days.
Darcelle doesn't participate but mingles and chats up the room, all the while making sure the pageant goes off well. "I spend a lot of sleepless nights nitpicking," she said.
Cole, late partner Roxy Neuhardt and a woman were sitting in a booth at Darcelle XV one day 40 years ago, and talked about, "Why not do something to thank the glamour we see on stage every night and have a pageant," Cole said. "I was just back from Paris. 'How about La Femme Magnifique?' It blew up, and worked out."
The pageant took place in various hotels throughout the years, but Cole and Co. had to build stages. He tells the story of how his stage person bought lumber and things at a big-box retailer, built the stage, the pageant used the stage, and then they returned everything. "What were we going to do with all that?" he said.
Several years ago, La Femme Magnifique moved to the Oregon Convention Center, where it's been well-received. Like at Darcelle XV, only 21-and-over individuals are allowed to attend the show.
At Darcelle XV, "We keep it classy," Darcelle said. "We touch on the seedier side of life, but it's meant in fun and taken in fun." Same thing with La Femme Magnifique, where it's a pageant and not a burlesque-style show.
Drag is trendy, which is OK with Darcelle, who reserves one day a year at the club for kids and parents.
"But, I liked it more when it was a mystique," she said. Now, it's more relevant than ever, and "We're not really a queer show; we include everybody in songs and how we talk to them."
One category at La Femme Magnifique is for Enhanced, which would include transgender individuals. "Transgender people are everywhere, bless their hearts, and we have one in the (Darcelle) show," she said. "That's their business, and I hope they're happy. My motto is 'Be happy, stay happy.'"
Tickets ($50) are still available for La Femme Magnifique International, either online, at Darcelle XV Showplace or at the door at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Doors open at 5 p.m. with the pageant at 6 p.m. Sept. 4.
For more, see http://www.DarcelleXV.com.