Now in its 34th year, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant continues to dazzle audiences as ‘the ultimate in boy beautiful
If there is one thing to know about the Universal ShowQueen Pageant, it is that there is, well, a lot of pageantry involved.
Dubbed “the ultimate in boy beautiful,” the evening begins with contestants donning black-and-white cocktail couture. It all sounds simple enough — until pageant owner and producer Aiko reflects back on what she wore to wow the audience and judges during the 1994 competition.
Hint: It wasn’t the latest Karl Lagerfeld or Versace, though it certainly was just as exquisite.
No, what Aiko slipped into was an outfit designed with a full-sized skirt made of clear shower curtains that — upon ripping it open after reaching center stage — released black and white balloons that floated up and into the ceiling. (She won the pageant that year by one point.)
A staple in Hawaii now for 34 years, it is beloved in all parts of the world — and not just within the gay community, either. According to Aiko, most in attendance are, in fact, straight and simply looking to have a good time.
At the end of the day, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant is all about fun — something the community is invited to experience at the next competition May 13 at Hawaii Convention Center.
“Appreciate the entertainment value of it,” Aiko says she tells friends. “Don’t be judging it. They’re there to entertain you.”
Universal ShowQueen Pageant got its start more than three decades ago, thanks to a former producer who, according to Aiko, wanted to give the transgender community a chance to get glammed up and compete. And if it hasn’t become clear already — yes, in the simplest of terms, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant features men dressing up as women.
In fact, being male is a requirement for anyone who chooses to enter the pageant.
Some, explains Aiko, may identify as male outside of the pageantry of it all. Others, meanwhile, identify as female at all times.
Of course, transgender issues have risen to the forefront of news and pop culture in recent times, especially with shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and outspoken actors like Laverne Cox. So with awareness and acceptance growing, Aiko sees the role Universal ShowQueen Pageant plays in this larger conversation as a positive one.
“It helps,” she says. “It makes people’s minds a little bit more open.
“I think, for us, being around for 34 years kind of says something, and that we get a lot of support from the community,” she adds. “Not only the gay community, but everyone else.”
The seemingly triviality of the Universal ShowQueen Pageant doesn’t mean Aiko can’t relate personally to the discrimination and teasing that some in the transgender community may be subjected to. But with everything else going on, Universal ShowQueen Pageant is more of a way to ease any tension in a fun environment during a night that has become important to so many.
“Universal ShowQueen Pageant is important to Hawaii because it gives individuals the opportunity to express themselves in the art of female impersonation,” says Aiko. “Being able to compete on stage in front of a large audience with their family and friends in attendance is a great accomplishment for them and rewarding in itself — and to win is a dream come true.”
As with most contests, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant is broken up into different divisions that help a panel of judges determine a winner. There’s the aforementioned black-and-white couture portion of the evening, of course, followed by an evening gown section, talent presentation and — what Aiko says sets this pageant apart from others — the showgirl costume category.
It all makes for a rather enthralling evening, to hear Aiko describe past competitors — particularly when it comes to the talent each girl puts on display. One contestant, she notes, showed off her acrobatic skills while completing an aerial silk Bollywood-inspired performance. Another impersonated Rap Reiplinger in a comedy act, while someone else did a group dance number surrounded by little girls decked out in full Oompa Loompa garb — and got a perfect score for it.
“It’s very entertaining,” says Aiko.
But beyond all the gimmicks and tricks, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant is about recognizing an all-around showgirl — a contestant who not only displays beauty and poise, but also the ability to captivate audiences. It’s one of the reasons why Aiko thinks Universal ShowQueen has become such a popular function in the community for everyone, regardless of gender identity.
“Through all our efforts, we come through and deliver what the audience comes out to see: One of the greatest shows on earth — well, at least in the Hawaiian Islands,” says Aiko with a laugh.
Throughout the years, the Universal ShowQueen Pageant has attracted talent from across the world. Past winners have included locals, as well as Mainlanders and others from places as far as Cuba, Taiwan and Mexico.
This year, seven will vie for the crown. The winning ShowQueen receives a cash prize, among other goodies (such as jewelry and flowers), and is tasked with one simple responsibility: Put on a good show at any future performances she may be involved in.
“Many have entertained audiences across the United States, as well as foreign countries, representing Universal ShowQueen Hawaii and the art of female illusion at its best,” adds Aiko.
There is one other thing the Universal ShowQueen Pageant encourages: good old-fashioned competition. Contestants may tell Aiko that they are just there to have fun, but she knows that, ultimately, each has their eye on the prize.
“Deep down inside, we all want to win,” she says.
Of course, what follows after winning is an endless list of possibilities. For Aiko, it meant finding herself involved with the pageant each subsequent year before eventually owning it — and she wouldn’t have it any other way, it seems.
“For me, the enjoyment of coordinating the Universal ShowQueen Pageant is the ability to bring people of all walks of life together for one night a year,” she says.
“(I’ve) met so many people that I never thought in my whole life that I would meet,” she adds. “I’m enjoying the ride.”
Tickets to the Universal ShowQueen Pageant start at $50, and can be purchased by calling 389-6909 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit universalshowqueenpageant.com.