by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On September 5, Seattle drag sensation Lily Armani was crowned La Femme Magnifique International 2010 at the 29th Annual La Femme Magnifique and La Femme Magnifique Plus International "Garden of Eden" Pageant in the Oregon Convention Center.
As a La Femme, Lily Armani will join Seattle's Gaysha Starr (La Femme Magnifique International 1994), LaVanda (La Femme Magnifique 1996), and 26 other flawless drag queens that make up the La Femme Magnifique Honor Roll.
Established in 1982 by the legendary Darcelle XV and Roxy LeRoy, the La Femme Magnifique Pageants features the most stunning female impersonators in the world. This year, competitors come from as far away as Hawaii to compete for the international title. The results are pure magic as the beauty of female illusionary artistry is expressed through creative make-up, hair, and costume design.
Contestants were judged in Formal, Theme, Showgirl, and Talent categories as they worked the gigantic stage and runway at the Oregon Convention Center's Portland Ballroom. Style, beauty, talent, glamour, beaded gowns, rhinestone jewelry, and Vegas-style showgirl costumes were all part of what seduced the judges and wowed the audience. In the end, it was Lily Armani who would be crowned La Femme Magnifique International 2010.
"When they announced my name, all I could think was, 'Thank you, Cher!'" Lily Armani told SGN. "The blood sweat, tears, and faith were not in vain. I hopefully made everyone who believed that I could win proud."
"I also thought, 'I can finally eat fried chicken again!'" joked Lily, since she was on a strict diet to ensure that she would fit into the slender gowns she chose for the pageant.
"The journey to La Femme was long - very, very long," said Lily. "But it was worth every single day it took. The previous attempts were glorious, and I will never discount them, but this was the year that I was ready - truly ready - to earn the title."
This was Lily Armani's third appearance at La Femme Magnifique International. She began her quest in 2005 (earning first runner-up) and returned in 2006 (where she earned second runner-up).
"I would have to say that guidance was drawn from previous winners, Coco Vaughn, La Vanda Dela Rosa, and Gaysha Starr," Lily admitted. "Inspiration was pulled from making those that worked so hard with me proud."
"As someone who has helped many of the past International winners, and having done pageants and drag for a very long time now, I know how important it was to inspire Lily Armani to bring to the stage what she does so well - to be her funny, exuberant self," Coco Vaughn, who was the first Washington resident to win La Femme Magnifique International in 1986, told SGN. "All the talent she ever needed was right there. This time around, she had the chance to be who she is and not what others thought she should be as a contestant. That has always been my advice to anyone I've ever worked with in a competition."
Coco says it is important that International contestants "know what you are getting into, know who you are, and then gather up the forces to help present the very best 'you' there can be."
"Lily is a big force in Seattle, and this big win will only magnify just how fun, hardworking, and worthwhile performers from our city can be," concluded Coco.
Coco said she is thankful to Neighbours Nightclub and the Lobby Bar for being venues that showcase the great drag talent the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Lily Armani and her team say they left very little to luck.
"Oprah Winfrey shares that there is no such thing as luck," reminds Lily. "If anything, luck is preparation meeting opportunity. I was a skeptic, but now I'm a believer!"
"Team Armani began many years ago. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most incredibly gifted, beautiful, and generous people in the world," said Lily, describing the team of friends that helped her win La Femme. "I have always acknowledged that it takes a village to put all of me together. And while some of the faces have changed in the team over the years, their imprints on my life and career are immortal."
Dakita Harris, who jokingly described herself as Lily's left arm and hand while fellow "Team Armani" soldier Michael Rotman Koenen is Lily's manager and right arm and hand, said that the team began to prepare months ago when Lily won La Femme Magnifique Washington, qualifying her to compete in the International Pageant.
"Over 8 million beads were used - just in one blue gown," joked Dakita, quantifying the number of months, days, and hours it took for the team to feel they were ready to compete at the international level. "I became a part of the team, and remain one, because of the team itself. Everyone brings something unique to the table. Only Lily Armani could get a group of people to spend their holiday weekend in a sweatshop-like environment beading, gluing, and sewing, all because of the person she is. We all worked hard to make it look easy, and I love that about us."
"As soon as we committed to regionals, we put 150% effort in, and didn't stop," said Michael, who has managed Lily for over four years. "The last week leading up to La Femme was crunch time, and we made it happen."
"I love what I do," he continued. "I love this team and I believe in Lily's talent. My time with Team Armani has been one of the highlights of my life."
Thom Hubert, otherwise known in drag as GLAMAZONIA, worked on costume design/construction and props, as well as acting as driver and chauffeur. He told SGN that Team Armani "likes to present a polished and finished package, and I think we did that."
Thom painted the picture of a months-long environment of dress construction and a living room that "has been covered in rhinestones, glitter, and fabric" for weeks. Due to a botched order of crystal beads, Team Armani received a double order to make up for a mistake. "We used them all," Thom said.
"I'm happy to be able to lend whatever talent I have to helping Lily reach her goal," Thom told SGN. "As her partner, I'm close enough to the 'eye of the storm' to not be involved. I'm lucky that I have an interest in drag as well, and enjoy the whirlwind of pageant prep. Lily is fortunate in that she attracts good people to her. Team Armani is a family in a lot of ways, and we all support her year-round - not just for big events like La Femme. Every show, every week, anything she needs, one or all of us has got it covered."
As a La Femme Magnifique International, Lily told SGN she plans to be as visible as possible. "Many girls have traveled far and wide, and I have every intention of being one of those girls."
"I would like to convey my gratitude to all of those that were involved in the preparation - not just this year, but every day of every week of every year that it took to make this goal a check mark on the bucket list," she said. "There are too many names to mention, but they are definitely remembered and loved so very much. I can honestly say - for the first time and have it be true - I am the most blessed queen in the entire world."
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