February 2008 Hello Members and Guests – It’s time again for another fantastic interview. We’re turning it over to a new interviewer – our very own pageant coordinator Jaila Lord Paris. Jaila is usually very busy putting together our online pageant competition that we just held in January. Congratulations to Fallon Scott and Neaundre Bonet Dupree – our newly crowned Miss and Mr. CarrieFairfield.com. Now, on to the interview: The focus this month is a male competitor who I’ve known over the years while judging at Sweetheart International. He’s always been a fantastic competitor and a definite person to watch. We are honored that Christopher Iman was able to take the time to talk to Jaila about his experiences in pageantry. Enjoy this interview – best wishes to all – Carrie Fairfield
First off, I want to say thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to sit down and talk with me, Diane Sawyer of Drag known to everyone else as Jaila Lord Paris. Now, Mr. Iman, I want to warn you that I am a very good interviewer, and upon you putting yourself in the "hot seat" there may be questions that may take you a little by storm, but I am so sure you will be able to answer them without a shadow of a doubt. Who is Christopher Johnson compared to Christopher Iman? (Tell us about where you are from, parents, siblings, etc.) Well Jaila, before answering the first question, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to interview little ‘ole me. Thanks for being our outlet in Atlanta, GA. I mean that! [He chuckles.] Christopher Johnson was born long before Christopher Iman. I was born in Fort Myers, Florida then relocated to Miami, but of course now I reside in Atlanta, GA. As far as the siblings are concerned, I am the only child [he laughs], so naturally I received all the attention from my mother who later became almost like a big sister and best friend (If you ever read this mom, even though we don’t have those everyday conversations, I will never have a friend as special as you. I love you). Growing up it was just the two of us [starts humming “Two of Us” by Will Smith] it was just her and I was sort of like her ex-boyfriend and dad as well. I mean Jaila, I approved who was good and not so good for her. I made it known that they had to understand that our relationship was far greater than theirs would ever be. I’m sure a few of the readers can relate, trust me. Now if you would have asked me the difference between Christopher Johnson and Christopher Iman years ago I would have told you nothing, but Christopher Iman seems to consume a lot of my time; I’m very active. I would most definitely say that Christopher Johnson is a homebody who likes to just chill out due to the fact that Iman is killing Johnson’s space with his ever so busy schedule [he laughs]. Johnson’s interests and hobbies are actually Iman’s reality. I have always loved the arts of all forms and all my extra activities had to consist of them in school and any free time that I had (band, choir, musical theatre, etc.) but that was Christopher Iman’s reality without those hobbies you wouldn’t know me as the male lead I am today. I’m also a country boy but through the years I had to learn (and recently have put into play) is that Christopher Iman has an image and the way I want to carry myself as just a regular guy even with the way I dress. You have to be almost camera ready for the public mentally, physically, and spiritually. The real me will throw on a tank top, cap to the back, jeans and some flip flops on in a hot minute [he laughs] but it’s cool I’m starting to get the picture. I thank God for Christopher Iman but I’m sure Iman thanks God for Christopher Johnson, but collectively we both just THANK GOD for everything. I thank Him for the talents and the many blessings he has bestowed upon me throughout the many years of my life. Who are your influences within the gay community? Please give a brief reason as to why you are influenced by these individuals. In this business my influences are the people who have actually sustained me, comforted and supported me and are actually still active in the art form. To be honest Jaila, I work with these respected, positive, and outgoing individuals every single Monday here in Atlanta, GA. That's right, one of the best shows in the nation; The Stars of The Century. With Neisha Dupree leading the way she is definitely a huge influence on many in Atlanta as well as myself. Even when times get rough and I feel like giving up, she is the one that pulls me aside, lends good, genuine advice that keeps me from making a possible wrong decision. Also you have to realize that I still consider myself the "newbie" of the cast, so I sometimes make it harder on myself than I usually have to. That's just because Christopher Iman is always trying to better himself, that's all. I can truly say with having the "support" that I have from the cast I have a newfound love for the art. It's truly because of all of them including the junior cast that I stay focused, motivated, and encouraged always to do my best. You are a former Mr. Liberty International Newcomer, Mr. Duval, Mr. Black Universe, Mr. Debonair and Mr. Global International. Out of each system listed what attracted your attention to compete for each of these titles? Well I won Liberty International Newcomer in 2000, ironically right after I went straight to compete onstage with the "big boys." See, I already had the niche to be on stage from the experience I had while attending grade school and college. With what I knew I possessed as a talented up and coming male lead, I felt that there wasn't any need for me to stay stagnant on the newcomer level. Many people may not know or even remember but I competed for Mr. Black Universe the same year I was Mr. Liberty Newcomer. The reason I chose to compete for the Liberty system was because I felt it was a family oriented system, it was never full of any drama or bad business, and it gave me the feeling of a true tight knit family. As far as Black Universe that system is just extraordinary to me. Black Universe it the system that motivated me to step on stage simply because it was system I wanted and felt a need to be apart of. Black Universe is a real family, even with the occasional drama (he laughs) but those trials and tribulations are honestly what make a true family grow stronger. Black Universe is the system is what taught me how to actually reign as an entertainer and with the help of my Queen; Lady Marissa I learned a lot. While Duval isn't a national title, but a HUGH regional title and being that I am from Florida and the pageant originated in Florida I just had to get a piece of the pie. Debonair and Global International I inquired about the system and definitely wanted to become the first crowned King of the system to help pave the way for future kings and also bring some creative and innovative ideas to a new system that had all the possibilities to flourish into something BEAUTIFUL. You are a very talented dancer and as we all know you have choreographed some award winning talents for several competitors including yourself. As a choreographer that's also in the entertainment industry are you just as driven when putting together a talent for another individual? Yes I am Jaila. It's simple, when they (the client) have their own vision and have dancers that are willing to work hard, I actually don't have a problem whatsoever with working with anyone that's inquiring about my services. I sometimes come into contact with people that say "I want a talent like the one you did back in... " or, "I want a talent like you did for so-and-so..." The crazy thing about it, Jaila, is that they can't dance a lick. So it's very hard to comprise a talent with a lot of technical movements for a person that isn't a dancer. When assisting with choreographing the talents, I always am scared that I will work with someone who either is never on time or dancers are never available, but I haven't had the problem, so YYYYEEEAHHHHH! [He laughs.] I look back on certain talents and I am very proud of what we accomplished for the entertainer. I'm speaking of talents such as Stasha Sanchez's Continental Talent: "Knock on Wood," Keith Kennard's for Mr. USA: "Fever," Lisha Paris' for Black Universe: "Cold Hearted Snake," just to name a few. You competed for Mr. Black Universe a total of five times, and were very successful on your fifth attempt. Did you go back to the competition because you came very close the previous year and you felt a need to prove to others it was YOURS or was it because the title was something you truly wanted regardless of how many attempts? That's true. Good on your history I might add. I competed for Black Universe a total of four times, and I went back to the competition for both reasons. I really as stated before wanted to become apart of that particular system more than anything else. Getting 1st runner up the year before I won, and never "cracking" the five in the previous two years I think I would have been a fool not to give it another shot the next year. I can see if I didn't want the title, but I did, simple as that. For those out there in Carrie-land that know me, know that when I am focused on a certain system I don't stop until I achieve it, and as you all can see I did accomplish that dream in 2003. Which is honestly the reason why I am probably not a part of systems (yet) like Black America, Renaissance, USA, Ebony, Dumarr and many others because I am so adamant about achieving my goal before conquering others. Honestly Jaila, I'm not trying to go down in history as being "Mr. Everything" but known as one of the BEST male lead representatives and entertainer in the art form of Male Lead, Male Entertainment. What are some of the things that interest you outside of entertaining and pageantry? Oh finally an easy one, just kidding! [He laughs.] Outside of entertaining I enjoy eating, sleeping, and hanging out with dear friends. Yes Jaila I know I am not that big, but I can seriously EAT! I became very familiar with you while you reigned with The Lady Marissa as the New Rulers of the Universe. I loved the fact you both dressed alike and definitely looked like "an item" everywhere you both made an appearance. Tell us about your reign with Marissa. How did it impacted and changed your pageantry career? Yeah, well once again you can thank Marissa for keeping me up to par. She was truly a blessing during my reign as Mr. Black Universe. During my reign I was like the "boy toy." She was the experienced vet who taught me more than enough. The experience was hard at times but well worth it. In order for me to be successful in the world of pageantry Black Universe is what I needed to groom myself. There were many people that were right there side by side motivating and coaching through my reign. Jaila, I'm not going to say that I didn't have any haters, but the haters were few, but I always stick to the Porcha Foxx motto: "Let your haters be your motivators." Liberty New was high school, MBU I considered college that prepared me for any and everything that pageantry had to offer. Big ups to MBU and my Universe wife; The Lady Marissa! As we know Christopher, there are some entertainers that come across as "unapproachable." Honestly speaking, do you think that each and every time you step out to an event you come across as approachable? OH YEEESSSS! It is important that I keep a close (as possible) relationship with my fans and friends. Without them there honestly wouldn't be a Christopher Iman. I realize, that when a stranger approaches me, I make sure I have to take the time and let them know: "It's ok, and I’m just a regular person, on stage." Seriously, just like actors we too have people look up to us and respect and admire us all. With that said, we are just like everyone else, it's just that our profession requires us to get onstage and perform. Believe you me, it's okay to speak, I am very down to earth. Since I am a "country boy" my down home attitude (which is a good one) helps me to stay grounded and very approachable at all times. I truly believe in karma, if you have a warm hearted good spirit offstage the spectators will enjoy you even more when you are onstage. How do you as an entertainer and as a business man in the industry, divide that fine line between a business/working relationship and a friendship relationship? Actually I keep them sort of linked together. I am a firm believer that this is a business that should feel like a hobby due to the fact it's still based on pure entertainment. Many of the entertainers still have careers outside of shows and pageants. I sincerely believe that in order to enjoy this field, you must LOVE what you do, not like what you do (if that makes sense.) I am just as charming and entertaining as the businessman as I am the friend. I believe I have to remain the same on both parts so that it doesn't become stressful, I mean being a good friends can be become just a tedious. Many refer to you as "Toby" versus Christopher. Enlighten us, where did the nickname “Toby” come from? [He laughs.] Ok, long story, but here goes. It came from the movie "Roots." My uncle Donald gave me that nickname just playing around. He actually would call me Toby-Kunta Kente. My mother didn't see it as being amusing whatsoever, but I began to tell people my name was Toby. My mother addressed the fact (as a teenager) that my name was Christopher and not Toby and I had actually outgrown that nickname. So if you hear someone call me "Toby" they REALLY know me, because I have made it a point to give my birth name to anyone I meet since that talk with my mother. I have to keep telling myself "Christopher you’re never too old to get a butt whopping from moms." So mom, I'm being a good boy and doing things exactly as you have said. Recently you became a cast member on both the Stars of the Century and The Gods and Goddess Show Cast in Atlanta. Tell us all how it feels to be apart of an actual weekly show cast versus performing here and there and competing in various pageants. Very rewarding actually. I like to think of myself as the male version of Janet Jackson. To me through the decades she is still a force to be reckoned with, she looks really young for her age (don't ask me because I will not tell) and she is constantly re-inventing herself. To entertain on these casts help me to do just that. It keeps me youthful and on top of my game so that I would never become old to the spectators that pay their hard-earned money to see pure "entertainment." It's really great to be a part of something established (The Stars of the Century) and something NEW (Gods & Goddesses). In 2003 you competed for Mr. Entertainer of the Year and did an excellent job. The Creative Presentation might I add was awesome. Tell me about your experience when you competed that particular year. Why haven't you returned, especially when lately the numbers haven't been as high? The year I competed for Mr. Entertainer of the Year was the first time I competed for a system that was open to all races throughout the country. As a contestant it really put my name out there. Thanks for the compliment Jaila I was lucky enough to have a mini talent for my presentation as well as a well executed talent that year. Being real, EOY wasn't what I thought it was as far as the males were concerned. I can remember looking at the female division saying, "Oh yeah this is me!" I think of myself as nothing else but an entertainer, but when it was all over and done, it felt just like another pageant. I personally didn't feel I was judged on the creative and entertaining aspect as outlined. I felt as though I was being judged on the number of years I have been in the business or the fact that I didn't have a UNIVERSAL name. Now that's just my opinion everyone, so let's leave it at that. To be honest my first year competing and receiving first runner up was a great experience just not the feeling I was expecting. I mean I had competition like Calvin St. Claire, Antonio Edwards, and D'Andre but overall it was an experience I'll never forget, and who knows one day I may return when the opportunity presents itself. Again that competition groomed me because a few months later I was crowned Mr. Black Universe. [He laughs uncontrollably.] As you prepared for your return to the Mr. Continental contest in September what were your feelings about competing for the third time? What was your game plan going into competition on Labor Day Weekend? I have been honest thus far, and me being the honest young man that I am, it shall continue. [He laughs] It was a lot of pressure with everyone knowing I received first runner up in 2006 to Simba R. Hall, but I felt like I could still handle it being who I am. Even though I knew that there would be more contestants this particular year that could dance, exceptionally well I might add. With exceptional vocalists and other young men who had done very well in other national contests I knew it would not being an easy task. My ultimate plan was to place higher than last year [he laughs] but as everyone saw or heard on September 1st, 2007 around 12 am it didn't turn out that way. To be honest it was really my fault, I dropped the ball in Question and Answer and has some minor mishaps during the competition, but you live, learn and come back with vengeance and get what you feel is rightfully YOURS! Do you have any plans on returning to the Continental Stage in the near future? Like I told you immediately after the competition Jaila, MOST DEFINITELY! I told you that when it's something I want, I don't stop until I get it, and I believe they call it persistence [he laughs.] Ironically I already have everything mapped out for the next time I compete, it’s just I need more money this particular time. I really think that with me it is not meant for me to get things that I reeeaaalllly want EASILY. I feel it was meant for me to drop from first to fourth for a reason just like it was meant for me to compete for Black Universe four consecutive times. You appreciate your victory more with struggles (or at least I do). I hold Black Universe close to my heart for many reasons and I know that when I capture the title of Mr. Continental (because I will) it will be a year neither the people nor I will ever forget. Continental is my ultimate dream in pageantry. I had and still have the ingredients to become Continental. I know this and believe me it will surely come to pass. I won’t be cocky as to say when, but I will say it will be sometime in the near future. So to all the readers there will be no hanging up the competition shoes until Christopher Iman is Mr. Continental. Looking from the outside looking in, what makes Christopher Iman standout from the other male leads across the country? I believe my personality offstage and the way that I entertain the spectators onstage. You will NEVER meet a person like me offstage and I will never put you in the mind of someone else onstage. I have my own ideas from my clothes, talents, and what particular systems work for Christopher. I make those choices and exert it the only way that I know how. Now this does not make me better than anyone by far but I think it makes me standout as a great male lead because I am true to being Christopher Iman and no one in between. What advice would you give to up and coming male entertainers that aspire to become someone like Mr. Christopher Iman? Please do this for the love of the art not for the so-called FAME or FORTUNE because you surely will be disappointed in the end. It’s the ones who do it for the love and respect of the art who sustain longer than a season or two. Of course I don’t want to inspire anyone to be like me. Be yourself and do it to the fullest. Don’t become a carbon copy of someone else. I am a true advocate of always STANDING out and that’s what I feel newcomers need to stick to standing out. Create your own identity. Believe me, Jaila, it works. Don’t you think? [He laughs.] When you stay near and dear to whom you are as a person, someone will truly notice. Thank you all for reading and I truly hope that this interview has allowed you all who are not familiar with who I am, I have enlightened all, and opened ears as well as eyes. To Jaila, Carrie, and the staff thanks for the opportunity and blessings to ALL.
Interview With Christopher Iman
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