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Interview With Jerry Bird

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#1 Carrie Fairfield

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 08:49 PM

August 2006 Members and guests What an interview this is going to be. Jerry Bird is one of the most known names in the art of female impersonation. A man who has helped to put the face of pageantry on the map across the country Jerry Bird has proven to be one of the most successful men in the business. Since 1986 the US of A System has been going on strong and growing even larger to include 5 national titles (Miss Gay US of A, Miss Gay US of A at Large, Miss Gay US of A Classic, Miss Black US of A, and Mr. Black US of A). And now, the man behind the vision has graciously taken the time to sit down with Tiffany Rachels for this interview. Now I turn it over to Tiff and Jerry Bird! Take care and happy dragging. Carrie Fairfield
How and when were you first introduced to the world of female impersonation? When I first came out in 1967, I went to a bar called The Old Plantation on West Gray St. in Houston. For New Years that year, the MC was Jerry Vanover and the special guest was the famous Torchy Lane. Jerry Vanover was a loud mouthed and funny entertainer. Torchy Lane was a real beauty. When I turned 18, I started working at the club. You have to remember, while I was growing up the house queens at the bar were Naomi Sims, Donna Day, Hot Chocolate and Tiffany Jones. It soon became the best show cast in the country and they all went on to become mega stars. How is it you come to get involved into pageantry? My best friend growing up was Mark Ambrosy, whose uncle was the producer of Miss America in Atlantic City in the 1970's. We were able to be stage hands for two years. That's where I got the idea to start Miss Gay Houston over 35 years ago. There are dozens of stories about how and why the Miss US of A Pageant began can we get your take on how it all began? As most know I was a Miss Gay America promoter for Miss Texas and Miss South. It got to be where I could not justify the winner each year. When I tried to bring this up at a promoter meeting Norman [Jones] would not let the matter come up and really did not care what I had to say. So, while paying $7,500 a year in franchise fees, no one cared what I thought. I decided that was not working for me. After pulling Miss Texas out of Miss Gay America the battle was on. About 2 months after all of this happening, I got a call from Jimmy Dee, a former Miss Gay America. She asked if I would like to buy the Miss Gay USA Pageant. I told her to let me think on the matter and I would call her back. Well, two days latter I bought the bankrupt company on my Gold American Express Card. That's how all of this got started. So what year was it you purchased Miss Gay US of A? How many years did it take to build to over 40 contestants? I know the year Sable was reigning there was something like 81 or 86 contestants. Did you ever dream it would reach the heights it has? I bought the company in 1985. Michael Andrews was crowned in January of 1986. The first year there were 12 contestants. The next year 38 contestants showed up, and the following year 48 and so on. The pageant grew so fast we were soon at 80 contestants. Those days there were only two national pageants. Miss Gay America for the boys as well as Miss Continental for the altered contestants. In order to be successful you need to provide something different. So I designed the scoring system around the concept of talent being 50% of your score. After a few years I decided to drop sports wear because I thought it was arbitrary and I didn't think sports wear had anything to do with selecting a national title holder. You can say I am in the pageant business but I really am in the entertainment business. I have promoters who have been with me from the beginning, that's now 21 years. This last May, I was standing in the back of the Ball Room and was amazed at the show this year. From everything: to the caliber of the contestants, as well as the support of the gay community. I hope all understand how grateful I really am because you made my dreams come true!
What has been some of your greatest memories or moments? There have been so many memories over the years. But, I think the moment that stands out in my mind was Chevelle Brooks winning Miss Gay US of A. You could not have been at the Dallas Grand Hotel that night and not know that she had won the pageant. Chevelle was not the first large and lovely contestant to win a small girl national pageant, she was however the first to be crowned. What has been some of your worst memories or moments as well as embarrassing moments? My worst memory is the 10th Anniversary Pageant in Dayton, Ohio. I had rented this large theater that held 3,500 people and only 500 showed up. It was a very humbling moment at that time in my life. That's when I decided that Miss Gay US of A needed a home and I chose Dallas, Texas. The pageant base has grown since that move. Dallas has exceeded my expectations and truly feels like home. How do you feel about the state of female impersonation today, versus when you first got started? I am a little worried about the state of female impersonation today. The market is so flooded. When I started there were only two other national pageants. Now, I guess there are around 30. I don't think you will ever again see a system with contestant numbers in the 80's because of the state of the market. But, I also think that in the next few years you are going to see only the strong systems survive. The cost of producing a big national has gotten harder each year. If you're going into the pageant business for money you will be disappointed. Most promoters don't even make money if they don't own their own bars and have the drink revenues to combine with the door receipts to pay the bills. It's a hard business even when you don't make the money you still have to be able to pay the bills. If there is one thing you could change about the direction of where female impersonation is going what would it be? I wouldn't want to change a thing. I don't think I could tell you what Miss Gay US of A should be. There are no limits. You hope you title holder is talented, pretty and a good people person. But, you don't have to be pretty to be talented. All that matters to me is that the right person gets crowned. I put seven people I trust and respect on the judge's panel, drop the high and low score and live with their decision. That's how it should be! Are there any of your former queens that completely surpassed the expectations you had for them, and how did they accomplish that? When you look at the 21 entertainers that have won Miss Gay US of A, you have a list of some of the best talents in this country. Each one has been an entity all their own. Some have been better than others but in different ways. One thing you have to remember is you don't have to like someone to work with them. If they do their job and I and my staff do their, jobs everybody wins. There have been winners that I just hated but they won, plain and simple. But, I have to say I may not have liked them but by the end of their reign I understood what the judges saw that I didn't. One thing you need to remember, regardless who you are, and once an entertainer has won they will always be a former of that system, good or bad. By talking with you on the phone I came to understand your close with your family. How do they feel about you owning and maintaining one of the top 4 National Female Impersonation Pageants in the country? I come from a Southern Baptist family. My personal life style has never been discussed by my family. They know what I do but I guess they think if they don't talk about it, it doesn't exist. I remember in 1988, when Tommie Ross won, the Baptist Temple protested the pageant at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. My face was plastered all over the news. When I got home I was driving to the post office and I heard a DJ on the radio say, "Well, Texans we all have something to be proud of today, the new Miss Gay US of A is from Texas. I nearly wrecked my truck. I couldn't imagine what all it takes to put on a pageant that is so hugeand requires so much! How do you do it what gives you the drive to persevereyear after year and for so long? As most know my health really got bad. I almost died twice in 2005. I must praise the staff of US of A. Without them this system could not have continued. Scott Ross, the national pageant director and web master has brought this company into the future. I will forever be thankful. Scott, Nathan, Sheldon, Broody, Lou and John form what I think, is the best staff in the business, combined with great promoters, make a great system. This is what I chose to do with my life and US of A is my baby.
What are your future goals for the Miss Gay US of A pageant? Future goals? Well, I would like to expand the US of A System to as many cities and states as possible. But, as my grandmother always said, "If it isn't broken don't try to fix it. I am real happy with the position of the US of A System in the pageant business. It's like a machine: just add a little oil every once in a while and it will keep on working. What advice would you give to up and coming impersonators and future contestants? I would tell new entertainers to pick their mentors wisely and study the system they want to be involved with. If each promoter in a system is looking for the same thing then a national title holder should be able to come from any area of the country. In closing I would just like to ask what would you like the name Jerry Bird and the Miss US of A Pageantry System to be best known for? What legacy would you like to leave? I want to be remembered for honesty and integrity. What other system can say that 4 of their last 6 national title holders won on their first try? None! To me that says it all. I personally would like to take a moment to thank you for your time for this interview and also the many years and dedication you have given to the art of female impersonation and our community as a whole! Your name and your pageant has, and will be echoed throughout many generations to come. That, my friend, is an accomplishment to be proud of. My thanks to you for taking the time to do this interview. I am sure there aremany people you would like to interview and I thank you for choosing me.
"I can look flawless and so fishy on the stage - then you hear my voice and realize you can't put EVERYTHING on a Visa card."

Crystal Chante during Onstage Question - 1996 Miss North Carolina America Pageant

"Lights, camera, and me without a stitch of make-up on!"

Becki Leaman

#2 Kevin



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Posted 14 August 2006 - 07:55 PM

I've been wondering when Jerry would be interviewed and I'm very pleased with the result. After judging several national pageants for USofA, I've been blessed with the opportunity to hear a lot of Jerry's history and insights into his business and the world of female impersonation. USofA is a great system but first and foremost it is a business full of difficult decisions, and although the public may not always agree with the outcome, rest assured that much thought goes into every detail of how the business is run. Jerry Bird is someone I will always admire and respect, and I'm thankful to the staff of CarrieFairfield.com for sharing his story and thoughts with the rest of the world!
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#3 jismtraylor



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Posted 14 August 2006 - 09:33 PM

:) :mwah: :) Thank you Tiffy!

What a wonderful interview! I appreciate Carrie and her staff for listening to our request! :D

Edited by jismtraylor, 14 August 2006 - 09:34 PM.

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#4 Tyler Alyxander

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Posted 14 August 2006 - 09:50 PM

What a FANTASTIC interview! Being one who has not gotten the opportunity to meet Mr. Bird in person, I have to say I hope that I will be able to do so sometime soon!

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Tyler Alyxander, Miss NY Continental Elite 2013, Miss NJ Continental Emeritus, Miss CarrieFairfield Elite 2006, Miss NYC FFI 2003, Miss Gay NJ-America 1990

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#5 Danny



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Posted 14 August 2006 - 10:17 PM

Great interview Tiff!!!!

Jerry you are a class act!!! More system owners should strive to be more like you when it comes to your appreciation of your fans and patrons!!!
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Tell the truth and you'll always remember what you said....




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Posted 14 August 2006 - 10:48 PM

absolutely loved the interview.The big man behind one of the most successful pageants finally interviewed. its was nice to hear the history on how he started the big business. ive heard rumors and let me tell u nothing i heard was what he had said in the interview.
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#7 Android



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Posted 14 August 2006 - 10:54 PM

Well alright for Jerry's Gold AMEX Card! The rest is history......

I'm glad that Jerry's health has improved and he still finds it in his heart to work as hard as he does for the system.

God's blessing to him and his family,

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#8 BarbraSeville



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Posted 15 August 2006 - 02:57 AM

Great interview.

I have always enoyed reading JB's posts on here.. so it was nice to hear from him again.

One thing that I found interesting...

He mentioned that he grew upset that while involved in MGA, he got upset that he could never understand the winner.

So he moved on and created a new game.

But even in his own game, it has taken a bit of time and distance to sometimes understand a win:

"But, I have to say I may not have liked them but by the end of their reign I understood what the judges saw that I didn't."

I think that we should all remember that before we scream shade, claim a rigging, or talk about stunted pageants. EVEN the promoter of a pageant has sometimes not always understood the results of his own pageant.

So why should any of us think we are any more suited to know better than the judges?

I wonder which winners upset him so much?
1984 was Tasha Kohl.
1965 was Naomi Sims.
Chocolate was 1980.
Lady Shawn was 1981
Jennifer Foxx was 1982
Franchesca Wakeland was 1983

Most of those winners are often cited as being part of the "GOLDEN ERA" of drag.
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#9 Kevin



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Posted 15 August 2006 - 07:00 AM

Babs, the years BEFORE Naomi and Tasha won were quite controversial "back in the day." As far as Lady Shawn, Jennifer Foxx, and Franchesca Wakeland... they were only a part of the "golden era" of drag because they happened to be doing drag at the same time the LEGENDS were. Just because they were crowned MGA does not mean they deserve the same place in DRAG DIVA history (or even in the same sentence) as Naomi Sims or Tasha or Hot Chocolate or Michael Andrews or Donna Day.
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#10 BobTaylor



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Posted 15 August 2006 - 07:18 AM

Another great interview Tiffany! Kudos to Jerry for sharing his history with the members here at CarrieFairfield. Excellent!!!

#11 BRayP



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Posted 15 August 2006 - 03:55 PM

I enjoyed this interview immensely. It was great imagining a young Jerry Bird working at the bar. I had not heard the name Mark Ambrosy in years. I remember when he was Mr. USofA....OMG...I used to get weak knees when he was performing...this was in the days that a tan line was considered sexy...and Mark sure know how to shake that white butt....but I digress....

Thanks for a great interview on a great man.

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#12 Lovelace


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Posted 15 August 2006 - 05:23 PM

Very nice interview, Tiffany! I really appreciated Mr. Bird's honest and candid opinions about his pageantry system, as well as female impersonation as a whole. Several rumors that I've heard about Mr. Bird were dispelled in that interview... it was extremely informative and intriguing, and this one will go down in history as one of the best CF interviews ever!! Great job Tiffany... and great interview Mr. Bird!!

Hugs and smooches... Lovelace :mwah: :mwah:

P.S. I live for you too Chevelle... O:)
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#13 Carolina



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Posted 15 August 2006 - 06:25 PM

What an insightful interview ! I had no idea Jerry was pursuaded by Jimmy Dee to purchase what we now know as USofA Pageantry ! Jimmy was a close friend...And the first impersonator I ever met or saw perform, back in my N.C. days .(The second was Charlie Brown who was Jimmy's roomate before they both moved to Nashville). Thanks for sharing your story !

Edited by Carolina, 16 August 2006 - 11:10 AM.

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#14 divadzl



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Posted 16 August 2006 - 04:43 AM

Thanks Tiff, this interview was most insightful. This gave me even more respect and admiration of all that are involved in the system. I felt that I knew Jerry already because of my drag mother "Eartha Kitt" aka donald f. that has pasted on some years ago now. I never knew that so much had happened in the community through all these years and i am very fortunate to be a part of this time. Your interview with Jerry gives me even more of a reason to push harder to succeed, mostly for me and my mom. thanks. Tiff and Jerry you make us all proud. much love
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#15 RobJr



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Posted 16 August 2006 - 09:58 PM

Great interview :unsure: I have always wonder how this system got started. Jerry keep up the good work like you said if its not broken leave it alone.

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