Newcomer Drag Pageant Paves the Way for Up-and-Coming Queens

Kierra Darshell. Photo by Mara Rago.

An annual drag pageant is shining the spotlight onto up-and-coming drag queens. The 5th annual Miss Tri-State All-Star Newcomer Pageant takes place this weekend.

The pageant is run by Kierra Darshell, the legendary drag queen from Pittsburgh. Darshell shared what makes the pageant different from a typical drag show.

“It’s a pageant for newcomers, and people are getting their feet wet into the world of pageantry,” Darshell said. “I think it’s great that people want to come and support the up-and-comers that want to get into the pageant area. Drag and pageantry, they’re different. Doing a drag show at a bar, it’s a different arena than going and competing against other queens, against your peers and being judged.”

She shared that the pageantry involves things like making sure their evening gowns are correct and that there are no flaws in their talent. It is open to new drag queens in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Whoever wins the pageant will receive a $500 cash prize.

Kierra Darshell. Photo by Mara Rago.

Darshell formerly hosted the Miss Tri-State All-Star Pageant for 25 years. After having a fantastic run with the event, she knew it ran its course, and ended it on the 25th year anniversary. She decided to start the Newcomer’s pageant as a way to allow new drag queens to have their chance to receive mentorship and experience.

The contestants are judged by a stellar panel – this year’s includes Courtney Brown, Sebastian Armonte, Jim Demundo, David Dean, and Rachael Rakovan.

“I’m always excited when newer girls enter the contest,” Darshell said. “I go out of my way to get really qualified judges. That way, when they’re getting critiqued, they can take those comments and work specifically on what the judges are telling them. That will help them improve for the next time they go out and do a pageant.”

The focus of the event is very simple – to help new queens ease their way into the drag scene, and even possibly find a mentor. An important part of the pageant to Darshell is the sisterhood it brings.

“A bond develops very easily, and becomes like a sisterhood,” she shared. “You’ll find that with the pageant circuit – a lot of the pageant queens have developed a sisterhood with the other pageant queens. And they end up having a lifelong friendship, all from entering the pageant.”

The importance of finding a community can never be stressed enough. Darshell shared that one of the great things about the community in Pittsburgh is their open-mindedness.

“I’ve been doing [drag] since before it was as mainstream as it is today,” she said. “We also contribute [the success of the event] to the city of Pittsburgh because people are open-minded enough to come out and support the contest every year – they sell it out every year as well. Pittsburgh’s definitely an open-minded city, so even though you may have some people that have negative things to say, there’s still enough positivity from people who want to come and enjoy the art of female impersonation.”

Lady Inferno Diamond, Miss Tri-State All-Star Newcomer 2022.

This year’s pageant will honor the 2022 winner of the Miss Tri-State All-Star Newcomer Pageant, Lady Inferno Diamond.

The sold-out brunch pageant will take place at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 16 at The Bridge Music Bar, located in East Liberty. A new queen will be crowned Miss Tri-State Newcomer. A pre-show of the pageant is being held at Brewer’s on Saturday, April 15 at 11:00 PM.

Tia (she/her) is a recent Point Park grad who majored in journalism. She loves all things movies, music, and Pittsburgh! As the summer 2022 QBurgh intern, she’s looking forward to writing about Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ community and highlighting all the cool people doing cool things in the community.