“Drag Prince of the West Coast” Tito Soto knows what it takes to hit a creative high. And the high-production performance artist proved it last year by coming in second in Alaska Thunderfuck’s Drag Queen of the Year Pageant.
Co-producing Saturday night drag spectacular, PRINCESS, at SF OASIS, week after week, Soto sees so many equally inspiring performers that haven’t had the similar fortune of appearing in a national competition, much less a star-making vehicle like RuPaul’s Drag Race or Boulet Brothers Dragula.
So he devised The High Princx Pageant in an effort to highlight eight of the best entertainers the Bay Area has to offer—all in competition for the High Princx crown (created by Fierce Drag Jewels, the company that creates the diadems for Rupaul’s Drag Race) and major cash prizes.
“We chose to highlight performers in our community that are very experienced, as a means to reward them for their hard work over the years,” says Soto. “They all deserve the spotlight and a chance to showcase their art in this epic context, with the chance at a substantial reward.”
Sponsored by GAYPIN’, Sugarpill Cosmetics, and Tequila El Rey, the four-part contest, taking place over the next two weekends, will see the seasoned performers (each with a minimum of five-years experience) facing off in presentation, question-and-answer, lipsynch, and dream performance categories.
Judging the contest will be a panel of Bay Area drag legends including Peaches Christ, Glamamore, Honey Mahogany, D’arcy Drollinger, Miss Rahni, Nicki Jizz, Leigh Crow, Bionka Simone, and Trixxie Carr, as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4 alum Dida Ritz!
Meet the High Princx Pageant contestants in the slideshow below:
I spoke to Soto about how Alaska Thunderfuck’s pageant informed The High Princx Pageant, what makes this year’s contestants unique, and what it takes to win the top honor.
48 HILLS How did you end up competing in and almost winning Alaska Thunderfuck’s Drag Queen of the Year Pageant?
TITO SOTO I’ve been a huge fan of the pageant since its inception because of its level of inclusion of other styles of drag that don’t get featured on TV. I actually was a backup dancer in one of the contestant’s performances of the first year of the pageant, so the second I heard about its second installation, I applied and got in.
Due to COVID, the pageant became digital, which was very bittersweet. On one hand, we didn’t get a chance to go through this process in person together as a cast, but on the other, I had the opportunity to execute my dream performance without the limitations of a venue or time. I trained in aerial silks for half a year for it, shot the performance in two days, spending over six hours nonstop in the air. It was the most physically challenging experience I’ve had in my life, but it didn’t only win me the Talent and Evening Wear categories, I was also able to finally execute concepts I had in my brain for over 20 years.
In addition to this, the outpouring of love and support I received from my community was something I had never felt before. It was extremely validating and helped me heal a couple of wounds in the process. This pageant truly changed my life.
48 HILLS Did that show inspire The High Princx Pageant?
TITO SOTO Oh, definitely! The effect Drag Queen of the Year had on me is one I wish for all performers that have worked hard to carve their own path. This pageant is my personal way of paying it forward in that way. There’s something really amazing about “leveling up” your art by your own rules and parameters.
The format of the pageant in some ways is similar to DQOY and other drag pageants in the country, but we’ve given it our own PRINCESS twist.
48 HILLS How did you narrow down the eight contestants? Other than the prerequisite five years of experience, what makes them special?
TITO SOTO All of these contestants are unique, hardworking, and established artists in their own right. They each have their own perspective on drag and have already contributed so much to the community. We’ve seen each of them do inspiring performances consistently—and we can’t wait to see what they bring to the pageant. Narrowing it down was extremely hard, as there were many well-deserving artists that did not make it. But hey, we have to leave some room for excellence next year.
48 HILLS What qualities must the winner of The High Princx Pageant possess?
TITO SOTO What I learned from my experience in pageantry, is that the key to winning is consistency and authenticity. Dissecting each category and seeing how you can stand out in every one, while also making it your own. When the competition is so tight, any small oversight can knock you down a spot.
48 HILLS Tell me about the High Princx crown. Also, will the winner have royal duties throughout the year?
TITO SOTO Oh, I cannot wait to reveal the design of the High Princx crown! We knew we had to go big, so we commissioned Fierce Drag Jewels to make it. They are responsible for the crowns of Rupaul’s Drag Race, Dragula, and most of the pageants in the country.
The only royal duty we ask of the winner is a sickening step-down performance next year—and hopefully, they’ll take pride and confidence in the title throughout the year.
48 HILLS What are the judges looking for in Creative Presentation, Question and Answer, Lipsynch Battles, and Talent Presentation?
TITO SOTO For Creative Presentation the theme will be “Magic!” It is the first category and will be the first impression to the judges and audience. We’re looking for looks that are dynamic, conceptual, detailed, and that evoke magic in each contestant’s interpretation and drag-style. Stunts have been encouraged.
Question and Answer will be the second category and a chance for the judges and audience to get to know the contestants better. Authenticity will be key here.
The third category of the first night of the pageant is an epic Lipsynch smackdown for the last points of the night. The cast will be split into pairs to battle it out. Whoever wins each lipsynch will increase their overall score. Judges will be looking for a tight lipsynch, a fierce performance, and their overall impact on the audience.
Talent Presentation will be happening on the second night of the pageant and will count toward the most points in the competition. This is the moment for contestants to bring out their most epic dream performances. We’re expecting larger-than-life concepts, backup dancers, sets, props, background visuals, etc.
48 HILLS How are you keeping the pageant COVID-safe?
TITO SOTO OASIS requires Proof of Vaccination for all guests that enter the space. In addition, all guests must wear masks inside or they might get reprimanded by our fierce hosts mid-show and get kicked out. We also project the show on the rooftop for folks that would rather spend their time there and live-stream it on OasisTV for those who have to stay home.
THE HIGH PRINCX PAGEANT Sat/22 and Sat/29, $20-200. OASIS, SF. Tickets and more info here.