A drag queen named Jennifer Hudson Obama, clutching a red dildo like a microphone, captured the hearts of judges last year to win the Icelandic Drag Competition. This year, the fifteenth time that sequins and eye shadow will glimmer on stage, it’s anyone’s competition to win when the drag queens and kings file into Harpa’s Eldborg Hall on August 8.
But the nine competitors, who take part in a photo shoot, question-and-answer session and talent display, will have a tough time outmatching last year’s year champion, Ms. Hudson Obama, said competition organizer Georg Erlingsson Merritt. “The queen last year, at least in my mind, stands out as one of the best. She was just so brilliant. She made you laugh, she made you cry, she made you scream. She made you wish you were her,” Georg said.
Georg, who also won the competition in 1998, has run the event every year since his victory. To celebrate the Icelandic Drag Competition’s fifteenth year (it took a break in 2004), the event will get a piece of the spotlight, taking space in the main hall of Harpa, which shimmers just as brightly as the contestants’ outfits. For the anniversary, Georg chose a short and simple theme: drag. “So anything goes basically,” he said.
“It’s just a big carnival,” Georg added. “People are struck by glimmer and glamour and outrageousness. Everything has to be outrageous.
Some contestants go all out for the competition, buying wigs from out of the country “because we don’t have a very big wig market in Iceland,” Georg said. Others make their own clothes or use materials from home. Previous themes for the competition included Eurovision, burlesque and the Oscars.
The competition, one of the earliest events of Gay Pride Week in Reykjavík, is financially independent from gay pride, but builds excitement for the con-certs, parades and performances to come. While media and pop culture have popularized drag queen competitions, like in the American reality show “Ru-Paul’s Drag Race,” the Icelandic Drag Competition will also feature drag kings, who put on ties, moustaches and sailor outfits. Georg said Iceland is one of the few countries that include drag kings in drag competitions—showing the overall growth and increased acceptance of drag.
“People are realizing today that it basically is an art performance. People didn’t know that much about it and just thought contestants were just getting on stage, not prepared, and miming to their favourite song,” Georg said. “But people are registering today that it takes a lot of time and preparation to make your acts really good. They people are really putting it on the line to do their best and get the most out of it.”