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Paige Michaels Chanel will pass her crown as Little Miss Woodward on Monday, March 18, but her reign in Detroit has only just begun. As far as Chanel is concerned, she’s not going anywhere.
“I mean, I’m growing up. I can move on to the big leagues. Miss Woodward is the next thing I’m going to do,” Chanel said.
The 31-year-old won the amateur title of Little Miss Woodward in 2018. Chanel was selected by a panel of judges, former kings and queens of the city.
“She got out there and got the crown, and I told her, ‘Let this be a stepping stone.’ She advanced so fast and captured so many other crowns. She is the hardest-working woman in show business,” said Ray “RB” Calhoun of RB Entertainment.
“Being here and being Little Miss Woodward brought so much meaning to me and my life,” Chanel said. “RB is like a dad. He really is so supportive of what I do. This is one of the best titles I’ve held. It’s a beautiful experience being Little Miss Woodward.”
Chanel has also held the titles of Miss Necto Amateur in Ann Arbor, Gay Performer of the Year in Battle Creek, Miss Legends Newcomer and Miss Other Side Newcomer in Toledo and Miss Amateur Club Gold Coast in Detroit.
“I’m so proud of her. This young lady is one of the best queens I have ever had out of all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Calhoun, a promoter in Detroit for more than 20 years. He has been hosting shows like “A Night of Duets,” “Woodward’s Got Talent,” “313’s Finest,” the “Little Miss Woodward Pageant,” the “Mr. Woodward Pageant” and the “Miss Woodward Pageant” for the last 11 years.
Chanel attributes her drag pageantry success to her performance abilities coupled with aesthetics.
“I’m a natural performer,” Chanel said. Behind the elaborate makeup, under the wigs, is a dancer, a teacher and a choreographer. Chanel graduated from Marygrove College in Detroit with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
Although she has been a guest at The Woodward Bar & Grill in Detroit since she was 18, Chanel said it wasn’t until just a few years ago that she began paying attention to the drag shows.
“I really started getting interested in the performing aspect of it and how much they put into their craft, like the showgirls,” she said. “I really wasn’t sure if this was something I wanted to do, but I was encouraged by others. I started getting myself involved in the shows and being around people that were involved in pageants. I decided I was really going to take my craft seriously and dedicated myself.”
Guiding Chanel’s transformation into a queen was her mentor Melanie Von Cruz, and drag mothers Ravin Devine and Victoria Sanchez.
“Watching them perform, their presence, the way they engage the audience, it really captured me and made me want to get into drag,” she said.
When Chanel first competed for the Little Miss Woodward title she did not succeed. The second time, she was the first runner-up. The third time Chanel entered the pageant, she won.
“I wore a pretty pink evening gown, like a princess gown. It was amazing,” she said, adding that she wears a size four to six gown, which makes it easy for her to find and buy prom or bridal dresses and embellish them. But once a queen starts winning, she said, other queens share their “bags of drag,” which helps with the expense. Although Chanel said the money has been good and tips are abundant.
“They love you here at The Woodward. They really support you here,” she said.
In addition to wearing one of her favorite gowns, for her winning talent presentation, she and her dancers performed to “Rise Up” by Andra Day.
“It really had a big impact on people in the audience,” she said. “People were like, ‘Oh my God, I was crying,’ and it was because it was so heartfelt. It was around that time when I felt like this is my time and I’m ready, I’m focused and it’s mine.”
Since then, Chanel said she has had an immense responsibility to her fans. In addition to a required amount of shows she has booked during her reign, Chanel frequents The Woodward as a patron to support other performers at the bar, and to visit with members of the community.
“It means so much when people come out specifically for you. So many people support me – my boss at work, my coworkers, my friends, my family. It really means a lot,” she said.
Not letting these people down is one of the reasons Chanel said she works so hard to be the best queen she can be.
“It takes a really strong, dedicated person. That’s something I didn’t realize until really being here and being a part of it,” she said.
It takes Chanel two hours for makeup alone, but she said she has mastered the art of the quick-change and, when she isn’t working her 9-to-5 job as a receptionist, a big chunk of her time is spent preparing for shows. That can include a lot of research.
“Studying your character is important. I watch interviews to pick up on their personality, like what they do with their hands. I don’t just listen to music. I watch videos to make sure my lyrics and choreography is going with the songs,” Chanel said.
When asked whose character she identifies with most, Chanel answered Cardi B, an American rapper, singer and songwriter. As a performer, Chanel said she feels like she and Cardi B share a willingness to be open and honest.
“The very first time I performed as Little Miss Woodward as Cardi B the audience went crazy. The response was ridiculous. I made so many tips,” she said. “It’s her rawness. I’m the same way when it comes to stuff. I’m just so raw, so uncut. I’m just me. That’s the same as Cardi B. She’s just her and that’s what people relate to and really, really like. She might not be the most articulate or polite, or however you may say, but she’s her in everything she does and you have to respect it.
“When it comes to me, you have to respect what I’m doing. You see that I’m working hard. I’m out here putting in the hours and I’m working,” Chanel continued. “And I’m me. And I can’t be anybody else but that.”
Cardi B might be her favorite character reference, but Chanel said she has learned that people don’t always want to see the same face or hear the same song when they come to see her perform. She said that the trick to keeping fickle audiences captivated is versatility.
“You have to study your bars, watch the shows there and know what type of characters and music the audience likes and accepts,” she said.
Because, according to Chanel, it’s different in different areas. In Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, for example, she got “chewed up” for not being “drag enough.” She lives her life as a woman and made the assumption that putting on regular makeup and costumes would suit most performances, but said she quickly learned that in many spaces the drag scene requires a queen to overexaggerate her makeup, jewelry, body presentation and movement. She added that it was a hard lesson to learn, too.
“I felt like people were trying to tell me how to be me. I didn’t want to wear that makeup, but I didn’t know you can’t see your face when the light hits you if you don’t wear certain makeup,” she said. “So if you don’t contour or highlight enough then you get washed out by the bright lights. I would watch videotapes and say, ‘Oh my God, I look so stupid.'”
Calhoun said Chanel’s willingness to review her past performances, be open to change and strive to improve her performance makes her “one of the best” queens around.
“She is very professional. She is willing to listen and learn,” he said.
That, and being able to get along with others is what he said judges will be looking for in the next Little Miss Woodward. Whoever it is, Calhoun said, “They have some big shoes to fill.”
Coming Back Stronger
Without spoiling all the surprises in store before her final performance, Chanel teased what to expect before seeing her as Little Miss Woodward one last time.
“A lot of girls will want to be cute and pretty, but I’m going to dance for my life,” Chanel said. “I’m going to give them a show they will never forget. They’re probably going to want to crown me again when I perform.”
Despite her confidence as a performer, Little Miss Woodward is a title only handed out for a year at a time and Chanel will have to relinquish it soon. She described the feeling of giving it back as “bittersweet.”
“It’s so sad. I love my title, but I also have to realize I’m always going to be a former. I’m always going to be Little Miss Woodward. But it’s my title. I want to keep it. I don’t want to hand it down. I love it. This is my home, my start, how I became who I am,” she said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m sure on the day I have to hand down I will boo-hoo all day. I know I will. I don’t want to hand down, but it symbolizes growth and the future and I know the future holds a lot for me.”
This includes a run at Miss Woodward in July. According to Calhoun, a queen has never left Little Miss Woodward to come back and win the Miss Woodward title.
“If she does that, she’ll make history,” he said. “The girls better watch out and be very scared. She is no joke.”
The Woodward Bar & Grill is located at 6426 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. Showtime for the Little Miss Woodward pageant is 11 p.m. There is a $10 cover for the event hosted by Shauntrelle Blu with music by DJ Ray. For more information, visit gaybe.am/Xe.