Hello Dollys

Because Dolly Parton is in town on Fri, Sept 30, the Tropicana Laughlin decided to turn Sat, Oct 1, into an extension of “Dolly-Mania” by hosting a most unique show of their own—the Hello Dollys Drag Pageant & Dance Party set for their Pavilion Theater (doors open at 8 p.m., the pageant/contest begins at 9 p.m., with the dance party following at 10 p.m.). There is a $15 charge to catch the drag pageant while the dance party has free admission.

The “Hello Dollys Drag Pageant” is actually a contest for female impersonators who are challenged to put their best Dolly Parton looks together, hone up their lip synching and take home some cash in the process. The emcee for the show is Las Vegas drag queen, Toni James and features music by Las Vegas DJ Chris Cox.

The prizes to be won are: $500 for first place, second place wins $250, and third place receives $100. The contest is free to enter, but all contestants must be at least 21 years of age. Participants receive one complimentary drink voucher.

“While the event is held on October 1, and the Dolly Parton concert is September 30, we are hoping guests in town for the concert will stay and enjoy Laughlin for the weekend and come enjoy our party on Saturday night,” said Missy Cochran, spokesperson for the show.

“The contest will be limited to 25 participants, so we are hoping for a full roster of talent. Those interested in becoming contestants can email Amy Carrera at the Tropicana Laughlin in advance at acarrera@troplaughlin.com. If the roster isn’t full, you can also sign up at the door.

“Contestants are asked to lip sync to a Dolly song for a maximum of two and a half minutes. The more production value, the better. We are encouraging great costumes, back up dancers, unique music choices and overall lip sync skill.”

While this marks the first time for a contest like this in Laughlin, it isn’t Cochran’s first rodeo.

“I have been in the entertainment industry for 20 plus years and produced, judged, participated and been a part of contests like this,” she said. “They are always a blast and it is awesome to see artists’ unique creativity and the production value they come up with.”

Emcee Toni James is a veteran entertainer who also knows how to work—or outwork—a crowd.

“Toni James has been a host/emcee/entertainer/impersonator/ and performer for more than 20 years himself,” Cochran said. “Toni has conducted contests like this for hundreds of events and possesses a skill and quick wit, which is needed at times to introduce and possibly outdo contestants…and yes, Toni will perform a unique Dolly opening number with dancers as well as another special number for the pageant.”

In addition to adding the talented emcee of Toni James, the addition of Chris Cox elevates things.

“Chris isn’t just your normal DJ,” Cochran stated. “He is an award-winning music producer and remix artist. The list of artists he’s worked with is endless because his remixes are so popular. Check out his website, chriscox.net for more.”


We caught up with Toni James via a phone interview last week to get insight on…

Drag shows in Laughlin vs. drag shows in bigger places.

James: You guys aren’t that small because you’re a tourist destination as well. So you bring in the same kind of entertainment (as Las Vegas) so that people enjoy it….as long as you put smiles on their faces….that’s the thing. That’s why there’s so many different genres of music or types of dance or theater. You never know what’s going to appeal to somebody else.


James: For years and years I did a show in Las Vegas called the “Toni James Lip Sync Contest.’ I did it in a legendary gay nightclub called Gipsy. A lot of the kids from the casts of Strip shows would come out just to watch and pack the place. Not to brag, but I made them so much money with this lip sync contest, ’cause it was my idea. They bought me a Mercedes Benz after the seventh year I was there.

It was really like networking…like “who’s in this show” and “what do you do in that show,” and that kind of thing, so a lot of the show kids would come out.

I then took it over to the Hard Rock and to Hamburger Marys, where they were both successful shows.

We hadn’t done this in a while, but when Missy (Cochran, producer of the Hello Dollys event at the Tropicana) came up with the idea of whoever is to handle emcee duties, Missy was like, “let’s get Toni to do it….”

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” won an Emmy this year. What does that mean for the industry as a whole?

James: It gives it a lot more credibility in the mainstream. However, it has had credibility in the past here on The Strip in Las Vegas because we had people like Kenny Kerr who came here in ’77 on a six-week contract at the Silver Slipper Hotel. He lasted there 12 years then went on to the Sahara which is when I joined that show. Frank Marino and La Cage did the same thing. Now he has the show, Divas. Frank has done a really good job with the marketing of his show. I’ve worked with all of those people for a lot of years.

It’s still very mainstream on The Strip that way, but as far as America, RuPaul has really done it because people can just turn on their TV and see drag now.

I’ve had to step up the ante with it all and decide for myself okay, what’s gonna be the next step for drag? Because everybody sees everything on TV, from the outrageous to the classic, to the whatever, so what’s going to step it up?

Did anyone influence you—did you model your character after anyone in particular?

James: I didn’t model my personal persona as Toni James after someone, but I did learn a few things from a few people early on. We call ’em drag moms. I had a drag mom named Smokey years ago, and she was flawless. Like she would take a year to make a dress out of sequins or rhinestones and it would be the most flawless thing you’ve ever seen—very Bob Mackie-ish. And people would go nuts. She wouldn’t come out and perform until it was all done and everything was just so. That was her thing—to come out and just blow everyone away.

What in your opinion makes a good drag queen? What separates someone with talent from say, a boy in a dress?

James: It’s one thing to be able to put on your makeup and be beautiful or outrageous—or if you don’t know how to, have someone do that for you—and it’s another thing to be able to go out and perform on yet another level and entertain people. That’s what makes a good drag queen.

I tell the younger queens these days, “you gotta sissy it up.” The more feminine you can be out there the better because they’re going to see through that layer of sissy you do and know you’re a boy. Well, they already know you’re a boy, but it’s more of the illusion of you acting like the girl that really makes a great drag queen.

Is it natural ability, something you can learn, or both?

James: It’s both. It’s like somebody who has the natural ability to be able to pick up piano. I would be a disaster on a piano—I tried it and it was just a disaster. But I could learn it. I probably wouldn’t be the greatest at it when it was all said and done because I don’t have the natural ability for it.

But if you do have that natural ability and you pay attention to detail—then you can be really good. I study women, ’cause that’s the whole point for me. I study even the smallest of detail. Some people overdo it, some people under do it.



Tropicana Pavilion Theater

Saturday, October 1. Doors open 8 p.m., contest 9 p.m., dance party 10 p.m. Free admission with cash bar