Kicking off About Magazine’s Best of 2018 spread is none other than Mr. Gay Houston 2018 himself, singer and stage champion, Michael Chiavone.
“Hi, my name is Michael Chiavone; and I’m your reigning Mr. Gay Houston 2018 — which is just a way of saying that I’m so gay … I’ve won awards for it.” That’s the sort of trademark humor you can expect from a personality like Michael Chiavone — funny, a tad bit shocking, and loveably (albeit relatably) self-deprecating. The crowd at Barcode (located at 817 Fairview, where Chiavone hosts a karaoke show every Thursday) couldn’t help but laugh. The night was early and karaoke patrons were just beginning to straggle in, which left Chiavone with the opportunity to do what he does best: showcase his own talents. In his own words, “I’m just a homo who likes to sing.” He’s kidding … except that it’s not totally untrue. The 28-year-old Houston native began performing at a young age, navigating the realm of musical theatre, which he later studied in college. While talking to him in the dressing room at Barcode, Michael shared how he always knew he wanted to perform. “I was always that kid who put on shows in the garage and sang for his family at Christmas. I was always very much that gay kid.” He was teasing, but there’s nothing insincere in his story. When Chiavone realized that singing was something he could make a living out of, it set him down a path — one he continues to forge today.
In the last eight years that he’s been performing locally, Michael’s interests have steered away from musical theatre and concert performance. He recounted with me that toward the endings of his musical theatre days, what he found himself enjoying most wasn’t playing characters … but playing himself. “It’s really fun playing a character on stage; but when you are being yourself, and someone comes up and tells you that they enjoy what you did or that you’re really funny when you were just being yourself, that feels good.” And Michael Chiavone is nothing if not just that: himself. On the mic he’s neither bashful nor restrained. As his diaphragm supports a voice — whether while speaking or singing — that audiences turn for, he knows how to read a room to know what is and is not working in his favor. Nevertheless, whether someone does or does not like it, they’re getting exactly what they’ve been promised: Michael.
Acknowledging this piece of what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be as a performer, the compass of Michael’s heart led him in a different direction. “I haven’t been in a show in almost … twoooo years,” he thought aloud, “So I enjoy going out and singing at the bars.” As an out gay man, someone just as much a part of Montrose as the rest of us, bar culture and working in bars gave him new opportunities. Throughout his twenties, Michael befriended many people throughout Houston’s gay community, including drag queens, whom he’d eventually begin helping prepare to compete in pageants.
“I used to swear up-and-down that I wouldn’t do pageants — I didn’t like male pageants. And somehow in helping all these drag queens do them […] I am caught up in them.” Whether it’s where he expected to find himself or not, pageantry as of late has been kind to Chiavone. Or maybe that statement is undermining all the work that he’s put into these pageants, which are not for the faint of heart, nor for those without the drive to put the effort into them. For the queer community (which can include drag queens, drag kings, or simply cisgender performers such as Chiavone), there are two large, national pageant circuits: Miss/Mr. Gay America and Miss/Mr. Gay USofA. Within each of those there is a spectrum of subcategories (USofA has “MI”, “Diva”, and “Classic”, so on and so forth and is broken down above that by state; America is also broken down by state with its own smaller set of categories). The differentiations of these two circuits and their breakdowns are a bit convoluted. Chiavone, however currently holds two titles in the America circuit: Mr. Gay Houston America 2018 and Mr. Gay Lone Star America 2019, meaning his pageantry isn’t over just yet.
“I’m in an interesting transition period right now with what I do,” Chiavone shared as we talked more about how he tackled the pageants with a very specific vision that was entirely of his own creation. The young man who stated he started off never wanting to do pageants then began pageants wanting only to sing has now elevated himself into numbers incorporating dance and costumes. “I’m branching out into becoming a more ‘traditional’ male entertainer, as opposed to what I normally do. […] It’s important to show your versatility.” As far as his talent expanding and improving, Chiavone is constantly working on improving his craft, knowing full and well that he holds a large responsibility on his shoulders. After all, there hasn’t been a Mr. Gay Houston America in quite some time. In his time since winning that title alone, Chiavone has been given the opportunities to sing on the main stage of Pride Houston, judge a round of the nonprofit’s singing competition, Pride SuperStar, and has appeared in various benefits and drag shows as a live vocalist across the city.
Where he goes next is at the forefront of Michael’s mind. “At first, I thought I just wanted to be Mr. Houston; but when I went to compete at state, I realized that I really, really want to be Mr. Texas.” At that time, Chiavone was awarded third alternate (or fourth place) as well as Mr. Congeniality. “No one was more surprised by that than I was. […] You would have that I’d won the whole pageant by my reaction.” The two of us laughed at this for a while, knowing how tensions rise in competitive atmospheres and what it’s like to speak without a filter. But getting to the top five of the competition galvanized Chiavone into his preparedness to take the state title. He’s wanting to spend his time at all of the preliminary pageants to perform and see who he’ll be competing against. Pageants aside, Chiavone’s aspirations are still in the realm of entertainment. He and best friend/drag queen Hu’Nee B are planning to begin production on an queer podcast entitled The Texas Tea with Michael and B. Beyond the local level, Chiavone wants to move forward into being Mr. Gay America, Mr. Gay USofA, and Mr. Continental. “And honestly, with those titles, [sighs] I just want to be booked to sing on gay cruises until the day I die.” The young performer idolizes Neil Patrick Harris, wanting to host and emcee events, take the Broadway stage someday, and use his pageant titles as a vehicle to make these dreams come true.
“Because honestly … if you can be gay famous, you can do anything.”
You can find Michael Chiavone co-hosting karaoke with Kara Dion and Ty Frazier on Wednesday nights at Guava Lamp, as well as Thursday nights hosting Magic Mike at Barcode. Follow him on Facebook to see upcoming performances outside his regular gigs here.