Night Crawler

"I see someone with a lot of makeup on," says St. James, who is easily twice the age of the youngest competitor. "I also see someone who is sincere, genuine, and honest, and I'm doing the very best I can do." The already vocal St. James fan club easily doubles in size.

During the talent competition, St. James appears, along with two highly praised go-go boys, as a Vegas showgirl; Mercedes performs in front of a very large silver Mercedes; Jackie Lee drives around in a pink Barbie car with a matching parasol; Coco performs a fanciful ballet number after three nymphs emerge from under her gown; Rene Russell shows off her perfect curves with the help of a skintight catsuit, and her enviable acrobatic skills with the help of two studly Borneo headhunters; and Monique Moore performs the "Name Game" in front of a neon set.

While the girls stand in line awaiting the final declaration, they hold hands for moral support, glancing nervously at the judges, and smiling those television smiles. Alina Malletti sings "Winner in You." The moment couldn't be more hackneyed, but it's real. The stress is palpable.

When Jennifer St. James is finally announced first alternate and Rene Russell becomes Miss Gay California America, the crowd erupts in applause and tears. Maya Montana and Malletti surround Russell, hiding the sobbing winner as they attach the shimmering crown, which she will wear to the national competition in Little Rock in October. If the diamonds aren't real, there is no doubt about the tears.

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By Silke Tudor

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