Last night saw the return of the venerated Miss Subways Pageant, a contest held from 1941 to 1977 that invited lady straphangers to compete for the chance to have their photo and bio published in subway ads (and a bracelet with a gold-plated subway token). Though the pageant has long been out of fashion, Albany’s apparent reluctance to improve subway service inspired transit activists to bring it back as a fundraiser of sorts, and what they ended up getting was a pretty good dive into New York’s weird, artsy, beautiful heart.
Hosted at the City Reliquary in Williamsburg, the event invited 14 prospective Miss Subways onstage to vie for the title, performing songs, stand-up, dancing, and telling stories to prove their worth. Four judges—Janeane Garofalo, famed NYC art star Reverend Jen Miller, NY1 reporter Roger Clark, and comedian Baratunde R. Thurston—weighed their merit, the bar hawked NYC-centric drinks like nutcrackers and Brooklyn Lager, and transit advocate group Riders Alliance handed out membership forms to folks who wanted to join the movement to fix the subways.
Also, faux “Cuomo” and faux “de Blasio” battled over who was responsible for the MTA, to the tune of “So Happy Together.”
Contestants included horror filmmaker Dylan Mars Greenberg, who performed a rousing song about the G train, complete with backup dancers; Hedra, a.k.a. Miss Derailment, who provided the audience with a frighteningly accurate subway delay announcement; Suzq, who taught lady straphangers how to strip on the subway without taking their clothes off (“Be the trash that you want to see on the subway,” she said); the Lady Aye, who swallowed a sword; Glace Chase, a drag queen who sang about finding a husband on the L train; and Lisa Levy, a 61-year-old Bushwick artist who used blown-up childhood photos to illustrate her lifelong relationship with the MTA.
Though the show, whose proceeds benefitted both the Riders Alliance and the City Reliquary, was intended to spread awareness about the debilitating subway system, contestants also used it as an opportunity to demonstrate their love for New York. “I’m a third generation New Yorker. I’ve lived off the 6 train my whole life. I was born at Lenox Hill, I still live a few blocks away,” the Lady Aye, real name Ilise S. Carter, told Gothamist. “I’m from New York, I love New York, I live here and work here.” Carter, who’s been riding the subway for decades, described its current status as, “the best of times and the worst of times.”
“I’ve seen men get into, no joke, nunchuck fights. I’ve seen the doors open and thought, Oh god, please let that be punch and not blood,'” Carter said. “So it’s definitely improved.”
Out of the 14 contestants, judges selected 4 finalists—Hedra, Greenberg, Chase and Levy—asking each how they’d respond to subway-specific scenarios, like Showtime dancers and public masturbators. Unfortunately, Glace Chase stumbled in her response to a question about what she’d do if she spotted retired dermatological star Dr. Zizmor on the subway. “Who the fuck is Dr. Zizmor?” Chase asked. The audience was aghast, and it cost Chase in the end—she was awarded runner-up, with Lisa Levy winning the coveted Miss Subways title.
“How the f-ck did this happen?” Levy said as she was crowned with a crown crafted by Rev Jen. She later told Gothamist, “It’s pretty f-cking thrilling. I did not expect to win in the least. I did not sing or dance, I never expected to be a contestant, so I really spoke from the heart I guess.”
Chase, meanwhile, told Gothamist she was “devastated” by the loss. “It was a strong competition, and unfortunately in that final round I tripped. I did not know who that guy was,” she said, referring, of course, to Dr. Zizmor. ” I thought it was a pretty tough question, to be honest.”
For shame, Glace Chase. FOR SHAME.