Joey Rivera calls Columbia home, the pageants call him Mister Gay USA
by Jack Kirven . Q-Notes staff
Rivera competing in the swimsuit category.
COLUMBIA — Joey Rivera is no stranger to the pageant system, and no stranger to winning titles as a contestant, having won Mr. Maryland in 1997 and Mr. North East in 1999. In 1999 Rivera decided to focus on his personal life and career and took an eight-year hiatus from competing while he mentored up-and-coming talent.
Rivera began competing at the local level after encouragement from friends in Maryland, who thought he would do well in the pageantry system. He also saw it as an opportunity to make use of his background and training in theatre. “I just wanted to perform,” he said of his early days as a competitor.
Rivera competed at the national level in 1996, 1997 (top ten finalist) and 1999, after which he moved to South Carolina and pursued a career in retail at Home Depot. Although he maintains a separation between his two careers, he acknowledges that competing in pageants has helped him in all areas of his life. His reign as Mr. Gay USA 2007 will last until August, 2008.
In 2005 Rivera decided that he would begin preparing for a comeback. In 2006 he began watching contests in order to analyze how the competition scene had evolved during his sabbatical, especially since that was the first year for creative formal wear and he had not seen it done before. When asked if he planned to get back into the system, his response was telling: “If I compete again, it will be to win.”
Rivera scored high in all categories,
capturing the national title after several years without competing.
And that is what he did. In November 2006 Rivera won Mr. Atlantic States, which put him into the running for Mr. USA. The USA system’s pinnacle contest happened in Hickory, N.C. Rivera breezed through the preliminaries with his rendition of Tracy Byrd’s “Keeper of the Stars.” After being selected as a top 10 finalist he showcased a new collection of outfits, including a tuxedo designed and created in Italy, and gave a moving performance of Garth Brook’s “The Dance.” “Although I didn’t win every category, I did well enough overall for the math to be on my side at the end of the night.” Rivera was crowned on Aug. 5.
When asked, “What has been your biggest weakness, and what steps would you take to overcome it as Mr. Gay USA?” he replied, “One of my greatest weaknesses has always been being confident in myself. As a little child I grew up thinking I was the ugliest person in the world… As Mr. Gay USA I will continue to let people know that beauty comes from within. I would talk to every single person and let them know it’s not all about what people see, it’s what you have inside you. [I would tell people to] work with what God gave you. Show it. Smile!”
A newly crowned Joey Rivera begins his reign as Mr. Gay USA 2007.
As the reigning Mr. Gay USA Rivera plans to continue promoting the pageant system, mentoring rising talent and booking appearances in venues across the country. He would also like to help the system to expand to the point where there is a contestant from each state. One of his primary goals is to be a support to the people of the LGBT community who have esteem issues. “I found a way to help myself and I motivate others to live a healthful lifestyle.”