Beauty Tips from a Queen: Pageant Winners and Drag Queens Share Their Secrets

These fierce, local ladies spill the tea on how to incorporate their best beauty secrets into your own routine.
Beauty Queen Tips

Even under bright lights, television cameras, and disco balls, pageant contestants and drag queens manage to look amazing. These six fabulous local ladies have decided to let us in on some of their tricks of the trade, spilling their secrets on everything from stay-all-day hair to fuller, poutier lips. 

Alexis Lete
Photo by Meagan Gilbert Photography; Hair & Makeup by Ashley Rae Troxel; Wardrobe by Ashley Rene’s Prom & Pageant

Miss Indiana USA 2020, Alexis Lete (@missinusa), says that as an athlete she wasn’t always into makeup—but through friends and her pageant journey she’s learned some easy, wearable tricks. For example, when she wants to make her eyes pop, she says: “I just put a swipe of highlighter under the arches of my eyebrows. This accents your arch and draws people into your eyes, and also helps make them look brighter.” 

Lete also recommends experimenting with eye shadow (yes, eye shadow) to get long lasting, smudge-proof color on your lips. “You just put your lip gloss on first, and then layer the eye shadow on top, so the color really sticks and stays,” she advises, adding, “If you have an eye palette, you can use any color in it, and play with the tones to see what works well; you’ll see that colors look different on your lips than on your eyelids.”

The New Albany native will compete in the Miss USA pageant this summer. “No Miss Indiana has ever won Miss USA, so I’m really hoping to be the first,” she says. 

Mossy StoneMossy Stone (@missmossystone) is a multi-talented maven in her own right: She’s a performer, the author of the novelette Saint Clair Street, and the host of a monthly “Drag Queen Story Hour” at Indy Reads Books—currently on hiatus due to COVID-19 precautions.

Stone considers herself a student of drag and its history, so she says it’s important for her to acknowledge that “a lot of the common makeup tricks that people are using today, like contouring for example, actually stemmed from queer culture. And most queer culture, particularly the lingo, originated from trans African-American communities. Credit’s got to be placed where credit is due.”

Along with her knowledge of drag history, Stone has picked up some killer makeup hacks, so if you’re looking for fuller lips, a highlighter can be your secret weapon. “One thing I’ve found is that drag queens like to be a little more creative with the placement of our highlighter,” she says. “For example, putting a little more highlighter on the underside of your lips, just touching up under the lip line, will allow your bottom lip to look fuller. Also, if you put a very thin line of highlighter at the top of your lip right above your cupid’s bow, that will make your upper lip look poutier.” 

To take it to the next level, Stone recommends finishing off your look with some strategically placed blush: “Now, this is not a makeup tip for people that want a natural-looking face—this is something for people that want to beat their mug, and there is definitely a distinction. I like to take a darker color of blush and put a little bit right under the center of my bottom lip. You just take your blush brush and put a little bit of blush at the bottom of your lip, right where your lip and chin meet. Especially in photographs, it’s going to make that bottom lip look poutier.”

Tally Anderson (@tally_the_beautiful;, who lives in Muncie, has won numerous pageant titles, including Ms. Indiana Plus America 2015. She’s also an in-demand makeup artist, an ordained minister, and a mentor helping women learn presentation skills for job interviews.

Tally AndersonIf you’re interested in makeup and learning how to apply it, Anderson thinks it’s important to allow yourself the time to practice. “Doing your makeup isn’t really that hard, it just takes some time to learn,” she says. “I always tell ladies that they should invest their time in themselves, because they invest in everybody else, so take that 15-20 minutes to love on you.” 

Eyebrows are one of the things that people often ask her about, so she has these tricks for whipping yours into shape: “Thicker brows are the thing that everybody is interested in now, but I like to make sure they still look really natural. I use a mechanical pencil to draw on the outline so they‘re super on point and crispy, and then I take a pomade to make smaller hair-like strokes throughout the middle of the brow,” she says. As far as products go, Anderson is partial to the Maybelline Brow Ultra Slim Defining Eyebrow Pencil and the Maybelline TattooStudio Long-Lasting Brow Pomade. Anderson likes this particular pomade in part because of the brush it comes with: “It’s angled and really thin, and finding the right angled brush for brows is really important. Some of the brushes you can find are too thick, and then you’ll be walking around with Cookie Monster eyebrows,” she says.

If you make a mistake while you’re filling in your brows, Anderson says you don’t have to worry: “You can use a Q-tip to fade that mistake right out, and it’ll make it look just like your natural brows.”

“I’ve been doing drag off and on for 33 years, and I learned early on, it’s not about spending so much money on the high-end brand names. You can go to any drugstore, or the dollar store for that matter, and get mascara. It’s all in how you apply it.”

Anita MannMiss Anita Mann is a legend on the national drag scene, and although she says she’s officially retired from touring, she still mentors performers in her drag family, the International House of Mann. Originally from Central Illinois, Mann spent two decades traveling the country performing—and was also a national pageant winner, earning the Miss Gay USofA Classic title in 2007—but she now calls Indianapolis home.

Mann is also a seasoned makeup artist, and she believes it isn’t always necessary to invest in fancy cosmetic brands. “I’ve been doing drag off and on for 33 years, and I learned early on, it’s not about spending so much money on the high-end brand names. You can go to any drugstore, or the dollar store for that matter, and get mascara. It’s all in how you apply it.” Here is Mann’s favored mascara technique: “I start from the inner eye, and I blink into my mascara wand. This gets enough product on the lashes that the mascara goes on a lot better. Then, I use the wand to stroke from the inside corner out. I like to pull the wand outward because it gives a more slanted, dramatic effect.”

Mann wants to stress the fact that it takes practice to get the flawless, finished looks you see on drag queens, so try not to get discouraged if you don’t achieve the results you’re looking for right away. “I always say that the most important thing to remember is that we all had to go through the ugly stage to get to the pretty stage,” she says.

The sweltering overhead lights and camera flashes of a pageant can certainly take its toll on anyone’s makeup, so for Nichelle MillerNichelle Miller (Facebook @MrsCapitalCity2020), who is currently Mrs. Capital City 2020 and will be competing in the Mrs. Indiana pageant in April, it’s all about finding ways to keep her face shine-free. Her brilliant hack is to swap those expensive oil-absorbing blotting papers for a little bathroom stall freebie: “Do you know those toilet seat covers they have in a public restroom? They are the same material as a blotting paper, but they’re free, and they’re perfect,” she says. “I will admit, if I’m at an event, I’ve taken a couple of liners from a public restroom and folded them up in my purse. I’ve also taken them home and cut them up so I have some the next time I need them.” 

Ginger RedwoodGinger Redwood is an accomplished hairstylist by day, so she knows a thing or two about good tresses. Although Ginger wears a wig when performing, she says some of her drag styling tips translate well to human hair, like this one: “If you want to have curl that’ll stay all day, blow dry your hair in sections, and as each section is dry, roll it into a Velcro roller. As you roll up the hair, pull the roller so it continues to stay taut at a 90-degree angle straight from your head. Keep it taut all the time as you’re rolling it in, and then use a clip to keep it in place. Let it all air dry for 15-20 minutes, and when it’s done and you take out the rollers, you’ll have so much volume, you won’t even know what to do with it,” she says. 

Redwood also knows how to get a full face of makeup off in a hurry: “I use Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil by Kiehl’s,” she says. “I put about four squirts in my hand, rub it around in my palms and just start wiping it across my face. If it can take off drag makeup, it can take off anything!”

And whether you’re a seasoned beauty pro or a makeup newbie, Redwood hopes you take this message to heart: “I love the compliments and attention I get when I’m in drag, but I just want women to know: Don’t discount yourself or think that you don’t look as good as we do when we’re in drag, because it takes a lot of work to get there, and in the end when we take everything off, we’re all just humans with the same emotions.”

Stephanie Groves is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis who entered two beauty pageants as a teenager and didn’t win either of them.   

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