It's good to be king - of your high school Guys get their own pageant.

Posted: March 13, 2005

The lights were low. T.I.'s hip-hop "Bring 'em Out" blared. And out on stage pranced the mostly barechested young men in swim trunks.

It was the first competition of Friday night's "Mr. CAPA Pageant" at Philadelphia's High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).

Ten juniors and seniors vied for the title in CAPA's male version of a beauty pageant. As with Miss America, they competed in beach wear, formal wear and talent. Question-and-answer, too.

In the end, James Davis, 17, a theater major, earned the title after he danced on stilts that made him 9 feet tall and showed a video in which he dressed like a woman, drawing cheers. It was Davis' second year in the contest; last year, he came in fourth.

"It's just such an honor to become Mr. CAPA," Davis said, donning his laudatory purple crown and cape. "I love this school!"

His picture will be displayed in CAPA's elegant main hall. He also will have the honor of leading school spirit day. Oh, he won free prom tickets, too.

The pageant might sound like something only a performing-arts high school would do.

But it is only in its second year at the South Philadelphia school - infancy compared with some of its neighbors.

Cherry Hill High School West claims to be the area's first. It started its "Mr. West" contest in 1983 as a parody of Miss America. Officials were skeptical at first, said Barbara Mitidieri, student-activity coordinator, who proposed the idea.

"There was kind of like nervous laughter," she said. "But a bunch of teachers, we sat around on Miss America night. We watched and we took notes."

And the show went on. And on. The pageant is held before Thanksgiving. Mr. West rides in the Homecoming parade, carrying roses, while his female date dons a boutonniere.

The idea has spread to other schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Central Bucks High School West held its first pageant 16 years ago. Then the district's Central Bucks East added one. Its South High, which opened this year, will hold its first in June.

"I've gone to the Mr. West one for the last four years. It's such a blast," said senior Hayley Cush, 18, who will organize the contest at Central Bucks South.

At CAPA's show, for which the auditorium was packed, Davis brought cheers from the crowd when he kissed his escort during the formal-wear competition, then got down on his knee, opened a ring box, and pretended to propose to her.

Junior Okewa Garrett, a dance major who told the crowd, "I'm dedicated to my craft and the learning of craft," won the pageant's Mr. Congeniality award for good sportsmanship.

Fifteen students applied to participate in the pageant. The 10 selected were chosen based on grade-point average, community work, extracurriculars, and teacher recommendations.

"I never saw myself being in a beauty pageant at all," said Dwayne Perry, 17, a junior theater major. "I thought it was for women, more feminine. But it's fun. I'm with friends."

Senior Alex Hochner, 17, a visual-arts major, said: "It gives me a chance to act out."

Contestants were judged by a panel of teachers, alumni and parents on creativity, originality, technique, skill level and overall appearance.

"What about sexiness?" one contestant asked at a practice session. No points for that, he was told.

"I might as well quit right now," lamented senior Harrison Ziskind, 18, a creative-writing major.

Ziskind, who wore a pair of mismatched sneakers and camouflage pants on pageant night and let his long red hair flow freely at times, kidded: "I rely on my stunning beauty."

The contestants offered a variety of talent: There were monologues on alcoholism, violence and the Vietnam War. Some danced, sang or played the drums.

A few female students told CAPA principal Johnny Whaley Jr. that they wanted a pageant. But teacher and student council sponsor Barbara Williams noted: "Girls have a chance to be part of a pageant on a regular basis. Guys don't."

Cherry Hill West hasn't started one for girls.

"Again, it's a parody," Mitidieri, the student-activity coordinator, said of the male pageant. "That's the whole gimmick."

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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