Isaac King spotted a contest online seeking contestants for the title of Chicago Mr. Gay 2008, and he knew immediately that his then-boyfriend, Shar DeVon, was just the candidate.
DeVon, after all, is a budding entrepreneur in the development stages of establishing three businesses: a fashion apparel line, an image consulting firm and a modeling agency exclusively for men. And, DeVon has 13 years of international print and runway modeling experience, with stops in 35 countries and 49 states.
'I never dreamed of participating in any of the pageant competitions, but just figured I'd give it a shot one time. And it worked out,' said DeVon, who turned 33 on Oct. 12.
DeVon captured the title Mr. Hydrate in June and parlayed that into the title Chicago Mr. Gay 2008, beating about 200 contestants in numerous categories, including a sportswear and swimsuit contest, talent and on-stage interviews.
He competed for the titles of U.S. Mr. Gay, Mr. Gay Fitness and Mr. Gay Congeniality on Oct. 25-28 in Los Angeles in a three-day contest against 19 other finalists. The grand finale of the U.S. Mr. Gay Competition was topped off with an exciting stage show at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater.
The 20 finalists began their three-day competition with judge's interviews and an outdoor test of their leadership and intellectual skills conducted by leading expedition guides. There were also ehearsals, photo shoots and fundraising events to round out the weekend.
This was the first year that the U.S. competition was held on a different weekend from the International Mr. Gay ( IMG ) competition. Previously, the U.S. contest selected the U.S. delegate just hours before the IMG. This year, the U.S. event will be three months before the IMG, which also will be produced in Hollywood on Jan. 17-20, 2008, featuring 20 international delegates.
'I'm really excited to be representing the City of Chicago,' said DeVon, who lives in Rogers Park. 'I am the first Black man to win the title, I've been told. So that means an awful lot to me. I'm happy to be able to work alongside several organizations within the LGBT organizations to dispel stigmas about homosexuality and also just help change perceptions. I'm not this 'typical gay man,' as most people stereotype gay men as being. I know there are some gay men who are flamboyant, or being drag queens, or just like hanging out in clubs. But that's not really me.'
DeVon is a mix of Black with ethnic ties to Aruba, Colombia and Egypt, and he speaks multiple languages.
DeVon and King actually broke off their relationship this summer after about five years. It was an 'amicable split,' DeVon said, 'and he's still a very big part of my support system.'
DeVon has volunteered with several LGBT organizations, such as GAMBA, Windy City Black Pride Organization, plus the American Cancer Society and the Ronald McDonald House.
He came out about nine years ago.
'I'm very confident and comfortable on stage, mostly because I've been modeling for so long. I love being on stage in front of people. I love seeing people's reactions,' said the 6-foot-3, 170-pound muscled DeVon who also works locally as a personal fitness trainer. 'I went into [ the Chicago contest ] just owning it, having a very secure sense of self, knowing that I was going to win the competition.'
DeVon followed Erik Sosa, the 2006 Mr. Gay Chicago winner. Sosa was born in Mexico.
'Being the first Black winner of Mr. Gay Chicago is very special to me. That says a lot about our gay community. I'm very honored,' DeVon said. 'I'm very proud to be a representative of the Black community. But I'm more proud to be a representative of the LGBT community, to show the diversity of Chicago and what we have to offer.
'I'm thrilled for the U.S. Mr. Gay competition. I think it's going to be real exciting and am just looking at it as a new modeling assignment, nothing more. I'm so proud to be representing the city. I'm actually giddy with excitement.'
DeVon's domestic challenges came from such participants a Baton Rouge Mr. Gay, Green Bay Mr. Gay, Salt Lake Mr. Gay, San Antonio Mr. Gay and even Waikiki Mr. Gay.
'My chances [ of winning ] are … just as good as everyone else,' DeVon said before the contest. 'I'm not nervous, not at all. I'm very calm, very eager for the minute that I get on the airplane, heading to L.A. When I'm in L.A., that's when it will really hit me and I'm just going to absorb the moment and enjoy it, take each day for what it is.'
DeVon is working with all local businesses for his national contest, including local photographers and local designers.
'I want to represent Chicago in as many different facets as possible,' he said.
NOTE: DeVon was voted Mr. Congeniality in the pageant. Jonathan 'JT' Taylor of San Francisco won the title of U.S. Mr. Gay 2008, edging 19 other contestants. Taylor, 27, will now move on to represent the United States at the International Mr. Gay Competition Grand Finale, which will be held at the same location in January.