Friday, August 15, 1997

International Mr. Leather: Making the Cut

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #58, August 15, 1997)

Part 2 of the Lavender Interview with Kevin Cwayna

“I looked around and said, I know I can make the top 20, so I’m gonna go for it.”

PHOTOS: Kevin Cwayna

You competed in the International Mr. Leather contest as Mr. Minnesota Leather. What provoked you to enter the Mr. Minnesota Leather contest?

Well, I'd been down to the International Mr. Leather contest for a few years, and I thought, wow, first of all what a beautiful group of men, and second of all it would be really exciting to be part of that. I didn't know if I was of the caliber that would ever be able to make it as a contestant, but I thought you could really get to know a lot of beautiful, interesting people if you could get into that contest. I also entered because I thought being in a contest might expose me to some people who don't go out as much. It might give me another point of connection with the community other than showing up in a bar once in a while.

What was going through your mind as they announced you had won Mr. Minnesota Leather?

I was very proud. It was a big confidence booster—I can connect with an audience, I can be real on stage. It felt good. It almost felt as big as IML—I think because it was the first one, and it was the riskiest. Once you've won contests, it's like, okay, I know I can do these things. But that was the first test: can I really impress a panel of judges and an audience?

I felt a lot of community support, which gave me a lot of confidence. The community had a belief in me that I did not have at all. People would take me aside and say, “You know you're going to do really well at this—do you realize that?" And I was like, "No, I don't, and I don't believe you, but thanks for telling me."

What did you do to prepare for the IML contest?

Most of the preparation was mental. I mean, I knew that visually you had to look as good as you could onstage, so I grew my goatee, worked on my body, got tanned, and did all that stuff. But really, it was a mental game that went on the whole weekend of the contest. I took care of myself over the weekend. There were a lot of contestants who didn't know if they wanted to win, and they wanted to have a good time, too, so they stayed up all night. I was as clean and dry and well-rested as any of the contestants could be, and I knew that was the secret to doing well on stage.

Did you go into it saying, "I want to win"?

I was a little scared as to what winning would mean. I thought, I don't know the beginnings of the depths of this commitment. But I realized that it was more than a beauty contest—I knew they were looking for some qualities that I really respected. So, when I got down there and looked around—you know, the first thing you want to do is check out the competition and say, do I have a chance, and then base your effort on whether you think you have a chance or not—I looked around and said, I know I can make the top 20, so I'm gonna go for it.

What kinds of questions did the judges ask you in your interview?

One of the judges wanted to really know that I really wanted to win. So he said, "Look me in the eye and tell me that you want to win." And I didn't say yes—I said, "I really hope you decide that I'm the winner." That let them know that I wanted to win, but it also let them know that I wanted to win if they wanted me to win. It was like saying, “I want to win with you as a team. It's not just I want to win.”

What was it like backstage during the first part of the contest?

Everyone was kind of nervous but we were all supportive of each other. It wasn't catty like I had imagined it would be. Out of the nine people in my dressing room, I was the only one who made the cut [the top 20 semifinalists]. That was a hard moment when I had to go back to the dressing room, because if you didn’t make the cut you were supposed to immediately get all your stuff, pack it up, and leave. And that's what was going on when I got back to the room. People were obviously bummed out and quiet. A few people who figured out that I'd made the cut wished me luck. Nobody was nasty to me.

How did you feel when you made the cut?

I was ecstatic. I was pretty mad that they waited until #19 to call my name, because it really messed with me. I was very sure that I had made the cut.


PHOTO: Michael deLeon

Good luck and best wishes this weekend to Michael deLeon, Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1997, as he competes in the International Mr. Fantasy contest in Omaha.

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