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Stealing the spotlight

Solon native Riese Lutz to compete in Mr. Gay USofA Pageant
Riese Lutz

That penchant for the limelight continued throughout his life. Now, Lutz will compete in the Mr. Gay USofA pageant in San Antonio, Texas this November.
Though this is Lutz’s first year competing in pageants solo, he is no stranger to the stage. He spent several years traveling and working as a backup dancer for drag queens and previous pageant contestants. But being in the background was nearly impossible for someone who was born to be the star.
“After a couple of years, they were like, ‘Riese, you’re stealing the show,’” Lutz said. “They told me now was my time.”
However, his time came a little bit sooner than he had imagined. Lutz’s first competition came as a last-minute decision, when his roommate, former Mr. Gay Iowa winner Andrew Chupp, asked if Lutz would like to compete in a contest in which Chupp was performing. After throwing together a routine, Lutz competed in the Mr. Winter Wonderland pageant in Des Moines.
“He drove me up, and the next thing you know, I’m Mr. Winter Wonderland,” said Lutz.
After that, Lutz moved on to compete in the Mr. Gay Iowa pageant, also in Des Moines, where he finished as first runner up. This meant that he was able to move on to the national competition.
Since placing, the Solon native has enjoyed the level of recognition his new status has given him.
“You get a lot of exposure from it,” Lutz said. “You become this leader figure. Everyone knows who the Mr.’s or drag queens are.”
But things weren’t always easy for the budding star. In the fourth grade, Lutz, his mother, and siblings moved to Solon from Austin, Texas, following his parents’ divorce. McFarland was originally from Solon and decided to bring her children back to the place where she was raised.
The transition proved to be a difficult one at times, as Lutz tried to adjust to life in a small town. He admitted that he was the target of some bullying as he tried to find his place in his new surroundings, but ultimately feels the experience helped make him who he is now.
“You learn from (the negative experiences), you learn it’s going to get better and then things start to happen,” he said. “Solon did help me; it was sort of a tough love, though.”
There was one area in his life where Lutz always found solace, and that was dance. He participated in everything from dance team, to musicals, to competitive cheerleading, and he excelled in all of it. He was even the featured color guard soloist for one of the top competitive drum corps in the world, Carolina Crown.
Lutz’s passion for dance now helps him with his pageant career. The USofA system is a talent-based pageant, and the talent portion constitutes half a contestant’s scores (an interview and club wear comprise the remaining half). Lutz choreographs his own numbers, everything from soulful lyrical solos to energetic modern dance performances, now with his own backup dancers.
“He just has this level of technical ability that you can just see,” Chupp said. “You just appreciate people who have that training and can sell their performance better.”
Through all of this, Lutz’s family and friends have been more than supportive. McFarland accompanied her son to the Mr. Gay Iowa pageant and will travel back to Texas to cheer him on in this next step. Ever the proud mother, she boasts that almost everyone she meets in the pageant community has a lot to say about how much they enjoy his performances and seeing him on stage.
“There’s a maturity about him. It’s like he has a bigger purpose now,” she said. “For so long he was bullied for being who he is, and now, on the flipside, people look up to him.”
Whether or not he brings home first place in November, his success so far has been a happy ending for Lutz’s very own Cinderella story.