People might associate Texas with yellow roses or bluebonnets, but this year an unmistakably different flower is taking over the state. Houston-based drag entertainer Violet S'Arbleu, née Jacob Chaput, will shower the Lone Star State with a purple reign as the newly crowned Miss Gay Texas America.
"The Miss Gay Texas America legacy is 43 years of stellar, inspirational entertainers," he says, "and honestly I'm just so humbled and thrilled to have the honor to join those ranks and represent the system this year."
Chaput qualified for the pageant by winning the regional Miss Gay Galveston America pageant and continued to the statewide competition last weekend in Dallas, where he bested 29 other contestants to earn the title. He plans to use his experience with drag pageants and his most recent win to inspire others.
"I’m looking forward to leaving a mark on Miss Gay Texas," he says. "I won this year because I was the most aware of who I am, and that led me to success. I want to encourage others to do the same, to think about who they are, and show who they are."
Chaput hails from an impressive line of other Houston-based entertainers who have won the crown. Other Bayou City drag artists who earned the top title include Hot Chocolate (1978), Tasha Kohl (1982), Sabrina Delorean (1983), Lauren Taylor (1996), Kofi (1998), the Texas twins Tara Dion (2001) and Kara Dion (2012), and Dessie Love-Blake (2014).
This year alone, Houston dominated the Top 5 finishers; they were Chaput and fellow Houstonians Hu'Nee B, Ivanna Cupcak, and Grecia Montes Docca. The other finalist, Evelyn Syde, lives in Austin but was representing her regional title as Miss Gay Harris County America.
Chaput simply says, "Houston brought it."
He has been competing in the Miss Gay Texas pageant system for four years, placing within the Top 5 each year. After eight months of preparation for this year's contest as well as support from friends and family, he says he had a calm, confident feeling about his chances at winning it all this time.
"I was just gonna do what I was going to do. I was going to do what I felt was right, and if it’s good, I’d win," says Chaput. "If it’s not right, I’ll be happy because I was doing the best version of myself." Offering more advice for future contestants, he adds, "You should never be disappointed with how you placed. You should be happy with how you did. Don’t let anyone else’s opinion of you change your own opinion of you."
Locally, Caput has become known as "the thinking man's drag queen," a cerebral observation that suits this unconventional performer.
"My experience has been wonderful," he says. "Every year you come back and see the fellow contestants. We’re all friends. I’ve gotten wonderful feedback from the judges. I’ve gone home richer from the experience. It’s certainly made me a better entertainer, and I was really proud I was able to show the Miss Gay Texas system the impact they’ve had on who I am and how I live my life."
For this year's pageant, he was supported by several close friends — stage performers and non-performers alike — he refers to as the "House of Blooms" to help him assemble everything for the contest.
"They were moral support, helped me get dressed and took care of my props," says Chaput. "They kept me calm and cool on my final night."
Chaput's engagement in female impersonation has been almost tailor-made, even though it occurred in some sense by accident. After graduating from high school in Houston, he attended Savannah College of Art and Design to study fashion design, where, he says, "I kind of fell into drag."
"I was in college in the fashion department. I was modeling a little bit. I had long hair, and the photo shoots leaned toward androgyny, and then feminine, and then drag," he says.
Upon graduation, things really took off for the character of Violet.
"Jobs weren’t great in 2010, so I entered TC’s amateur contest," recalls Chaput. "They invited me back, and then I started hosting karaoke. It just sort of snowballed. I never planned to do drag, but it lined up, and now I’m working five days a week, and here I am as Miss Gay Texas."
What a success it has been. Chaput appears as Violet S'Arbleu at JR's Bar & Grill on Tuesdays, South Beach on Fridays, Michael's Outpost on Fridays and Saturdays, and Hamburger Mary's on Sundays. He also makes guest appearances around the Houston and Galveston areas.
On top of that, he is often hired by other entertainers to sew costumes and make alterations to their garments. After all, it would be a shame not to put his $130,000 degree to good use.
"Drag gives me a life-size doll who I can get to wear what I want her to wear. I know what her body is, and I know what to design around, and it’s fun for me to get to play dress-up every day I go to work. That’s a driving force for me," says Chaput. "I don’t want to just have a costume. I want to have a look and a vibe, and I’m using my degree to express myself as a designer with my drag."
He also has the gift of a wonderful singing voice, which he from time to time will use in his weekly performances. But he's also quite the skilled lip-syncher. In fact, Chaput can perform songs in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Overall, in addition to entertaining Houston audiences weekly, he wants to be a model representative of the Miss Gay Texas America pageant for the next year.
"I want to represent the brand and legacy and hopefully inspire others to join," he says. "I plan to reach out to contestants, get our preliminary contest books and get new girls to compete, experience this family, and experience this summer camp that we just went through. It’s carrying the brand, furthering the brand and growing the brand."
Chaput will also travel to New Orleans in October to represent Texas and compete for a national title.