Mr Gay Cambodia contestants swath Phnom Penh in rainbows and glitter.
Free style at Mr Gay Cambodia Competition 2009.(Left) Mr Gay Cambodia Competition 2009 contestants.(Right)
Excited spectators flocked to Salt Lounge for Phnom Penh's Gay Pride Festival's first Mr Gay Cambodia contest Sunday night. Ranging in age and from assorted backgrounds, 18 handsome entrants came to represent Cambodian gay solidarity. While not all contestants were gay - many called themselves bisexual - all were proudly Cambodian.
On a catwalk stretching from inside the bar into the street, the contestants vied for cash prizes ranging from US$20 to $50 and the rare opportunity to compete in this year's Mr Gay International contest in Manila.
However, prizes were not the point for most of the contestants; many were after a long-awaited public exposure.
"I want to be popular," said Metrey Chhorn, a 19-year-old student at Sisowath High School. "This way, I can show my abilities, and everyone knows me."
The contest was a simple affair. The entrants walked twice down a runway between two short drag shows, once in outfits of their choosing, the second time in their skivvies.
Three judges - two Cambodians and one American - umpired each round, each looking for a different set of winning criteria.
"[I am looking for] personal charisma, aura and magnetism," said Alan Flux, a local NGO worker, describing his judging standards.
I want to be popular ... [so] I can show my abilities and everyone knows me.
The lone expatriate judge added that his pick would evince some degree of social awareness on stage as well - though given the contest's lack of speeches or Q&As, he had to rely on what he referred to as his "designer intuition".
On the other side of the catwalk, Phnom Penh-based architect Teang Borin showed off a scoring sheet with his own list of qualifiers: hairstyle, clothes and body.
"I want them to be attractive," he said of the contestants. "And brave."
And brave they were. Whether sporting a doo-rag or smouldering in D&G underwear, most struck confident poses even without all their clothes on.
Ultimately, not everyone was bold enough to lose the pants for Round 2, but the audience cheered appreciatively for each contestant.
Devotees of contestant M6, Mao Sopheak, for instance, whooped like sports fans beneath their "I love M6" signs.
When Mr M6 emerged, blushing beneath his sweater, his sister screamed.
Scoring proved a bit tricky for the judges.
Teang Borin appreciated Mr M4's nice body and smooth skin.
Flux was undecided. "All the boys are interested in social work," he said excitedly. "I can just tell."
But in the end, it was 19-year-old former student of Korean descent, Savet, who won everybody's hearts and was declared the victor.
Savet took his place on stage with first runners-up Rasak, 20, and Seyha, 21. He couldn't stop grinning.
Organisers said they hoped a Miss Gay Cambodia counterpart would one day join them up on the Salt Lounge stage.
"Oh, darling," said Pride co-organiser Collette O'Regan. "Soon."