For those of you who know me, you know I have judged countless pageants/contests in my life ranging from local ones to National ones, from pageants outside of the gay world and many inside the gay world. With all my experience in judging pageantry, I have never known, until now, who the winner was going to be from the first category. Tony Ardolino came into interview, and he was undeniable, he had that “It Factor” that I have rarely seen in my life. He then shined in all the categories, including making me tear up in question and answer. He took home many awards that night including the biggest one, when he was crowned Mr. Gay World USA 2022.
Originally from New Jersey, Tony has lived in New York, Los Angeles, Maine, and even Singapore, as well as having traveled all over Asia, Europe and all 50 states. As an award-winning Actor, Director, and producer for the short film “Far Far Away,” Tony takes pride in creating LGBTQ media as well as managing his own event/entertainment company. Tony has been seen in film, television, and numerous commercials as well as the original Ryder from Nickelodeon’s paw patrol live. Coming from a big family, Tony understands the power of community, and love.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Tony for this exclusive Hotspots interview:
Have you always been an entertainer even as a child or when did it start?
Yes, when I was a kid, I was the one at all the family parties that threw a performance in the basement. At school, if there was a project, I made it into a whole show. I was a shy kid growing up, but I used that time on stage to say “this is me.”
What was your first paid gig…can be any amount of money, and how much did you get paid?
I was Pinocchio in a regional theater, and it was a tiny bit of money, and my mom thought it was the greatest thing. In my first real acting job, I was Diego in Dora The Explorer, the national touring company.
What has been your favorite acting gig and why?
I just got done playing Ryder in “Paw Patrol Live” and I traveled all over the US and Canada and kids look at this character as a hero. When I met them in the meet and greet their eyes would light up, it was magical.
What is your fantasy acting gig?
I’m working on a project called “Far Far Away,” it’s a retelling of fairy tales with LGBTQ+ characters. I wrote, directed, and play the male gay version of Snow White. It’s about a gay Snow White, a trans Cinderella, and a Lesbian Rapunzel journeying together to get there happy endings. My goal is to make this on a larger scale and prove that happily ever after is for everyone. You can see it on YouTube “Far Far Away LGBTQ fairytale” or on Instagram “farfaraway.theseries.”
You have traveled all around the world. Do you have a favorite city(ies), and why?
I love New Orleans; the culture, the food, and the vibrancy. It felt like a different country, as there is something about Louisiana that was other worldly. In addition, I lived in Singapore for 3 years and I loved everything about it. It was like living in the future.
You recently started your own event company…tell me about that?
During Covid everything shut down. I was supposed to travel to China with Paw Patrol. So, I thought about what I could do, and I decided to bring fairy tales to life. The company brings characters to kid’s events. But I take it to the next step, and its something that you would see at Theme Parks. I just started working with a mall as well, so the future of this company looks bright.
What made you decide to get into pageantry and how did you choose the Mr. Gay World USA System?
It’s a funny story. I was dating a male pageant winner for a year. I never knew anything about this world, and he told me about it, and I thought it was interesting. He was going to enter Mr. Gay World USA and then he didn’t. So instead I started thinking this would be fun and I wanted to join. I thought this particular competition was so diverse and wasn’t your cookie cutter pageant. It was so rich in differences and made me appreciate our community.
Was pageantry everything you expected?
Honestly, I feel like it was much more. I went there in hopes of getting into the top 12, and to make friends. When we get to Mr. Gay World USA we are split into groups, and I was in Delta group. My entire group became very close. As a matter of fact, my first runner up was in my group. Everyone in the entire pageant was so supportive.
Your parents were in the audience, and clearly you are very close. Describe your relationship with them and your family?
I am very close to my family. I came from a small town and there was no one like me. I was always picked on, but my parents always supported me; my dad taught me how to defend myself and my mom told me an original is worth more than a copy. As a kid I was so scared to come out to them, but now I question why as they have always been so supportive. They tell me that they are my biggest fan, but really, I’m theirs.
You looked shocked when they called your name as the winner. Did you not expect to win?
I felt like the underdog the whole time as there were many contestants who had done this for so many years. The only time I felt confident was after interview. After interview I started getting confidence. However, everyone was so great, and every contestant came with the same dream of winning. I was just shocked and humbled that my dream came true.
Each contestant has to have a platform, what is yours?
My platform is big brother/big sister. Growing up I was the big brother to 3 little bothers who I always their for when they needed someone to talk to. But I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my sexuality. I want to mentor gay youth so they can talk to me and feel good about themselves. I want to build their confidence and let them know it’s going to be ok and that this thing they don’t understand about themselves is pure magic.
What is something we don’t know about you?
I made all my costumes myself. I was nervous because I know some of the contestants spend upwards of 20,000 on their outfits. I also wanted to make sure Maine was represented in every aspect of my fashion, as I wanted to represent myself, but also the state I came from.
Describe yourself in three words?
Adventurous, kind, and magical.
What do you do for fun?
I love movies, nostalgia, and seeing a story take place. I also love to hike and the outdoors. Seeing the mountains is the most peaceful thing to me. Also, I like to work out.
I hear you are single. What is the perfect guy for you?
Yes, I am single, and I would love to find someone who can appreciate my sense of humor and my adventure. I want someone who can look in my eyes and say let’s get lost today. I want it to be a friendship, not just a relationship.
How are you preparing for the international contest and to bring the title to the United States for the first time ever?
I am so excited about it, as I want to take what I learned from this experience and grow from it. I want to be someone not only the USA can be proud of, but also the world can be inspired by.
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For more information about Mr. Gay World USA 2022, you can follow him on Instagram.com/ Tony. Cannoli; Instagram.com/Farfaraway.theseries; or Youtube.com/Tony Ardolino