Forget America’s Got Talent and Lip Sync Battle, someone should let Billy Porter and Susanne Bartsch host their own delightfully queer talent show based on their performance at last night’s Love Ball III. The *Pose*]( actor and the legendary Swiss-born party promoter switched off hosting duties with one always on stage at Gotham Hall as the other dipped off for a number of elaborate costume changes mid-show (Porter’s many looks ranged from one of his signature suit-gown hybrids to a sparkling Michael Kors capelet worn with an afro wig). Between them, the pair introduced dozens of acts in six different categories (an arrangement borrowed, but altered from Harlem’s QPOC-led underground ball scene), with performance including everything from a ballerina drag queen to a literal church service of sorts.

Of course, the night held deeper significance than any televised talent show. Bartsch’s first two love balls in 1989 and 1991, were held at the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The promoter brought together her band of lower Manhattan club kids (at the time including a young RuPaul) with that Harlem ball scene most famously featured in Paris is Burning to perform for an audience full of stars (Madonna included at the second edition) and fashion heavyweights in order to raise money for those afflicted by the disease.

“We are here to celebrate how far we have come,” Bartsch told the audience. “And how much more work there is to do eradicate this fucking disease.”

Resurrected to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original in conjunction with the CFDA, the night not only continued to raise funds for the New York City AIDS Fund but also cemented how influential the underground queer scenes involved in the original events continue to be. A mix of underground icons including Kevin Aviance and Zaldy, stars like Indya Moore, Nicky Hilton-Rothschild (who we spied bopping on stage to a remix of The Knife’s “Pass This On”), and Mary J. Blige and designers Marc Jacobs and the Blonds judged the competition, rotating in and out all night. Though, the arrangement did lead to some entertaining hiccups throughout the night. Porter came out after one of his costume changes to find a new person sitting in the judges chairs wearing a headscarf and sunglasses, and asked for their name. “My name is Marc Jacobs dear,” came the reply. Porter took it in good humor.

Roger Superstar, dressed as a crystalized wonder woman complete with a submissive superman walked around on a leash, won for the “Head to Toe” costume couture category. Famed hairstylist Orlando Pita won the self explanatory “Hair Spectacular” category for presenting a person dressed almost like a totem pull fashioned completely out of hair. Breakdancer Invertebrate took the “Move to the Groove category, and model Yasmine Petty was tops in “Beauty and Face.” Though, it might have been Brooklyn drag icon Charlene’s performance during “Show Stoppers” that was one of the highlights of the night. In a move of “so wrong, it’s right” genius, Charlene came out in a flowing garment of purple silk to lip sync to, of all things, Train’s early ‘00s dadrock hit “Drops of Jupiter.” At one point, she stripped of the front portion of her gown, revealing a bejeweled body harness. It confused some of the crowd, but brought at least half of the crowd to its feet. We noticed the uproar caused a few of the celebrity judges to change their vote midway through, and she eventually won the category due to crowd demand. Though, we have to ask, between this and the song’s use in Chris Kelly’s film Other People, is “Drop of Jupiter” now an unexpected queer anthem?


Undoubtedly, however, it was the “Legendary Houses” portion that served as the night’s main event. Porter and Bartsch stepped aside to let a professional, Jack Mizrahi (clad in custom Dapper Dan for Gucci) take the mic, and introduce members of ballroom houses with thirty or more years of history. The House of LaBeija, whose past mothers include Crystal LaBeija of The Queen fame and Peper LaBeija of Paris is Burning fame, emerged from underneath a giant covered umbrella to perform a transfixing dance routine. Houses Balenciaga and Mizrahi gave lots of runway stomping and posing (actual models take note). The House of Miyake Mugler took turns vouging, but it was the House of Xtravaganza that won the night by bringing a glitter-covered small scale replica of a cathedral onstage, and emerging out of it like queer Jesus and his disciples in a simple but powerful display that won the audience over.

Custom, towering trophies designed by artists like KAWS and Raúl de Nieves were awarded to category winner by Dapper Dan himself, while Porter closed out the night with a performance of his song “Love Yourself.” Though, not before hitting home the point of the night one more time. “We don’t need the Government,” he said of ending the HIV/AIDS crisis once and for all. “Fuck them. We can do it ourselves.”

Related: Susanne Bartsch's Wardrobe Stars in a New Show at FIT