Our story begins, as so many good stories do, with a mutiny. This particular revolution stemmed from unrest because the bus driver took a wrong turn and seemed to be driving in circles. In this case, our fearless leader was a woman cosplaying Urbosa, who led us off the bus at a stoplight and set out determinedly towards the aquarium. There is a certain feeling of mad bravery that one experiences when pouring off the bus alongside an Ursula with a 42-ruffle skirt and a (male) Link in a women’s XXL gerudo costume.
After this, where could we go but up? The VIP lounge, lit in blue, featured characters from all fandoms gathered around drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The effect was reminiscent of prom—soft blue lights in a dim room illuminating a range of excited attendees.
Despite the crowds of phenomenal costumes, I was drawn to a tank viewing window on the back wall. Sharks sidled along the sand and a stingrays flapped and floated, gliding through the water. The glass seemed to magnify everything, making the creatures before me larger than life, as all things seem to be at Dragon Con. Regardless of all this, the sheer scale of the whale shark appearing almost against the glass was staggering. In a room full of beautiful things made with so much love, I was blown away by the quiet grace of one of the largest things I have ever seen.
The costume contest was incredible. We all gathered around the stage in anticipation as the hosts come onstage. This year, the Legend of the Chosen costume contest was hosted by none other than Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai fame! Judges were The Wicked Taylor and Riddle, chosen by Regina Kirby and Rachel Reeves (senior director of programming and DC co-chair, respectively), along with last year’s winner, Ahn Hoang. The show began with Aleathia Burns, who tells me afterwards that she was thrilled to be on stage with the Karate Kid himself. As contestants were announced, they promenaded across the stage, displaying what is sometimes over a hundred hours of work. Spinning and posing with dramatic flair, the contestants were thrilled to show off their craft. Kim Steven told me afterward that she wanted to use this opportunity to get her Ashoka cosplay onstage where people could see the work she put into it. The feeling seems to be shared and the results are incredible—from a holographic shield to an onstage transformation into a stingray, no detail was neglected.
Afterwards, the judges huddled together in a frantic effort to quickly decide which costumes rose above the rest. It happened so fast, they had to use nicknames to refer to contestants and find the proper names of the winners afterwards. The hosts begin a countdown—thirty seconds… ten seconds… two minutes… five seconds… and the announcement had arrived!
In third place was Kaylin Wolf as Tamatoa, an elegant version of the giant coconut crab from Moana. She glittered under the lights, certainly as shiny as can be, with eye stalks atop her head looking out at the crowd. She accepted her prize with crab claws, flashing her shell and a smile.
Second place went to Heather Stevens as Auradon from Isle of the Lost. With long braids and a swaggering frock coat, she accepted her prize.
And finally, the winner: Elizabeth Dampf as her own original creation. She took final promenade in her elaborate white dress, balancing with ease a wig that stood several feet above her head. It was made from TEN separate smaller wigs, along with handmade decorations.
All the contestants I spoke to were excited to participate in the Legend of the Chosen and thrilled to showcase their work to an audience. All recognition and applause given was earned through many hours spent huddled over a sewing machine or hot glue gun, in preparation for this moment.