"What up, sluts?" Cazwell hollered as he strode onto the lit stage, flanked by two half-naked men gyrating on all fours.
The waiting crowd whooped and cheered at the leather-clad rapper's jape about their promiscuity.
The Hookie Awards had officially begun.
Dancers pose as Cazwell sings his hit "No Selfie Control"
The Hookies, as the awards ceremony is affectionately called, is an annual event that honors the world's top male escorts. Often referred to as the "Oscars of escorting," the show was started in 2006 by male escort ad-listing website Rentboy.com to toast the best of the best in the business -- from escorts who are considered the "Best Top" to those deemed to possess the "Best C--k."
Hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor Leslie Jordan and co-produced by Black Party Expo, a yearly festival celebrating gay erotic art and culture, the Hookies were held this year on March 21 in the dark and intimate XL Nightclub at The Out Hotel in New York City. A total of 16 awards were up for grabs that night, all of which were given out based on the results of online fan votes.
"People always think it's funny that we have awards for hookers," Christopher Daniels, who took home the title of "Mr. International" at last year's Hookies, told The Huffington Post. "But it's really great that we have it. By showing respect to what [escorts] do, it legitimizes this industry. But it's also this crazy, big fun party where we celebrate sex."
That sex-positive party vibe at the XL was palpable as hundreds of attendees -- escorts, porn stars and others in the adult industry -- began arriving in droves to the event last Friday. A handful of dancers in underwear boogied onstage as music blared and a huge disco ball cast flashing shadows over the gathering crowd.
At the entrance to the club, all eyes were on the escorts as they preened and posed on the red carpet, flashing their pearly whites (and sometimes their naked bottoms) for a knot of reporters and fans that crowded around them, eagerly snapping photographs. In every corner of the club, rent boys (as Internet-based male escorts are known) could be seen enthusiastically embracing and locking lips with their fellow escorts, many of whom had flown in from other states -- and in some cases, other countries -- to be at the event.
"It's like a family-reunion-meets-hooker-convention," gay porn director Mr. Pam, who hosted the red carpet, told the HuffPost with a laugh. "We're all friends here."
Mr. Pam (left) greets another attendee
Opportunities for escorts to come together are few and far between, explained porn blogger Zachary Sire, sipping a cocktail as he stood by the red carpet, his iPhone camera handy. "Everyone's so spread out and isolated in this industry, so this is a great chance for escorts to come together."
According to organizers, most of the event's attendees were affiliated with the adult industry in some way or other. However, they noted that a significant number of guests that night included both clients and fans of the nominees, many of whom are also porn stars.
"This isn't an exclusive event," said Eli Lewis, an escort who serves as social media director at Rentboy.com. "It's $50 for a VIP ticket and $10 for a regular one. We wanted a good mix of people here. This isn't about the money, but about making sure that our boys are recognized and celebrated."
Two male attendees gazing slack-jawed at the red carpet for several minutes said they had seen some of the nominees in porn videos and were there to enjoy the "scenery." "Who wouldn't want to come to something like this?" one of them said, his eyes roving.
A small cluster of women, who identified themselves as female escorts, said they had come to see "what the boys do." "We're also here to see lots of butts," one of them added.
They probably weren't disappointed.
Though full-frontal nudity was relatively scarce during the two-hour awards presentation, there was no shortage of perky backsides on display. The show kicked off with Cazwell's performance, complete with booty-shaking dancers; and later, a group of go-go dancers took to the stage and started pulling off their clothes as they gave foul-mouthed host Leslie Jordan a raunchy lap dance.
Duncan Black, the boyish 23-year-old escort who won the title of "Best Ass," delighted the audience by obligingly pulling down his jeans to reveal his smooth bottom after collecting his diamond-shaped trophy. "I'm really surprised that I've won this," Black, who had earlier taken home the title of "Best Newcomer," told the whistling crowd in a very brief acceptance speech. "I really wanted this one."
Other winners were happy to flash even more flesh. Boomer Banks -- who won both "Best C--k" and the night's top award, "Mr. International" -- pulled down his pants after winning his second trophy, wagging his penis from side to side as he grinned at the crowd.
Dressed in a cowl-neck tank top he'd made himself, Banks, a 33-year-old aspiring fashion designer, told the HuffPost that his "Mr. International" win was "totally unexpected."
Boomer Banks carries an ecstatic Leslie Jordan after his "Mr International" win.
"I feel free. I feel alive," Banks said at the end of the night, looking exhilarated. "Look, it's a silly award, but look at how many people showed up tonight. We're clearly doing something that attracts people."
Organizers said that the Hookies this year was an enormous success. "It's definitely the best one I've been to," said Lewis, as guests began trickling out of the club. "Great turnout, and everything went smoothly."
As for the nominees who didn't take home any awards that night, many insisted they were thrilled to get their 15 minutes.
"I love what I do and I'm proud of what I do, but there's definitely a stigma in the escorting world," said Amir, an escort who was nominated in the "Best Style" category. "So it really means a lot for people to take the time to go online and vote. It shows that people are paying attention."
Earlier this week, HuffPost published a feature about Rentboy.com and the world's most desired male escorts. Click here to check it out.