We've all seen what happens when a local drag performer nabs a spot on RuPaul's Drag Race. Sharon Needles becomes SHARON NEEDLES, Miss Fame gets a lot of it, and suddenly bachelorettes everywhere know how to talk like Laganja Estranja. Overnight, the drag stars are photographed, worshiped, and find their Twitter followers multiplying like horny rabbits--all thanks to a cable show that has a bunch of queens sewing, synching, and vying for that crown with every bedazzled pore. But what about the drag queens that audition for the show and don't make it? Can they find a purpose in life other than simply auditioning again? Yes! It turns out they move on, albeit with a little less national notoriety, and simply live their lives. Some of them don't even audition at all, and are OK with that! Sort of! But most of them still aim to try, if you want to know the truth, because RPDR remains the gold standard in drag accomplishment for many a titillating tucker out there.
To find out what it's like to be a drag queen on the outskirts of the Race, I asked a bevy of NYC beauties to tell me about their experiences of not being on it. I auditioned their responses, and here are the best ones:
FIFI DUBOIS: "I've auditioned four times. It takes up to a whole month of your life making the tape. Every year, they add more and more requirements to the video. And in the end--especially being a New York queen, because we are not a commodity--the odds are never in your favor. But will that stop me? There is no reason not to try. In my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons. It's a tremendous experience for any queen at any walk of life."
HONEY DAVENPORT: "I have applied for the past four seasons. Making the tape is a bitch; they ask for so much. But besides that, it really hasn't affected me at all because I haven't been chosen, lol. The tape does take about a week or two to make and do right, which is hard when you are working five or six nights a week in drag, but every time I do it, I find that my tape is much better than the year before. Also, I look at Drag Race as a great opportunity, and if it were to happen for me, it would be awesome, but it's not my end all be all. There have been many legendary queens like Sherry Vine, Peppermint, Shequida, and so many others who I am inspired by who didn't have that show and have had great careers with lots of longevity. I am in this for the long haul, so, while appearing on a reality show would be great, I would much rather appear on a TV show that sets me apart. With that being said, I will keep applying for Drag Race, but I am hoping that maybe one day my cousin Lee Daniels will give me a guest spot on his show Empire. Or maybe Logo will create a drag sitcom and make me the romantic lead or the dirty slut who lives next door. Either way, I will keep applying until something happens."
SHERRY VINE: "I definitely have been affected by DragRace. First of all, I do like the show and watch it every season, as I usually have at least one friend on. I've grown close to many of the past contestants and some of them are extremely talented and worthy of the fame and coinage. But for some of us older gals--me, Jackie Beat, etc.--the work has dwindled down, lol. Most venues, especially in the U.S.A., only want to book Drag Race gals because they are TV reality stars and can pack a place regardless of their level of performance. So it's an adjustment, but no ill will at all!! Times change, and the trick is to evolve." Has Sherry ever auditioned for the show? "If they ever did a Season of the Seasoned Queens for ladies who have been in the biz for 20-plus years," she replied, "I would!"
RHEA LITRE: "I have auditioned a handful of times. I think that it's a great platform for any queen that has made drag entertainment their job. The audition process has really changed over the past few years. I remember helping Morgan McMichaels with her video years ago, and it was a piece of cake. Now the audition process is so extensive. Even when they express interest, nothing is a sure thing. In a world full and oversaturated with 'RuGirls,' not being on RuPaul's Drag Race and still being able to have a career is a really amazing feeling. I feel super lucky to have such an amazing support system and loyal fans and followers. I stick to what I always say. If you are talented and a go-getter, you will eventually succeed. Although I might stumble, I always do my best to keep my eyes to the stars and strive for the ultimate prize!"
PEPPERMINT: "I've talked to a few people who think reality TV in general can have a dual effect. On one hand, it highlights something interesting, perhaps even giving new claim to fame. On the other hand, it can put a disproportionate amount of attention on a select few in an already under- represented group. That's the scientific answer, but the straight answer is: I was getting work and traveling the world a lot before Drag Race came on TV, but as the show gets more popular, there are less and less opportunities. So, if you can't beat 'em, join' em! I think I am going to audition this year. We'll see what happens, fingers crossed!"
EPIPHANY GET PAID: "Yes I have auditioned, more during the infancy of the show... I have my own personal reasons for not auditioning [again] thus far, not ruling out that, some day I still may. In the meantime, I am hustling my own gigs and relying on my own networking to travel the world and do my craft. I'm also carefully watching the show and learning the recipe for success, because when I do get on, I'm going on to win it."
LEXI THOMAS-SHARP: "I've actually never auditioned for it. When I first started, I thought it was the end all be all that you could do as a drag queen, but as we all find out, drag is a cultivation of so many different skills that can be honed in a multitude of ways. RPDR is a good way to get people involved and let a seed grow. I'm originally from a small town in South Carolina and was oblivious to 'common gay culture' (I had no idea who Andy Warhol was and had never seen Death Becomes Her--some of the basics) and RPDR until season 5. I never had Internet at home growing up until I moved out in my senior year of high school in 2011/12.
"I love learning and adapting to situations. Drag opened up a whole new world were I could be and create anything, and that has helped me more than anything else, knowing that you can push the limits of moral obligation. My parents and I have grown closer, I've had a lot of neat makeup experiences, met a ton of amazing creative individuals, and been supported by a community I would have never known was there before that subtle weeknight watching Logo. God knows when I moved to New York last year....all that was solidified. The club culture, the color, the movement and fluidity of the night, and the family that lives in and existed before. So in a way, without RPDR, I wouldn't have had that initial exposure that nudged me into everything that I'm so very thankful for today."
To offer some helpful advice to the queens who want to try again and actually get on, I turned to Drag Race season four winner Sharon Needles, and here was her reply as to what they should do: "To be honest, I have no idea! Drag queens are breeding faster than the Duggars. And the trends are changing more than Kylie Jenner's." So I guess don't breed and do change clothes and you've got a good shot at a callback.
PASS THE GAY POPCORN
While we're talking about hit shows on Logo, there's one I happen to be a guest panelist on. Yes, I got on! Again! Cocktails & Classics is coming back, starting October 25 at 8 PM, for eight Sundays in a row! Once again, the delectable Michael Urie guides the panel through viewings of deeply enjoyable old movie-movies, like All About Eve, Some Like it Hot, and Funny Girl, and I'm there (on half the shows) to gab, tell trivia, play party games, and even act out scenes. (The year I spent doing bits of Sam Shepard plays at HB Studios finally pays off.) For the Poseidon Adventure edition of C&C (which will air on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend), Pamela Sue Martin came along and was great, especially when I asked her if that water-heavy disaster flick helped prepare her for working with Joan Collins on Dynasty. "Nothing can prepare you for working with Joan Collins," she replied, laughing. Rutanya Alda ("Carol Ann") dropped by for Mommie Dearest. (She's written a book about it--and yes, Faye Dunaway will be mad at the dirt). And other episodes have guests like Jerick Hofler (a.k.a. Jinkx Monsoon), Justin Vivian Bond, and DJ Pierce (a.k.a. Shangela, out of drag), all dishing, cavorting, and camping like RKO beauties on extra hot sauce. This show will surely add to my legend, which will quicken the production of my biopic (starring James Franco, of course). And then we can watch it and dish it on Cocktails & Classics!
On Broadway, the revival of D.L. Colburn's The Gin Game, directed by Leonard Foglia, is a winning game of cards and a surefire crowd pleaser--the rare laugh riot set on the porch of a nursing home. Fonsia is a sprightly old lady who seems upbeat and optimistic, though eventually some dark threads in her life are exposed, which might explain why the lady doesn't exactly need a calendar to schedule her visitors on. Neither does her new friend Weller, though in his case the lack of lovin' is easy to understand since his gently grouchy first impression turns out to be laced with a deeply caustic cynicism and violent fits of temper that erupt like the thunder that rocks the home on a regular basis. Sitting outside, amidst much wreckage, Weller entices Fonsia into a succession of gin rummy games, which she wins--and wins and wins--with a combination of intuitive playing and sheer luck, driving him further over the edge as nerves fray along with their aching bones. The resulting play might be one of the less momentous Pulitzer winners out there--and it relies on the old trope of garnering automatic laughs by having old people curse ("Gin, goddamn it, gin!"; "Ah, bullshit!")--but it provides a great showcase for two actors to push each others buttons, play off each others' strengths, and even pause for a tender slow dance interrupted only by Weller's leg cramps.
In 1977, married team Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn were brilliant in the roles, dredging up some wonderfully antagonistic energy as they trumped each other's hopes and dreams. Well, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones are impeccable, too. In this calmly paced production, the two acting titans deliver constant laughs, yet without pandering, and they also find the icky side of the character's old-age frustrations, getting rivetingly down and dirty with their final game. Probing both hilarity and despair, Tyson and Jones provide interplay that's one of the season's sheer delights, so please see Gin Game, goddamn it!
Photo by James Leynse
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE
Back to the age of Bingo and hula hoops: Topher Payne's Perfect Arrangement, at the Duke Theater, starts with a glib, giddy get-together that has the feel of a chirpy 1950s sitcom. But it becomes clear from a character who works for the State Department that they've launched an internal witch hunt for "gentlemen who prefer the company of other gentlemen," supposedly because they're a security risk, but mainly so they can be demonized as perverts and rooted out. Complicating things is the fact that two of the male characters we've met are bearding two of the women; in actuality, the guys are in a relationship, and so are the gals. (A closet, poetically enough, connects their two domiciles.) When a dalliance from one of their pasts comes back to haunt, Payne has to navigate darker waters while also juggling some comic shtick, treading a thin line between the pain over the shame imposed on gayness back then and the humor that stems from the quartet's often resourceful response to that.
The result may not be trenchant, but it's lively and thoughtful, building up to some very contempo cheerleading for crawling out of the shadows and marching into pride. Thank God today, in the age of Drag Race, the only shadows on our faces are from makeup brushes.