Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Drag Race Season 3 - Meet the Queens

Last night I attended the RuPaul's Drag Race Season 3 Series Finale with QNY contributors Bill and Darling, along with Miguel and Tony P., our camera crew and retinue.  The press event beforehand, during which we interviewed seven of the Season 3 Queens, was one of the highlights of my year so far.  Bill did a great job of reporting the details, so after the jump I'll have the luxury of giving my impressions and random thoughts about the girls and the event.  (Spoiler warning, I do mention who won.)

I was so nervous going into this event!  Celebrity is one of the few phenomena that can truly make me tongue tied.  I was never one of the popular, pretty people growing up, and sometimes the social anxiety I experience when thrown into a room of beautiful people can be intense.

These days I get through nervous times by letting my freak flag fly high!

(All photos by Miguel Dominguez.)

And so I found myself in a handicap public restroom stall at the Time Warner Center, a trendy mall at Columbus Circle, doffing my Midtown East shirt, tie, and slacks, and tugging myself into some ridiculously tight clothes.  I shoved my hooves into a pair of 7 inch heel platform boots and made my Superqueer exit back into the world.  When you're well on the way to being 7 feet tall, the world becomes a less intimidating, far more talkative place.

Arriving at Providence on West 57th Street, we were greeted with an open bar and only somewhat confused producers.  Darling worked the room like a pro, lining us up for the best interviews right off the bat, and keeping our crew moving from Queen to Queen.  Bill worked tirelessly asking the smart questions and taking notes.

As the Queens entered the room, I was immediately discouraged to see Manila Luzon wearing a gown worthy of an Empress of the Imperial Court, carrying a scepter and a bottle of Chambord.  Raja has been my favorite for the entire season and lately it has seemed that Manila is her only real competition.  I was only somewhat appeased by seeing Alexis Mateo also in royal regalia.  My dear Raja was elegant and chic as always, but far dressed down compared to the other two finalists.  Were they messing with my mind or was this the writing on the wall?

I whispered my undying love for Raja to Darling, who planted us in the line forming with Raja's handler.  We were second up to interview her!  I am glad to report that she's just as charming in person as I hoped.  As she sipped champagne and we chatted about Provincetown and Williamsburg, I daydreamed that we had just met on the J train to Brooklyn, and my invitation to dinner at the homestead had been accepted.  Raja spoke sweetly of falling in love with a boy from NYC, resolutely of the power drag still has to be revolutionary, especially for younger generations, and dangerously of living on the Lower East Side among the funk and freak still left there, if she were to settle in our fair city again.

I pretty much blew my wad in my pants with Raja.  And though for a moment I was tempted to roll over and drift into sweet dreams, these Queens created an undeniable energy in the room.  We were able to quickly speak to Alexis and Manila, the other two finalists.  Alexis very much exudes pageant perfection and practice.  She confessed to being in the market for a new husband, though she's moved on from the military beau she discussed on the show.  Manila's personality felt very familiar to me, refined in a way similar to Alexis, except with a NYC edge that says "don't push me."  Riding the 6 train from the Bronx like J-Lo, except painted and queer in a way J-Lo can't imagine, can certainly toughen a girl up quickly, and it was nice that we could laugh about it now, without bitterness.

By then I was picking up steam.  I spotted Stacy Layne Matthews across the room and leaped to sit next to her.  My immediate impression of Stacy is that she's only one of the contestants who doesn't feel like a drag queen to me.  Yes, she was painted just as much and as beautifully as the others.  Somehow she felt more transgendered than transvestite.  No soft focus lens was required to believe that I was having tea with a gracious Southern lady.  Like many folk I know from rural areas, she's not particularly impressed with NYC.  Sure she enjoys it, but it seemed to me she'd just as soon be home in North Carolina as in the lights and glitz of the media spotlight.  I shared with her my Kansas heritage and we talked about the challenges of being queer away from cities.  Ms. Matthews was sanguine and, she confessed as we parted, hungry.

Next up was Mariah, who I must admit did not make much of an impression on me during the show.  She was eliminated fairly early and let's face it, her Joan Crawford was just sad.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find her entirely engaging.  She spoke eloquently about gay history and her belief that drag is now re-appropriating from the mainstream many creative, progressive ideas and looks that were appropriated first by the straight world.  Mariah believes that the Queens have a responsibility to bridge the gap between gay history, gay elders, and the next generation of queers that is coming up in the wake of terrible disaster.  I was fascinated to learn that unlike the other Queens, Mariah came up through the ballroom scene.  She counts a recent appearance in NYC as her first "performance," as opposed to the "competition" that is represented by her ballroom resume.  Next to Raja, I found myself most hoping to get a chance to party with Mariah one day, out of the spotlight.

Finally, we stopped in to see Shangela and Yara Sophia.  Both of these girls were secondary favorites of mine, and meeting them bore out the impressions I had from the show.  Shangela was a hollerin' bigger than life Texas girl, primped and polished by her entourage yet still full of boisterous rough edges.  She's got a plan and she's going places, by sheer force of will and down-to-earth charm, if necessary.  Yara Sophia looked absolutely stunning in a gown, headpiece, and platform invisible heels, all of which I bet she made herself (though I forgot to ask).  At the outset of our conversation, in response to my "how are you girl," her shoulders slumped a bit and her eyes answered "tired," though she immediately reigned herself in and re-presented a happy face.  Bless her heart, I feel for this girl.  She's gorgeous and clearly brilliant, but you get the impression that she's facing a huge uphill climb to reach her dreams.  I couldn't decide whether this was a very real (financial?) mountain, or the kind of internal mental challenge that gifted artists often create for themselves.  In any event, she said she's booked with work, so let's hope her jeweled purse is filling up with coin that will help her make artistic dreams come true.

The only two Queens who were there but I missed were Carmen Carrera and Mimi Imfurst, neither of whom caused me to shed a tear.  Mimi had an aura of anger around her, as if it was the world's fault that everyone thinks she's a crazy drama queen, as opposed to the fact of her flinging other Queens around the set.  I love watching that degree of crazy...from a distance.  And Carmen, Carmen, Carmen...well, she makes a stellar centerfold, but I have always felt an aloofness that bordered on arrogance from her, and the entourage and spin around her last night didn't dispel my impression or draw me in.  Anyhow, the producers called time and sent the press packing for dinner before the finale party, so we can blame the misses on that rather than my own biases.

I wish I could say the public party later was as amazing as the press event had been, but alas, we've all been to these things before.  I felt totally chic skipping the line that stretched around the block and walking straight in the door.  After that, it was just an overcrowded room, overpriced drinks, and disorganized production.  To my dismay, our VIP press passes did not translate into the VIP wristband required to get up to the second floor where the VIPs actually were.  I waited for nearly an hour before Shangela landed on stage with a mic to introduce the Queens.  When I realized that we would be listening to Shangela vamp for another 15 minutes before watching the regular broadcast of the finale, I gave up and embarked on my hour long train ride home to Bushwick.  I love an adventure as much as the next boy, but Monday nights are not the time for me to be out drinking until all hours, especially with a boring crowd in which I stuck out like a sore thumb.

I can't really blame Daisy for texting me the spoiler that Raja, despite the fashion diversion of the finalists for the press, walked home with the well-deserved crown.   He thought I saw it in person!  I'll get into bed with a pint of ice cream and a head full of sweet memories, and watch the finale with a special smile tonight.

RuPaul's foray into queer reality television, with its focus on the glamorous surreality of drag queens, feels like the most authentic television being made, especially now that I've met the Queens.  The personalities we cheered and and jeered on the small screen this season really do reflect a group of queers just bursting with Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.  Bravo Ru, you better keep werkin' this thing out.