Rupaul’s Drag Race alums and other big names in drag got together this week for a diva gabfest and shared the secrets to their success.
During an informative and often hilarious panel discussion at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre, some of the queens acknowledged that their time on the popular reality TV competition has been huge for their careers.
“Before Drag Race, I worked with crackheads, hookers, thieves, liars, cheats–we were all at the bottom of the barrel,” joked Katya Zamolodchikova at The Business of Drag event hosted by the Center’s Young Professionals Council and sponsored by Equality Vodka.
Zamolodchikova is the drag character performed by Brian Joseph McCook who competed in season seven of RuPaul’s Rrag Race and was runner-up during the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
Season six contestant Gia Gunn (real name Gia Ichikawa) said the TV show has had far-reaching impact for all drag performers.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race has opened up so many doors not only for us RuPaul girls but for drag queens across the world,” said Gunn. “It’s given a lot of people jobs and a sense of belonging and a sense of community and friendship and all these wonderful things.”
But Gunn, the sixth contestant on the show to come out publicly as transgender, said there is one negative aspect of the show’s success.
“It makes some people that don’t get on Drag Race feel like they’re not good enough, like they don’t have the qualifications to be a drag superstar,” she said. “The experience is lovely and the platform is great. But I’d like to think that girls like myself and all the girls are continuously opening doors for so many people regardless. Everyone just needs to chase their dreams and be aware of what they want and those things will come to you.”
Hard Work Ethic
Maintaining a life-work balance is a challenge for these hard-working performers.
“There’s this pressure to take like every gig and squeeze the last drop of juice out of every opportunity and then at the end of the day you’re completely exhausted and you’ve lost your mind, you’ve lost your boyfriend and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute? What am I doing?’” said Zamolodchikova. “The financial security for me through drag was never an option before and now it is.”
Mayhem Miller continues to serve as her own manager because “I’m a lady who lunches a lot and I can’t be giving that 20% away to anybody else.”
“I don’t want someone else saying that they have a hand in it,” Miller said. “I have all my gigs on my own, I’m the one hosting them, I’m the one in charge. I take my hustle to the realest. I work every single night of the week in drag and it’s been like that for almost 10 years solid. I have to force myself to take time off. I know when my body tells me, ‘Bitch, sit down.’”
More Than Financial Rewards
Hard-working Miller (real name Dequan Johnson) admits there are some nights when she doesn’t feel like performing. But she puts on her make-up and wig and goes on “because you never know who you’re going to reach that night that you go out.”
“Sometimes you will have people come up to you and they will tell you their life story and you will be like, ‘Damn, all that happened to you and you want to tell me?’ Okay. Let’s make this an Oprah moment and let me see what I can do to help you out. Let me do a dance for you and make you smile.”
For Gunn, drag has literally helped her find herself.
“At one point, my job was a character and that character was also associated with a gender and that was a job for me,” she said. “I was Gia Gunn at night and during the day I was a less feminine character. Then I discovered that being full female is who I am and not something that was an act or a job.”
The panel was organized and moderated by Jason Wimberly. Other panel participants included the 2012-13 Miss Continental Sasha Colby and Rhea Litre who appeared in a season three episode of Drag Race.
The Center’s Young Professionals Council works to empower future generations of LGBT leaders and allies by fostering a culture of service, advocacy, diversity and community. Visit the group’s webpage to learn about the benefits of membership.