Hello, mother. You’ve truly written some of the most amazing chapters in New York nightlife history, from the Limelight to Tunnel, and then to RuPaul’s Drag Race. How did it all begin?
It started for me back in the rave days, which went from Manhattan to Long Island, and even Staten Island. People never believed we used to have raves on Staten Island, but we did. We even had raves under the Verrazano Bridge. And it was all techno, not the shit you here now, but original techno. [Around that time] I bought a record of “I Need Your Lovin’” by Energy Records. Inside was a note advertising its live premiere at Limelight, so I went, and saw the most fabulous, fierce people.
What did you wear that first night at Limelight?
Silver bell bottom pants and top, no makeup, nothing else. Back then I was doing club kid boy drag.
How did you find your place with the club kids?
I was never fully in their scene. I already had an aptitude for dancing because I’m black, so I was already there. My moves in the club were from dancing in front of the mirror at home. When I met [club promoter] Lee Chappell, he felt I had what it took to be under his wing. In turn he handed me directly to Peter Gatien, which really pissed off those club kids.
I didn’t answer to them. Everybody else had to kiss promoters’ asses, but I just came in. Plus, they just had looks, and I could kick, split, boom! All that. Of course there were others that also could, like Candis Cayne, Lina Bradford, Shequida, and Princess Diandra.
Tell us about your regular club circuit.
Oh, child. There was Sugar Babies, Queen, Limelight, Tunnel, Sound Factory, Disco 2000, sometimes all simultaneously. The only day of the week we slept was Tuesday. Then, that all went away.
Somebody killed somebody and fucked up everything. From that point forward, the LGBT side of the scene went in its own direction. I felt I needed to physically present in the straight scene, as a way of teaching tolerance.Teaching through education and not being shady and rude.
Did performing for a mostly straight audience have its challenges?
The first week they’re afraid of you, and eight weeks later they’re trying to sleep with you. I spent most of 27 years in straight clubs. One club hired a bunch of club kids who just turned looks, and they ended up firing all of them for me to run the night. It’s not my fault you’re just standing in the room, find your niche. I’m gonna turn out the club. Also, straight people pay covers. All the clubs had covers, so my check was never less than $300 for the night. Clubs had money back then!
So how did you end up on RuPaul’s Drag Race so many years later?
I’ve already done it all. I’ve been in the best of all the clubs. So, I wanted something new to try. Nightlife is completely different, I’d never worked at a drag bar until after Drag Race. Before that was all industrial music, big stages, no talking on a mic. You blend in with the crowd and then stand out when you perform.
Performing on national TV at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus must have been a gag, then, because you stood out front and center.
Oh that was fierce. Miley is a big fan of Laganja Estranja, and Laganja and I are very close. So, she told Miley who she should call for that gig. There was a physical audition for placement; Laganja, Shangela, Alyssa, Gia and myself were directly behind Miley, and everybody was on the sides. That was damn good.
Um, yeah! That’s incredible. How’d you keep that secret? And wasn’t Alyssa Edwards filming All Stars 2 at that time?
Each day we moved to a different day to rehearse so the paparazzi didn’t know what was happening and we could have that surprise of all of us marching on stage. And Alyssa was there with a proctor the whole time and couldn’t talk to anyone. She just did the choreography and left. I thought it was her assistant the whole time!
How do you respond to people saying New York nightlife is dead?
It is dead. The scene isn’t blended anymore. When the clubs were mixed, it helped make straight people more advanced in terms of their tolerance, and they’d come out and support. Straight owned, gay operated was the format.. All gay clubs now don’t have covers. And every night of the week was a full theme and production, do you see that now? No. Now they think a party is just a DJ. Boring!