The history of the drag queen extends back centuries. Yet, it’s only in the past few years that he’s moved out of the subculture and dipped a stiletto-shod toe into the mainstream. One of the prime movers behind this higher profile is RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show that combines American Idol and Project Runway (with a slug of Real Housewives) as it chooses “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”
Last season’s winner was Violet Chachki, a young queen from Atlanta known for her throwback pinup style, taste for haute couture and 18-inch waist. Since her victory, Violet has appeared in a fashion spread for Interview magazine, released an EP and is now traveling the world with the RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons tour, coming to the Pearl on April 29. We recently spoke to Miss Chachki about the busy life of an international drag superstar.
What has it been like playing in Europe? Have you done a tour like this before?
It’s definitely new for me. I’ve been traveling a lot … this is the first time it’s been a horde of drag queens. So far, so good—no catfights yet. But it’s very early on in the tour, so we’ll see how it progresses. So far it’s been flights, but I think the bus is coming in the U.K. and we’ll get to do that whole Partridge Family gig.
Do you have to change your act for the bigger houses?
I’m so happy we get to perform in these amazing spaces with amazing lighting and curtains, and I get to do aerial performances. Definitely the scale of the performances and the costumes needs to be bigger. But it’s lots of fun.
How did you get into doing drag?
I was always collecting women’s clothing: I would go to thrift shops and find these amazing vintage pieces that I admired for their beauty, and then I started wearing them out. That’s how I got drawn into it—with the wardrobe, fashion aspect. Then I started to perform, and it kind of evolved from there. Clothing really drives me, and that’s why I like drag. I look at it as something you put on—the wardrobe, to me, is really important, because I look at drag as being a noun as well as a verb.
You’ve got a very retro, glamorous style. Are there any particular stars or films that inspire you?
The model Dovima from the ’50s. Or Lady Miss Kier, from the group Deee-Lite. I love Funny Face because Dovima’s in it. It’s about Audrey Hepburn, she’s found at a bookstore, then she goes to Paris and she turns into this fashion model. The clothing is amazing, and there are all of these fabulous photo shoots. They have it on all of the Delta flights so I watch it all of the time.
Speaking of flight, you also do aerial …
I am such a novice when it comes to aerial. I try to find time to rehearse and it’s hard to find venues that will accommodate it. My aerial performances combine drag and aerial. It’s interesting to find places where you can lip-sync and perform as a drag queen, but also be an aerialist.
Does that mean you’re a fan of Cirque du Soleil?
I love Cirque du Soleil. It’s like total gold for me. I like the surprise aspect—figuring out what the show is actually about, seeing what scenes they chose and what direction they’re going with.
You’ve worked in both the burlesque and drag communities. What is the difference between the two?
In the burlesque community, people have a little bit more patience. They’re a lot more supportive—at drag shows, people have expectations and they’re kind of like, “Well, what are you going to bring?” Whereas in burlesque, it’s more about supporting the person and the whole performance— it’s more about community and kind of embracing whatever the person’s bringing to the stage. In drag, everyone’s waiting for you to do a split or a drop kick or something.
What advice do you have for aspiring drag performers?
Don’t wait. Just do it. There’s no amount of preparation you can really do to be a drag queen.
People are scared they’re going to look stupid when they begin—and they will. Everyone looks stupid. But you do your best and progress from there. Start that journey now. That’s how I was, too, when I started: “I need to work on this before I go out in public, I need to work on that, I need to finesse this or that.” But the truth is you’re never going to be that great until you actually do it, and the experience is what will make you the best you could possibly be.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons 2016 Extravaganza Tour
8 p.m. April 29, $39.50-$299, the Pearl at the Palms, 702-944-3200, Palms.com/Pearl-Theater.html.