Ru Paul’s Drag Race has created many stars. But this year one contestant stood out for having his own successful Vegas show, he unfortunately went home this week, but that’s only the beginning.
Drag Race has opened up endless opportunities for its contestants and made them feel their talent is not limited to local nightclubs or themed special events.
These dragsters are self-admitted clowns, but they don’t want to be taken as a joke. Mama Ru got it right when she said all you need is Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent. There is an intended pun in the acronym, but it is her not-so-secret recipe for success.
Derrick Barry had already seen success long before joining the cast. His female impersonation of Britney Spears is so accurate that if she were sitting next to him it would be hard to tell the original from the forged.
He performed as Spears six nights a week to thousands of people on the Vegas strip, a place renowned for its world-class and expensive celebrity impersonator entertainment.
I talked to Barry about his time on the show and why his alter-ego came out so much during the time he spent there, “I don’t put Britney make-up on my face — I put make-up on, and that’s what happens.”
During our conversation, one thing was very clear to me, Derrick has everything Mama Ru hands out in her SOP to success, especially the “nerve” part, but I wondered how being on a reality television show differed from the Showgirls atmosphere of a Vegas mainstay, and why he would want to leave all that behind.
He says part of it was the prize money, but moreover it was a personal challenge, something he needed to do to leave his Vegas persona behind for a while.
“The stakes are high and you go into it with the thought of I’m winning this,” he told me. “I have to win. I mean the pressure is on and it’s so different because doing Britney for so long – and that’s been my Vegas career – and America’s Got Talent, and after America’s Got Talent, travelling. So it’s what I’ve been doing. This was the first time I really had to get outside of my head and figure out something else to do that people would like just as much as my Britney and that’s not easy.”
Derrick was so convincing as Spears on his season three audition of America’s Got Talent, he had judge David Hasselhoff questioning his own sexuality, “Oh my god, you’re hot but you’re the wrong sex.”
Drag Race was only a concept in 2008, when Derrick appeared on America’s Got Talent, but after its premiere in 2009 and the massive following it received, he knew that was his next step.
He was already getting booked as his signature pop star character, travelling and becoming successful in that field. Once Drag Race became a hit, he says venues were only looking to book Drag Race girls despite the profitability of his own show.
“It was almost frustrating,” he said, “because I thought well, I’ve been doing this for over ten years and you know this is what I do for a living. They were still only booking Drag Race girls so I knew this had to be my next step. And I’m so glad I did it because it opened me up right away to markets that hadn’t booked me, clubs that hadn’t booked me, different countries that only booked Drag Race girls, so it’s very exciting to be a part of that legacy, and still have my resume that has everything else on it as well.”
While on the show, Derrick was constantly criticized, not only by the judges, but the contestants about his unwillingness to move away from the character who had brought him so much success, and tranform into a totally unique drag persona. It was something he was willing to do, but others just couldn’t get passed his striking resemblance to Spears.
He says no matter what he did to change it up, the critics would still find ways to make the comparison. He was locked into her personality and it was difficult to detatch himself from the brand he had made.
“Even if I do an outfit that’s not Britney-based, people will find a picture that looks similar to what she wore and they’ll put them side-by-side and be like, ‘oh I see this is the look you were going for,’ I’m like nope I have actually never seen that picture in my life, so I’m sorry,” he explains.
Changing his features to become someone else made him uncomfortable, it didn’t feel right he said. There was a difference between wanting to please others and become more versatile, and wanting to remain true to himself.
“Why would I want to do drag if I can’t be me?” he asked. “Because everyone else in the competition, they do their own make-up. Like Bob looks like Viola Davis, but it doesn’t mean he was going to change his make-up, he still looks like her.”
Still Derrick believes that he was the most criticized.
“No one else was getting it as hard as I was because that’s my career, and it’s like, ‘we want to see something different, but we love your Britney and we want to see more, but we need to see something else.’ It was all just so confusing, there’s too many things coming at me,” he added.
On last week’s episode it was Naomi Smalls who came for him in a verbal spar drenched in shadow backstage. It was a definite read in the shade.
Naomi Smalls questioned Derrick about his decision to constantly do Britney and never change it up. Naomi even went so far as to hint that Derrick didn’t belong on the show.
After a heated exchange between the two, Derrick decided Naomi may have been right about one thing: raising his brows, something he had never done. And for that Derrick accepted Naomi’s help. I asked him if he was afraid Naomi would try and sabotage the look.
“I was like maybe I shouldn’t let her touch my face because who knows what she’s going to do,” he told me. “Yeah, so it was scary, but I do think it came from a good place, and I think she felt bad for what happened the day before, I know I did. There were things that were said that were too far. And that’s what happens though, it happens in real life, it’s just that we got filmed doing it.”
Derrick says the two have since made up. He told me his defensive reaction to Naomi on the show was just and egotistic response to being personally advised by a younger performer. But Derrick also wants Naomi to understand too that impersonations are a part of drag; an important part.
“I said I just don’t want you to think that that’s not drag because it is,” he said. “I want you to know what came before you. I want her to learn about that because I don’t want anyone to sound uneducated in the public eye, and have people say, ‘This young person doesn’t know anything, and I just wanted to help her and she said she felt horrible and as did I because I didn’t want to come across saying the things I did to her.”
In the end it was Derrick who had to lip-sync for his life with Bob the Drag Queen, and was sent home. It was an ironic turn of events since he did go so far as to change his features to get away from the Britney character; something everyone wanted to see happen.
For now Derrick has left the streets of Sin City to travel and enjoy his newly found fame. One of the things he always wanted to do is make his own music, and that is what he did.
“My single is out. It’s on iTunes, it’s called “Boom Boom,” and it’s with Chris Cox,” he said. “I finally have my own music out. We’re going to be doing the video this summer, and I’m just so excited to see that part of what I’ve always wanted to do come to fruition, and I was always scared of doing music because I really didn’t know what I wanted to put out there, I was having so much fun doing Britney’s and lip-syncing to her music and singing her music live that I forgot that that was something I wanted to do.”
There are so many accomplishments that Derrick has achieved. From starring in a movie with Alexander Skarsgard called War on Everyone to the television show Graves, with Nick Nolte, he is not slowing down.
In fact he is looking at the fading Vegas strip in his rearview mirror, “That dream is no longer my dream. I mean what a blessing, like that’s all I ever wanted is to just be on the road, and I get to do that and see different cities and meet different people and it’s so exciting.”
Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.