The "Divas" drag queens at Rich's may play at the best venue in San Diego, but they also bring something more to the show.
A drag artist has to work hard for her money, any or all of them will tell you that.
Meet the ladies of San Diego Divas: Coco Chanel, Kickxy Vixen-Styles, and Vanity Jones. These girls take their love of many over their love of money. Although they say both are important, they appreciate them at different times.
The success of Ru Paul’s Drag Race may have made it easier for these men to showcase their talents, but the competitive nature of the business still sticks firmly to the idea that if you’re good, you will get more people to buy tickets, but if you’re act is more fizzle than sizzle, you have to work that much harder to establish a name for yourself.
But most drag performers say, it’s not the celebrity they seek; that’s a part of it, but it’s giving their audience something special, a piece of themselves perhaps hidden since childhood which when exposed brings happiness to others by allowing them to feel something, anything.
The audience in preparation for the show exchange their larger bills into singles or fives. They hold up these bills for the performers to grab during their acts. Some performers get more, some get less. It’s silent applause; both hands can’t clap if one is raised.
There is something about Divas that you don’t get with any other drag show, Kickxy Vixen-Styles seemed to have the answer as to why.
“The beautiful thing about Rich’s here with these screens and with the LED lights, the show goes to a whole other level.” She said. “You walk up to A.J., he does all the videos, and say I want this, this and this, and he creates a whole different experience for the viewer. You get to create such a different experience that I’ve never seen at another drag show.”
Kickxy is a petite girl, she’s been doing the show for about ten months and brings cosplay into her act, comic book characters from X-men to Catwoman
It’s a complex hunger for these entertainers fed by the emotions of their audiences. It’s been a percolation of their hard work and passion; these are just the tools of the trade. Nobody knows this better than the veteran of the group Coco Chanel, the most voluptuous of the trio, and perhaps the most wise.
“We like to entertain,” she said to me backstage, “What we want the audience to do is leave happy, entertained, and energized and anticipating the next Divas show, that’s what we want.”
Her sentiments seem to reflect the rest of the cast. Coco also says in her time with Divas the revue has only gotten better.
“First we started at Numbers,” she says, “and then we came here last June, and ever since then, to me it’s gotten bigger. Because all the girls have kinda like played off each other. And we kinda feed off each other."
It's a well cogged machine that occasionally needs grease, but someone is always there to make sure the parts are working no matter what, even if that means pushing your body to its limit on the narrow stage.
Vanity Jones is the acrobat of the trio. On the night I attended, the audience “ah’d” at her cartwheels and physical dexterity.
“I have about seven years experience cheering in high school so I better use it before I lose it.” She laughs in full make up. “This will definitely be the platform to do so. There’s so many elements to what’s on stage and what we bring out there, not just ourselves individually as drag queens performers, but we have the background on the stage, so much movement going on it’s like a big playground for us.”
The headliner on the night I was there was recent top four contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Chi Chi DeVayne.
The dressing room was packed with costumes, make up and people coming in and out to help, or just get in the way like me. Chi Chi was putting on her nails in a flowing coral gown, getting ready for her debut in San Diego.
I asked the regulars of the show if it bothered them that they had to share their stage with a headliner when locally they have made a name for themselves; their names and faces are usually in the background on flyers and posters, while the celebrity is highlighted in the front with an ethereal glow. .
“There’s no animosity or anything,” Vanity said. “I think our comradery amongst each other, and how we treat our guests coming in, it’s like we don’t wanna make them feel any kind of awkward or uncomfortable, we do our best. Drag is already wooo! All over the place, so to make that atmosphere even more intense, we lose in what we’re trying to put out there.”
Kickxy adds, “I have heard that local queens being upset at bars or clubs for bringing, you know Ru Paul or another well-known drag performer. To me, I’m like, just go out there do you. Represent yourself, and the show; represent it in a good way. The headliner’s a headliner.”
The debuting Diva, Jazmyn Simone-Échelon interrupted her make up process to respond to my question:
“It’s a treat for everybody." she said while blending her contours, "And don’t be bitter. Be better.”
Chi Chi walked in and towering over me in a long blond wig. She is a quiet girl, respectable and humble for now. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, this was her first time visiting San Diego. I asked her how she liked it.
"It’s beautiful, I love it," she smiled. "I’ve just been walking up and down University Street, First Avenue, enjoying some of the local shops and stuff like that. I haven’t really done anything major.”
Chi Chi says that the west coast is very different from her hometown, and she's trying to take it all in, "It’s very different, the landscape, the air, everything is different, the food everything, but it feels great to be out of Louisiana and just exploring different parts of the country.”
She said her biggest goal on that night was to just to do Chi Chi, perform and try to get the crowd on their feet, "I’m an entertainer, and that’s what I’m going to do."
And that is exactly what they did, all of them. Each segment of the show was just as exciting as the previous one.
I didn't get to talk a lot to the emcee, fellow performer and birthday girl Paris Sukomi Max, but she kept everything moving and performed a very heartfelt "Reflections" from the Disney film Mulan, taking us on a visual journey through childhood and everything that being "different" entails.
I was hoping the audience was getting the same message I was; Paris wasn't just singing for herself, but to the many other people who may be wondering how best to cope with the world. It was incredibly moving, and supportive in a very quiet way.
It was also a number that brought the whole thing back to my original thought about how these performers give of themselves to people they don't even know.
It's more than just memorizing lyrics, buying beautiful costumes and learning choreography.
It's a personal statement of what moves them - what moved them to find the courage to lay thier souls on stage to people who will do what has been done their entire lives: judge them.
It seemed ironic that these girls perhaps ridiculed would consciously want strangers seeing them at their most vulnerable, yet most happy, most real.
I haven't seen many drag shows around San Diego, and I can't tell you how they operate, or how the girls get along with each other.
I get the feeling that each has its own dynamic and energy. I can say that Divas promoters and producers Scott Parman and Robert Rodrriguez make sure everything is in place. They are incredibly proud of thier show and nurse it to perfection.
To my surprise this show didn't reflect anything I had seen on televison. There was no time for bickering, backstabbing or judgments behind the scenes.
If there is any criticizm to Drag Race, it's that conflict seems to be emphasized to extreme levels on the program, it seems to want to divide rather than unite; create shade where there should be light.
The girls at Divas have no time for such nonsense they are too busy thinking about other things.
Maybe it was just because I was there, a reporter and they didn't want to show that side of themselves. I don't think that was it, I am good at blending in and never once did I hear a complaint or a discouragement.
This may be why Chad Michaels, a busy San Diego and reality show superstar continues to guest star at Divas.
Each drag queen has a story, the chapters bookmarked with experiences both good and bad.
My time with Divas helped me to understand that. Even though I wasn't one of them, I had been written in anyway. I got to be a part of thier family, their world, both on and off stage if only for the course of the evening.
Kickxy may have said it best, "I like to take people from their world and bring them into mine. It’s really, really fun to just get them have a see little piece of my head – that’s really what it is; a little piece of your imagination on stage."
If you haven't yet seen this spectacular show, do yourself a favor and attend on Friday May 27, 2016 at Rich's.
That show will have three guest stars: Chad Michaels, Joslyn Fox, Jasmine Masters, Missy Vee, as well as regulars Vanity Jones and Kickxy Vixen-Styles.
Rich's Nightclub is located at 1051 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103.
Divas is on Friday, May 27, at 8 pm, doors open at 7 pm. For table, VIP reservations and info, call 619-817-9926.