Sometimes a cultural movement can turn into a landslide. That’s what happened when drug-addled, brain-damaged fame whore Demi Lovato recently declared herself as “non-binary” (a fabricated classification that is considered by some to be a symptom of mental illness). No sooner had Lovato cannonballed from hunky fiance Max Ehrich into the arms of Miley Cyrus‘s lesbian sister Noah (photographers were conveniently on hand to capture their first date) than dozens of C-list celebrities were jumping on the “genderless” bandwagon.
Another gender-bending subject is the world of drag. Once known as the art of “female impersonation”, this form of entertainment was quite popular with blue-haired ladies in the ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s. Despite the unspoken knowledge that drag performers were closeted gay men (gasp!), this was still considered to be a wholesome type of entertainment.
Then in 1992, a queen by the name of RuPaul broke into the mainstream with the hit song SUPERMODEL (You Better Work). Before you could say “sashay chantey”, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze were decked out in skirts and pancake make-up for the film “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! July Newmar” …and the world has never looked back.
RuPaul catapulted from one-hit-wonder into a full-fledged empire, with thirteen seasons and counting of “Drag Race”, multiple spin-offs, and even a large-scale production at Flamingo Hotel Casino. So what does that type of success spawn? Countless rip-offs and imitators, of course…meaning what was once a spicy treat is now as ordinary as store-brand white bread smeared with mayonnaise. Like Ellen Degeneres.
Back in the good old days of Vegas, audiences headed to Riviera Hotel to catch a drag show. Frank Marino and an ever-changing cast brought outrageous celebrity impersonations to the north Strip resort for over two decades. Marino eventually transitioned (no pun intended) to DIVAS LAS VEGAS at Imperial Palace, and still carries on at Tropicana’s LEGENDS IN CONCERT.
Now….take a good look around contemporary Sin City, and you’ll notice that drag is literally everywhere. Treasure Island’s SENOR FROG’s hosts an enormously popular drag brunch several times a week, and their new male revue UNCENSORED is hosted by drag queen extraordinaire “Shannel“. Just across the interstate, AREA 15 entertainment complex offers “Draganza”, NOTORIETY LIVE in downtown presents “FAAABULOUS” with Zumanity alumnus “Edie”, and Strip mainstay Red Palms is the latest home for Kenneth Blake’s “Stars and Stilletos”.
All of these productions are top-tier affairs, created by recognizable names (if you’re a fan, that is) and staged with class and sass. HOWEVER….look a little closer. You’ll see that drag has spread so far and wide that it’s even invaded your local Chipotle fast food joint. That’s right. At select locations, your sofritas burrito now comes wrapped in duct tape (look it up) and topped with guacamole and a dollop of dollar-store cosmetics.
Just like Demi Lovato’s demands for attention, delving into drag has become a circus. Across the nation, thousands of gay boys are smearing on clown make-up and squeezing their 48-inch man-bellies into size 4 neon spandex quincea era dresses. Then they clomp in their spiked heels to local gay-supported establishments to lip-sync Dua Lipa songs while begging for dollar bills.
As awful as that sounds (and looks), I’d actually fish out a few Washingtons from my purse if these queens were panhandling on a stoplight corner. Instead, they’re sabotaging my mojo while I chat it up with the latest conquest….er, my “new friend”. And therein lies the biggest problem with drag’s dilution.
As a person who’s lived life as both a man and a woman, Clay Bushes (me) enjoys frequenting gay hotspots to meet up with friends and enjoy a signature cocktail. If I’m in the mood for a drag show, I’ll buy a ticket. But here in Las Vegas, you cannot escape drag, Every gay bar with the exception of The Garage (manly men, a mechanic/auto shop theme) has gone totally “men in ugly dresses”, Out with the hot guys, in with “Divine”.
Last year, The Garden opened in downtown’s Arts District. Packed with muscular servers, shirtless bartenders, delicious tapas, and an upscale clientele, The Garden was the perfect hangout for ladies and gentlemen of distinction. Then COVID restrictions began to ease, and The Garden transformed into a full-fledged drag bar appealing to twenty-somethings. Four brunch seatings each weekend, nightly live shows, Drag Race viewing parties, “celebrity” appearances, and screeching hysteria.
After only a few weeks in operation, Hamburger Mary’s suspended lunchtime operations but added beehive wigs and fake fingernails to the dinner menu. Across town, “Charlie’s” country-western bar that once catered to rugged Marlboro men is now home to “Mirage Amuro”, “Sage O’Hara Andrews”, “Alexa Leggz” and FABULOUS DRAG BINGO. “Badlands Saloon” shoved their cowboys out the swinging door and invited “Fantasia Saxton’s GIRLZ” to take a barstool. And the list goes on.
One new establishment has made the admirable effort to salute female impersonation with style. “Jimmy’s at Madison” is fronted by Jimmy Emerson of Riviera’s “La Cage”. Emerson has a pedigree in drag and continues to honor the art form with nods to the likes of Judy Garland and Liza Minelli. His classy gals make these kids look like bargain-basement Ephalbas in a high school production of “Wicked”.
It’s true that drag wouldn’t have achieved this level of success if audiences weren’t on board. But all fads eventually crash and burn (fidget spinners, anyone?). We may have seen the warning signs of a bubble-burst when drag queen Britney Spears was drop-kicked back to California. Yes, it was due to plunging ticket sales….despite what her highly-paid PR team reported about Daddy Dearest.
“Britney isn’t a drag queen,” you say? Well of course she is, you silly goose…the evidence is right in front of you. Moving her mouth to pre-recorded studio tracks? Check. Tacky hair extensions? Yes, indeed. Gaudy costumes, raccoon make-up, and pacing back and forth like a malfunctioning robot? Check check check.
Las Vegas is known as the City of Entertainment for a reason. There are literally hundreds of hungry, talented individuals here who can sing, dance, and engage the audience like true professionals. It’s time for drag queen imposters to get down from their crosses and pass those unearned crowns to performers who really deserve the spotlight. Bitch, you ain’t a martyr and we’re gonna need that wood.