Kat Graham Learned Everything From Drag Queens
BY Josh Hinkle
April 25 2012 12:58 PM ET UPDATED: April 30 2012 3:21 PM ET
Although best-known for her role as Bonnie Bennett on the hit series Vampire Diaries, Kat Graham's true love is music. With her voice and sexy choreography, her new single "Put Your Graffiti On Me" has caught the attention of names like Perez Hilton and RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Jiggly Caliente. And as an appropriate rite-of-passage for the rising actress-singer, she's even been noticed by Sherry Vine, who has has already produced a naughty parody of the song. Graham speaks to The Advocate about pursuing her music career, her obsession with drag queens, and her close ties to the transgender community.
The Advocate: I know you’ve been acting for a while, but when did you find a passion for music?
Kat Graham: Well, I was a backup dancer when I was 14 or 15 years old. That’s when I started to dance for other acts. I was pretty young. I saw what they were doing and I saw myself in the background of it. I thought that I could do what they did. I actually got into music around that time. I started making mostly beats and making tracks in my bedroom. That eventually led to everything, from working with Will.I.Am to signing to A&M/Octone Records. So it’s been a natural process. It’s been a hustle and a struggle, but it’s been great.
You made the beats, you wrote the songs, you did all the choreography, you made the costumes, and I read that you were taking acting jobs to pay for your music. Where does this resourcefulness come from?
You have to do what you have to do with what you have. You can’t rely on someone else to stamp and say, “OK. This is great. Let me do everything for you.” Even to this day I still do a lot more stuff on my own than I ever have. It came by default. I had to; it wasn’t a choice. You have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and handle it if it’s something that you really want to do. The music industry right now is not something that I would recommend anyone getting into unless they would die doing it because they love it so much.
On that note, how did you go about booking yourself on a gay club tour just a couple of years ago?
You know, it’s so funny. It’s like you’re this little black girl walking into Fubar and talking to everyone saying, “Hey, I’d love to perform here for free if you would give me a chance.” That was the first step into everything that has become so much a part of who I am and so much a part of my performances and lifestyle in the gay community. I’ve been so completely influenced by performers in the community, drag queens especially. I feel like most of the world, or the mainstream, has the complete false perception of a drag queen or a transgender performer. There’s so much incredible beauty and style and ferociousness that goes into it. I feel like what I want to do, the more I grow as an artist and the more known I become, is to help raise that knowledge of how incredible these performers are. I feel like so many artists take different things from different queens and the originals never get any credit. For me, I’m like, “Listen, honey, I learned everything I know from a drag queen.” I’m part of a house in Atlanta, the House of Brooks, with Phoenix and Nicole Paige Brooks.
So a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants.
Yeah. [Laughs]. That’s so funny. So we’re all in Atlanta and we stay together. We’re all very much a family. We help each other with costumes, with ideas, and to have a family that is performers, I just feel so lucky. So for me, starting a gay club run was a first step. And I’m on one right now by the way. I came full circle.
You really did.
For me, no matter what show I’m on or whatever I’m doing in my career, whatever level I’ve been able to shove myself up on, I will always do a gay club run. I will always do a pride, if they’ll have me. I’ll always do a San Fran, or L.A. or ATL pride, because for me those dreams never change. My best audience and where I’m happiest is in the gay community. That’s where I feel the most accepted. It’s a community that appreciates pop culture like no other. For me, that’s where I’m home and I always want to come home.
Perez Hilton says “Put Your Graffiti On Me” could very well be the next drag anthem. What do you think about that?
That’s a really heavy quote because I’m in those clubs every night. I would be so flattered and honored if anyone performed my song. People should perform what they feel in their heart and what is a part of them. If “Put Your Graffiti On Me” has enough fierce sass for them then by all means go for it. It would be such an honor for me. A couple of my friends have told me that they perform my song. I actually met Jiggly Caliente at the airport randomly. We didn’t know each other but she recognized me and I recognized her immediately. She was like, “I performed your song.” I remember feeling so honored. I feel like drag queens are the fiercest, most fearless performers in the world.