Billy B: The Aberdeen Queen
BY Brandon Voss
May 19 2011 5:20 PM ET
Name a diva, and A-list celebrity makeup artist Billy B has made her gorgeous. No question he can beat a face, but can he beautify a Southern town? That’s what we’ll find out when Billy B — better known back home as Billy Brasfield — returns to Aberdeen, Miss., in Hometown Renovation, a six-hour docudrama miniseries debuting May 20 on HGTV. Before boarding a plane to Nashville to do Dolly Parton’s makeup for her new video, Billy opens up about his empowering homecoming, why he turned down Bravo, and why it took him a while to warm up to one of his most famous clients, Lady Gaga.
Advocate.com: As you made clear in your “It Gets Better” YouTube video, growing up gay in Aberdeen, Miss., was no picnic. Why go back?
Billy B: Well, my mom’s still there, and I know she’s never going to leave. But I also saw a need there. Small towns in America are dying — big businesses come in, mom and pop stores can’t compete, there’s a domino effect, and before you know it, the community’s gone. But what makes Aberdeen especially valuable is it has over 200 houses on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s really charming and beautiful, but it upset me that on every block I drove down there were empty lots where houses had been torn down. It just freaked me out as a gay man, because I wanted it to be pretty and nice. [Laughs] So I left there because I was gay, and I came back because I’m gay.
What’s it like to return to Aberdeen as a gay adult?
There’s absolutely zero intolerance of me there now. If I were just Billy the sissy, working at 7-Eleven, would people be so respectful to me? Is it just because I’m famous now and work with famous people? But we’ll never know, so I don’t focus on that. People are very kind to me, and on this show I’m working with really Southern people. One of my favorite things about the show is that there are sometimes subtitles, even when they’re speaking English. But I think that going back was part of my journey — not to get too Oprah — of healing myself.
Have you had any gratifying “look at me now!” moments?
That happens to me literally daily with any triumph that I have. Years ago, I acknowledged that much of my drive was about “Watch this, motherfucker.” It’s not from a bitter place, but it drives me to succeed. When I left Aberdeen and moved to New York, I didn’t have the support of my parents. I lived in a YMCA in Times Square in 1984, which was not a cute place to be. The only thing I’d ever done was work retail at a department store in Aberdeen, and I did their windows because I was creative. I’d been in New York a few months before my parents cut me off, so I naïvely went into Macy’s in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, walked right into personnel, and said, “I’d love to work in your windows.” I think this woman felt sorry for me, so she gave me a mercy job. She said, “Well, if you’re creative, what about cosmetics? Can you do it?” I said, “Oh, yeah! I’m good at it.” I’d never done it before. So I worked on the main floor of Macy’s, which is a zoo, but I refused to fail, and I refused for that to be another reason to be ridiculed. I was like, I may suck at football, and I may not want to touch a pair of titties, but I can move to New York and succeed, and you motherfuckers can’t because you’re stuck in Mississippi. To this day, especially when I do any kind of TV thing, I’ll call my mom and be like, “What are people saying?”