By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com April 29 2010 2:30 PM ET
For Sherry Vine, becoming an international drag superstar didn’t happen in the 90 minutes it takes her to put on her face. But it did happen in the ’90s “ahem ... when I was 5,” chirps Sherry.
Sherry Vine is supposed to be on a plane bound for Amsterdam. Instead she’s trapped in New York City due to the volcanic activity in Iceland. As usual, she puts her unique signature on the situation: “Yeah, Björk farted or something, so they canceled my flight.” Sherry is a busy lady. She kicks off a West Coast tour in San Francisco April 30, and her latest video parody, of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” is blowing up switchboards all over the Web. Chatting out of drag on a Monday afternoon at a coffee shop in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Keith Levy is dressed in jeans, sneakers, a white T-shirt, and a fitted aqua puff coat. It’s hard to comprehend how this handsome guy transforms into a New York nightlife drag legend. Knowing that underneath the fantastic made-of-plastic evening facade is an actor with a master’s in theater from the University of Southern California helps. We can only speak for a short while because Keith has a show tonight, and much like Cher’s rule of only texting between her Las Vegas acts, Keith must protect Sherry’s voice.
Later that evening Vine is perched atop a bar stool digging in a big yellow handbag. It’s just before her cabaret show at the lounge Vig 27. We chat some more. She dazzles in a custom-made burgundy just short-enough-to-make-you-wonder bell-sleeve dress with a rainbow of sparkling studs glinting off the spotlight. The hair is an achievement in itself — an inspiring hybridized wig giving equal parts Dolly Parton and Peg Bundy. The nails are red round-tips. The gams are bare but well-oiled, and the shoes metallic silver open-toe stilettos with straps snaking her ankles. The lips are lined and glossed like a cherry Blow Pop. Sherry towers (with wig) at 6 feet 3 inches tall. She opens her act with “Don Quixote,” an ironic choice from Man of La Mancha, and sips shots of top shelf tequila between numbers. She teases the crowd with low purrs of “Sherry’s thirsty” and “meow.” She works the stage and the room, sitting in laps, caressing attractive young men and cracking jokes about current events and her ability to please men with ease. She ends the show with an audience request: a lilting version of Mama Cass’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Sherry Vine is a study in stagecraft.
The Advocate: When did you first leave the house dressed as Sherry?
Sherry Vine: Back in 1991 in L.A. My friend and I started dressing up for fun to go out on the town. I remember always wanting to perform the song “Black Coffee” in front of an audience, but it just didn’t make sense to do it as a man when you listen to those lyrics, so Sherry sang it.
Not quite. At first my name was just Sherry. I thought it sounded like I might be that trashy girl from the wrong side of the tracks. A little later a friend called me when I was still living in L.A. and said I just had to go over to Vine Street to check out an old crumbling building called the Sherry. It was a crack den! Then it just all made sense, you know, as homage to the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Sherry Vine. Sometimes I wish my name were sillier, though, like Hedda Lettuce or Vaginal Davis. I mean, with a name like Sherry Vine, I could be any woman on the street, right?
One thing in particular a lot of folks might not know about you is that you actually sing at your shows. You don’t lip-synch.
That’s correct. I sing my numbers. I’m aware I may not have the greatest voice in the world, but Sherry sure can sell a song!
Who inspires your look?
Well, I have modeled myself after Barbie, in a way. I mean, I’m hooker Barbie. In terms of my costumes, I have a team of very talented designers that make my clothes. For the video parody of “Telephone,” one of my designers, Matt Camp, made me the incredible V-line jacket you see in the beginning just by sizing me up — no fitting. That’s talent. I owe a lot to the team that helps me make my videos and clothes. Thanks, guys!
Speaking of which, your video parodies of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Telephone” have garnered quite a bit of attention lately. Is Sherry now in the parody business?
Although I’ve been doing funny versions of songs for a while, I’m not in the parody business. I love and respect Lady Gaga. She is a genius and has completely changed what it means to be a pop star. I mean, she’s fucking talented and has changed the whole game.
Have the video parodies brought you any unexpected attention?
Oddly enough, I get a lot of hate mail about the videos. People tell me that Lady Gaga is their idol and I’m somehow making fun of her. It’s not that at all — it’s a parody. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Besides the emotional reactions, I’ve been getting invitations to do shows in cities I haven’t appeared in before. For example, I’ve been asked to do a show in Raleigh, N.C. Sherry in Raleigh? Who would’ve thought?
Rumor has it that Lady Gaga herself has seen your videos — have you heard this?
Yes, that’s what I’ve heard. I haven’t gotten any feedback from her directly, but I assume if she didn’t like them, she would have had them taken off YouTube and other sites.
Besides the United States, you have quite a following in Europe.
Yes, and in places like Berlin, where I lived and performed for five years, I feel like drag is taken more seriously. Drag is considered more of an art form in Europe and less of a campy act ending up marginalized by the entertainment industry and the press. In Berlin the crowds that come to see me are much more diverse than in the United States.
New York City is home base for you now, but you also take Sherry on the road.
Yes, I perform several nights a week in New York City. Joey Arias, my good-time girl, and I are also hitting up the West Coast, starting April 30 in San Francisco, and then we have stops in Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
For more information or for show dates, click here.