Pandora Boxx: Miss Popular

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com July 19 2010 5:25 PM ET

Comedic drag performer Pandora Boxx may have won Miss Congeniality, but her fans were none too sweet when she placed fifth on season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race following one of the show’s most controversial eliminations. Pandora had the last laugh when Logo asked her to mentor dowdy females on RuPaul’s Drag U, which premieres July 19. Miss Boxx’s creator Michael Steck, who’s currently in talks to bring his play Lipstick Massacre from his hometown of Rochester to New York City, opens up about what he’s gained since losing the crown.

Advocate.com: How has your life changed since RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Michael Steck: Everything has changed. Last year I was at the point where I was going to quit drag because it really wasn’t going anywhere, but all that changed in the biggest way possible. Now I’m doing drag full time, traveling a lot, seeing different cities, and meeting lots of different people. The reaction that I’ve been getting has been amazing. I’d always hoped that I was entertaining, but you take that for granted being in the same city for a long time. It’s nice to go someplace else and see the impact you can have on people.

Do you get recognized as Michael Steck as much as you get recognized as Pandora Boxx?
Because we were on Drag Race almost 50% as ourselves, now I do get recognized out of drag. But as a boy, I usually get that look from people where they stare, like, Wait, is that… And I’m like, “Yes, I am Mystique Summers Madison.”

When it comes to giving makeovers to ladies on RuPaul’s Drag U, what advantages do drag queens have over real females?
Drag queens have really studied the art of femininity. We have both masculine and feminine characteristics in all of us, but to pull off drag, drag queens have to know the walk, the look, the makeup, and everything else. Women don’t really get lessons on a lot of that stuff, so sometimes they fumble through it or don’t have time for it. That’s where we come in. They’re not going to dress up as a drag queen every day, but they take the feeling from it — the feeling they get when they’re all dolled up on that stage — and apply it to their everyday life.

Because a drag queen’s look might be a little too much for a woman in the real world, did you have to practice restraint?
No, because we weren’t making them over to look like beautiful women. We were transforming them into their drag personas to bring out their inner divas. It’s all about taking them to the extreme, so there was no holding back!PANDORA BOXX 1 X390 (BEATRICE NEUMANN) | ADVOCATE.COMEach man on the Queer Eye team brought his own individual expertise to the mix. What does Pandora bring to the table on Drag U?
I brought the ability to laugh at yourself and to laugh in general because I find the humor in everything. I also feel fabulous in drag and out of drag, but that self-confidence is something I was lacking, so I really understood where these ladies were coming from. I’ve definitely been there.

What was it like to be back with Ru and some of the other girls without element of competition?
I was friends will all of the girls from Drag Race season 2 that were on Drag U, but there was an even bigger bond because there wasn’t that competition element. I felt like we could be more ourselves on this show. It was also great to connect with the season 1 girls, people I had really liked and admired. And it was even better to work with Ru this time because he could actually hang out and talk to us backstage. We were kind of ostracized from the world on Drag Race.

Did you, Jujubee, Raven, and Morgan McMichaels also bond over the shared bitterness that none of you had won?
[Laughs] We were kind of over it by that point because we were on this new show, and I don’t think you can get any better than that. We shot Drag U while Drag Race was airing, so my elimination actually played while I was taping the new show. I would get asked in interviews how I felt about being kicked off, but I couldn’t say, “Well, I’m already on a new show, so I don’t care.”

Considering your very controversial elimination from Drag Race, did you have any hesitations about joining another Logo show with RuPaul?
Yes, I did, because I wanted to know how much drama they were going to try to get out of it. But I found out from the producers that it was really more about helping these women, so that’s what made me want to jump on board. I also knew that I couldn’t be eliminated again, so I was like, “OK, I’m in!”

Aside from winning Miss Congeniality on season 2, you have the distinction of being, at 37, the oldest drag queen on the competition so far. Do you hope an older queen steals that crown in season 3, or do you wear it with pride?
Ugh. No, I don’t wear it with pride, to be honest. I don’t know if anyone wants to be the oldest person in the room and have it pointed out. But everybody gets older, so you just have to accept it and move on. And I certainly didn’t feel like the oldest one there — well, no, there were a couple times that I did because of some of their shenanigans. Sometimes I wanted to be like, “You guys know you’re on TV, right?” In that respect, I was glad I’d been around and had more experience, because I was very aware of how I was being portrayed.PANDORA BOXX 2 X390 (BEATRICE NEUMANN) | ADVOCATE.COMCritics of Drag Race have complained that humor and personality seem to take a backseat to feminine realness and glamour. Does a funny girl have a chance on season 3?
A funny girl has a chance to shine, but I don’t know about winning. They do tend to lean more toward runway model fashionistas for Drag Race, but you can watch any reality show to see that the winner isn’t always the one who comes out shining.

Following your elimination, Entertainment Weekly put your picture on their Bullseye and wrote, “Pandora Boxx, in our hearts you are America’s Next Drag Superstar... even if RuPaul doesn't think so.” After that kind of public outrage, did it almost seem better that you didn’t win?
It really did. I was glad I got kicked off when I did. Especially after I did my Carol Channing impersonation, I got a lot of emails and positive responses from people who just loved it. I knew my elimination was coming, of course, so I was hoping people would be upset, but I had no idea just how angry people would get over it. It was an amazing, overwhelming feeling that people cared enough to write hate mail to Logo. And to get on the Bullseye in Entertainment Weekly? I mean, I don’t think the winner got on the Bullseye.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you and some of your other competitors perform your signature club numbers, which blew me away more than anything I’d see from you on the show. Should Drag Race allow contestants to showcase their own numbers?
It would be great, but I know that decision has a lot to do with copyright issues and costs. It would be great to formulate some kind of challenge that shows you exactly how talented these performers are. I’ve also got to see a lot of them live, and I always tell people to go out and see them if you get a chance.

After seeing your hilarious Britney Spears number at the Drag Race finale party in New York, I can tell that you’re attuned with and inspired by pop culture. What’s your current pop culture obsession?
I’m always obsessed with Lindsay Lohan because she gives me lots of material, and I should really put a Lindsay number together. But right now I’m really obsessed with Glee. I love downloading all the songs on iTunes and pretending I can sing really well. Hello, if anyone from Glee is reading, I would like to go on the show!