When Trixie Mattel (aka Brian Firkus) first sashayed onto RuPaul’s runway on season seven of Drag Race, it’s a safe bet that the last thing audiences were thinking was, “Hey, that girl should open a motel.” But now in retrospect, it seems inevitable that the drag star would do just that — with cameras in tow, naturally, on her new Discovery+ series Trixie Motel.
The docu-series, which debuted on the streaming service June 3, follows Mattel and her partner (in business and life) David Silver, as the two of them take on the project of a lifetime: the ultimate make-over challenge of turning a run-down Palm Springs motel into the ultimate drag queen paradise. Throughout five episodes, she oversees (and frequently lends a hand or a sledgehammer) as each room in the motel is turned from wrecked to chic, in the theme of her choosing that represents her unique and eclectic style. Getting in on the makeover action are a bevy of celebrity guests, including Lisa Vanderpump, Nicole Byer, Zooey Deschanel, Katya, Leslie Jordan, and musician Belinda Carlisle. It’s glamorous, ridiculous, and quintessentially Trixie.
The whole thing started with a much more humble and simple plan in mind to buy a vacation home in Palm Springs they could paint pink and call the Trixie Motel.
“[I thought] we can put some of my old drag in there and we can let the homosexuals rent it and carry on and do drugs or whatever they do,” she tells The Advocate.
But when they began looking at properties, the drag star made a surprising discovery.
“I found a seven-room motel that was already pink. After a little research, it was currently owned by a queer woman for like 20 years,” Mattel shares.
Trixie showed the property to Silver and convinced him to just go take a look at it. “When we got there it was like it was waiting for us. It was like the universe presented it to us. It was like the universe saying that idea you have is really gaggy and you should do it,” she recalls.
When the universe spoke, Mattel listened, but that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t a terrifying prospect. One thing the newly minted motel mogul wants to stress is that while the process was shot for television, and there are plenty of fun “reality TV” moments, the purchase of the motel and all the pressures and risks that go along with that were all real.
“I would like to make it abundantly clear that this motel is a huge feat, as far as my own financial gamble,” she says. “We found a property. I went to a TV network and said ‘this is what I want to do’. And they said, ‘Yeah, let us know if you actually buy the motel, though.’ I bought the motel not knowing if this would actually be a television show.”
It was ultimately Silver, who works as a film and TV producer, who suggested they turn their project into television production since the setting couldn’t be more perfect for Trixie. “Palm Springs is super ‘60s. Super pastels. Super Americana. That’s 100 percent Trixie. The reason this works is that Trixie is accidentally extremely Palm Springs,” Mattel explains. “I’m a bald man from rural Wisconsin. But Trixie is kind of exactly Palm Springs, which is offering this campy but elevated chic. And I think Trixie straddles that line too. I mean, I have this big crazy hair and makeup, but my clothes are kind of classic pedestrian ’60s clothes.”
“Not every drag queen should have a motel, but with Trixie for some reason a motel makes perfect sense. It’s cute and sleek and retro, but Trixie as a character is kind of a capitalist Barbie. It’s part of the brand that Trixie is owning businesses, right? That’s sort of a character. She’s smiling on the one hand and taking your money with the other, right?” she says. “I mean, it’s kind of a joke. But you know, drag queens, we like money. We like to get paid. Drag costs money. You know how long I had to crossdress to afford this motel?” Mattel jokes.
In some ways, everything has led to this moment, as the drag queen reflects on where it all started. “My first job was at Shaffer’s chicken and motel in Crivitz, Wisc., and I maybe had to clean one room,” she laughs. “But to be honest, I’ve been to every gay bar and every motel and hotel in the world. So it’s like I’ve had a survey of hospitality for a decade now.”
That may seem like a wild leap for the musician and cosmetics company owner, but as Trixie sees it, there’s a surprising crossover in the skills needed to be a drag queen and renovate a mid-century motel — and the proof is in the renovated results. “We live in a world where renovation is painting everything white and taking down a wall. And they’re like, ‘Wow! This place is crazy’,” Mattel jokes. “Custom tufting, custom ceiling murals. I mean, we have done things that I’ve not seen done on television in the renovation. And because of drag queen creativity and a shoestring budget, we’ve done the impossible.” She offers the following example of when her drag skills came into play: “One of the rooms has a leather bar that we repurposed and painted. Why did I know how to do that? Because I used to have to hand paint my own tap shoes pink.”
Even though she found ways to be creative on a budget, Mattel returns to how real the financial risk was with this project. But no matter the stakes, one of her greatest gifts is believing in her vision, even when it might seem totally out of left field to others.
“Maybe it’s because I’m Native American and I’ve spent my life, you know, laying my ear to the ground listening for bison. I don’t know. But like when I think something is a good idea, I’m unflinching and there are no second thoughts. Same with the makeup company [Trixie Cosmetics],” she shares. “I remember starting my music career and people being like, ‘A drag queen playing guitar? You’re weird.’ I was the musical guest on f****ing Jimmy Kimmel yesterday, so whenever I think something’s a good idea, you can’t shake me out of it. You can’t change my mind.”
“If we weren’t making a show. We might not be talking right now,” says Mattel. “But I knew that this motel would be a great idea no matter what. We’re so fortunate to get to storytell this process, though...there’s a living breathing record of it, [complete with] comedy and tears and drama. I’m so thrilled. I love sharing things and this is a huge project. You’re basically in the birthing room with me, you know?”
Trixie Motel is available to stream now on Discovery+. Watch the trailer below.