It’s not easy to be a drag queen in quarantine.
The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue reflected on how, for a time, it was nice to step away from a busy travel schedule. But that sentiment didn’t last.
“It's so cool to be able to sit down for a little while. I think that's a little too long now. … I think we're ready to go back, please bring us back,” Kameron Michaels pleaded in a recent Zoom interview with The Advocate — since after all, physical press junkets are no longer a possibility in Hollywood.
For Vanessa “Vanjie” Mateo, the show, which premieres Friday on VH1, is a nice reminder of the way things were before the world changed in the face of a global pandemic.
“I'm excited to see everything and watch it back and kind of reminisce on the good old times of us all getting to be in Vegas all together,” Mateo said.
The six-part series steps away from the competition format of previous Drag Race iterations to show the behind-the-scenes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, the show’s first Las Vegas residency.
Veteran Vegas performer (and recent All Stars contestant) Derrick Barry stressed to her costars the historic nature of the Flamingo show. “I want these girls to really understand how exciting that is because this is the biggest drag show that's ever come to Vegas,” Barry said. “I was a part of La Cage. I was a part of Divas. And this is definitely the biggest-budget show that I've ever been a part of. And so I just wanted them to really enjoy that moment and take it all in.”
Barry also offered a local’s insights to Sin City. “He showed us where to get the size 13 heels,” praised Naomi Smalls. Although don’t expect any gamblers in the group. “We're all kind of grossed out by the casinos, low key,” Smalls added. “It's carpeted and it smells like cigarettes.”
“You only need to learn that lesson once,” Barry said. “I put a paycheck, an entire paycheck, into a machine when I had first moved to Vegas, and I will never do that again.”
For viewers, Vegas Revue is a refreshing change of pace, but one that presented its own challenges for the performers, who were tasked with not only staging a show but also performing Real World-style for the cameras of reality TV.
“I think you really have to forget about the edit, forget about the fans who are watching it, forget about, like, anybody else's opinion. And I think that that's actually a really hard thing to do for any human out there,” Smalls said.
In addition to lighting the audience on fire, Mateo and Michaels also found sparks flying between them. A recent trailer of the series, featuring a kiss, certainly set social media aflame with rumors about the nature of their relationship — and whether it was real or staged.
“I think I can say that I've seen some, some questioning like, 'Is this real? What's happening?' And I just went back to the interview that I did with Hey Qween! a couple years ago, where I was asked, you know, who from my season I thought was most attractive … and I said Vanjie. So for anybody questioning it, my answer is before the show ever happened. So you'll just have to watch and see where that goes.”
For Mateo, her attraction to Michaels was in her commitment to her art. “One of my favorite things about myself is that I do drag and how passionate I am about it. And so I feel like I definitely am attracted to see … that in somebody else,” Mateo said.
“The thing you should be looking for is … someone that can make you laugh,” Michaels said of her attraction to Mateo, who also confirmed that their personalities complement one another.
“The balance,” Mateo said, “because my mama told me I need somebody who’s gonna calm me down.”
Notably, Mateo struck up a romance with Brooke Lynn Hytes when they competed together on season 11. She confirmed that the pair had discussed Mateo’s chemistry with Michaels — but that it hasn’t ruined their relationship. “Me and Brooklyn are really good friends, and you know, you date people, you break up, you keep it pushing.”
Romance wasn’t the only drama depicted on Vegas Revue. The series also shows how the spread of the novel coronavirus began closing Broadway, Vegas, and then eventually their own show, all while the cameras were rolling.
“I think that was really scary, figuring all of that out,” Barry said. “And our show was only six weeks in, so even up to our last night we were packed. I mean, that it was a full audience. So it just couldn't continue like that.”
As of now, nine of the performers said they would risk going back onstage — but not for lack of will.
“I would love to be back on the stage. I would love to be back with all the queens here. And I think the thing that is just not obvious to an audience member when they're watching it — because they're just so enthralled by the smoke machines and the glam — [is] how many people are working backstage and how many people we come in contact with. Like, we can't zip ourselves up. We can’t corset ourselves,” Smalls said.
“Safety's always fires because not only just for us, but like, for the audience as well,” Mateo added.
While Vegas Revue itself may have been cut short by a few episodes due to the pandemic, the cast assured The Advocate that there is no lack of drama for six episodes. “We were there for such a short amount of time, but so much shit went down,” Michaels said.
And although the cast members may be limited right now by social distancing, each is excited to use their platforms on social media to get the word out about the upcoming presidential election and the issues that matter, such as the urgent need for young people to vote.
“Using my voice to show people how disgusting that slug in that White Houses is something I'm very happy to do,” Smalls said.
“I think people need to realize that it's one thing to be entertained by a reality TV star from The Apprentice. It's another thing to have that same person in office. And now we've seen what that's like and it has completely it's divided our country more than I've ever seen before,” said Barry, adding, “I hope people realize how important it is to change this. It needs to completely go back to the other side.”
Drag queens can be a big part of this change, asserted Michaels, who knows through social media that her fan base is made up of a key demographic, young people ages 18 to 24. “When I was younger, I didn't care. I didn't pay attention. And that's unfortunate because it's such a large group of people in the country that can be voting," said Michaels, who wants to use her platform "to teach my largest group to go out and vote, go out and be involved in politics. Because if everyone at that age group was voting, you could probably turn the election.”
If Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris triumph in the election, “they have a lot of work ahead of them to do” to undo President Trump’s disastrous policies, Michaels said. “But I'm excited to see what they can do because it's a mess. It's such a mess, and I hope that they're the ones to fix it.”
As for those who are displeased with a Biden-Harris ticket, Michaels has a message: “There's not going to be a perfect candidate that has that ticked off every single box that you want. But there is a better one, and one that can do a better job. And so I think that's the thing to think about when you're going to the polls is who's going to do the better job, not who's the most perfect. And we have a lot of work to do.”
RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue premieres Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on VH1.