“RuPaul’s Drag Race” goes heavy on the glitter and even heavier on the drama, but this season’s East Coast queens just might break the cycle.
“I think more than any other season actually, ‘team New York’ as we like to call us, are closer,” said Honey Davenport, of Washington Heights. “We’re real, real tight sisters.”
Four of those sisters — Davenport, Shuga Cain, Scarlet Envy and Ariel Versace — visited amNewYork’s midtown offices earlier this week to promote season 11, which premieres Thursday. In true New York fashion, they swapped stories about dressing up in full drag on the subway, bedazzling heels from the Payless sale rack (Comfort Plus, obviously), and hyping up crowds in Hell’s Kitchen.
“Here’s the thing, in no other city in the world are drag queens asked to hold down a whole show for an hour that they promoted and be on top of drink sales. It’s a real business game, which is why we’ve had so many winners from New York City,” said Davenport, who was effortlessly working a fitted Valentino-inspired evening gown.
The past five “Drag Race” winners all had ties to NYC: Aquaria of season 10 and Sasha Velour of season 9 both called Brooklyn home; Bob the Drag Queen of season 8 was born and raised in the city; and Violet Chachki of season 7 and Bianca Del Rio of season 6 both repped their city loyalties during their runs.
This season, there may only be three NYC queens (and one New Jersey star, Ariel) in the mix, but they tease they are forces to be reckoned with. NYC breeds the “fiercest drag community in the country,” if you ask Harlem-based Shuga Cain.
“You have to do it all,” she said. “You have to be a singer, you have to be a dancer, you have to be a comedian, a host.”
The Harlem-based queen entered the drag scene three years ago but said she still managed to cross paths with her “Drag Race” competitors before being cast.
“We’re downtown girls. We’ve all worked the same bars, we shared parties. I’m really happy that it was those two girls for me,” Scarlet Envy said. Scarlet, Honey and Shuga have all worked with DJ Mitch Ferrino — they’re “Mitch’s girls” as Honey called them.
“Small pond, lots of fishes,” Ariel said, adding that she’d previously met Scarlet through Instagram.
Entering the “Drag Race” house, the group said working the city grind gave them something to bond over instantly.
“In the South, you’ll see a minivan pull up with their headpieces, and I’m like, girl, this Uber I just got in couldn’t even fit my bags, or I took the subway because you know they only gave me $50 for this gig,” Honey, a member of the Davenport drag family, said. “We’re the girls taking the Ubers and the A train.”
Still, their paths to the drag reality competition were vastly different.
Scarlet, a FIT alum, started doing Hell’s Kitchen drag at age 18 “because they wouldn’t let me into the bars.” “My first bar [Brooklyn’s This n’ That] closed — that doesn’t happen to all the drag bars I perform at,” she joked. “You can take the girl out of the first bar she worked, but you can’t take the first bar out of the girl.”
Shuga started in pageant competitions; Ariel has a theater background and began in Voyeur Nightclub in Philadelphia due to of Jersey’s limited drag scene; Honey worked as a backup dancer for season 9’s Peppermint.
Honey said the diverse group created “beautiful art” together on the upcoming season.
ON TV: "RuPaul’s Drag Race" season 11 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on VH1.