The night ‘Drag Racers’ Tatiana, Pandora Boxx and Jessica Wild stormed Dallas
The night begins with cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes, either, but elaborately decorated, architectural creations from Frosted Art that make an off-the-rack Sprinkles look like a home ec assignment.
Usually, dessert comes at the end of the meal, but when you have a smorgasbord of glam, as having three of the contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race are, the rules are broken more often than a fingernail. Delivery of the cupcakes for each of the girls is planned early. It’s how the machinery of the evening gets oiled.
And quite an evening it will be.
The recent season finale of Drag Race saw the crowning of Tyra Sanchez as the next drag superstar, but among home viewers, she wasn’t nearly as popular as Pandora Boxx, Jessica Wild and Tatiana — three queens with tons of personality and appeal. They were, in their own way, endearing more than enraging, and each represented a different style of drag: Pandora, the quick-witted clown with the outrageous outfits; Tatiana, the natural beauty who could easily pass for a girl (if she weren’t 6-foot-1 in bare feet); and Jessica Wild, the flamboyant, high-energy Puerto Rican.
Each was in North Texas last weekend for a performance at the Rainbow Lounge, and when Dallas fashion designer Nicolas Villalba realized Cowtown was gettin’ the girls and Dallas wasn’t, he set out to change that. So he organized a Big D event: rooms at a swanky hotel (the Warwick Melrose); a champagne reception with invited guests, including kids from Youth First Texas; personal dress fittings for each of the girls; dinner in the ‘hood at Cyclone Anaya’s; and the capper, seats at the Rose Room to show the Racers how Dallas does drag.
"Throughout the show, I heard how they were criticized for not having serious fashion," Villalba says of his idea to design gowns for the threesome. So he decided to give them courtesy couture.
But first, we have to get the girls.
The white stretch limo is a conspicuous accessory even in the parking lot of the Melrose, but even it is dwarfed by the ladies themselves. It is Mother’s Day weekend, and the hotel is flush with well-heeled doyennes of Park Cities and their Polo-clad husbands and sons. But few male eyes (and even some female ones) are focused on mom; a statuesque Tatiana gets most of the gawks.
Tati is tall and slender, though not rail thin (she is, after all, an adult man, not a slim-hipped superwaif) who wears stilettos and a slip dress from Forever 18 better than most high school cheerleaders. Her page boy haircut and perfect makeup frame her face beautifully, and her figure is the envy of every woman in the lobby. Men (and a few boys) who ogle her may know she’s a drag queen or they may not; they don’t seem to care, they just enjoy the view. Freak show or fashion show? It hardly matters. Tati owns the room.
Pandora makes her mark, too, once she joins Tati. "What’s up dude," she says to Tatiana — a disarmingly guy thing to do. Nothing else about them is very guy. Even though they don’t act up, they get attention — walking purposefully but not aggressively into the Library Bar, they turn heads.
Pandora is pretty but also clearly the jokester, with hooker-red lipstick popping from her black-and-white striped dress — all the queens seem to be in black and white.
"We’re on the same cycle," Pandi deadpans, before admitting those colors are easy to accessorize.
For anyone who watched the show, "easy" never seemed to be Pandora’s watchword. She went for a strident, comic overdoneness, like a burger at a kid’s play palace. But tonight she’s subdued, almost elegant … at least in her clothing. The wit is still there.
Jessica Wild arrives fashionably late, but it’s not a diva moment. She sees a reporter she’s never met before and without hesitation plants kisses on his cheeks. Jessica is as welcoming as a mariachi band.
After pleasantries at the Melrose, the girls pile into the limo, descending the steps of the hotel as if filming the opening credits for Sex and the City. Then it’s off to Nicolas Couture and their fittings.
The ladies take turns getting their measurements taken by Villalba, who also quizzes them about what they want. Tati claims she’s "not really gown-y," so she gets a green cat suit. Pandora focuses on a pink princess dress, while Jessica decides on a yellow goddess gown.
This is the first time for all of them in Texas — Tati is from Falls Church, Va., Pandora from Rochester, N.Y., Jessica, of course, Puerto Rico — but it’s not unusual for them … not now that is. The show has given them incredible visibility, and they’ve been traveling extensively — and Pandi, for one, has done it without an agent or even trying to get bookings; the requests have just poured in enough to keep her busy. But she has other things in the works, too.
Pandora is in rehearsals for a play she has written and will star in back in Rochester, a comic mystery called The Lipstick Massacre.
"I was always into theater," she says. That actually led to drag. "I went to my first drag show and said, ‘I want to do that.’" (She took her name from the vessel that held all the ills of the world — she was into Greek mythology at the time. Tatiana named herself after a character on a sitcom.)
They are remarkably at ease in social situations, engaging with kids from YFT and even offering advice for being a gay kid in school.
"During my homecoming, I went to school in drag," says Tati, who is only 21. "My high school was super gay, though." She knows it might not be the same for these kids. Still, she encourages two who plan their first drag experience later this month ("Just pretend like you’re singing in your room," she counsels) and listens as they talk about the upcoming GAYLA Prom.
They talk about the show, too, of course.
"At first I kind of took it seriously, but then I knew, first and foremost, that this is entertainment," Tati says about being on TV.
They all have nice things to say about RuPaul, although they confess they didn’t exactly hang out with her — the schedule didn’t allow it.
"We don’t have time!" Jessica says.
Not all the other judges fared as well.
"I think we were all confused by the judges’ comments sometimes — especially me," says Pandora. "You arrive with all these costumes then someone tells you they don’t like your stuff and you’re, like… SHIT!"
Martha Wash gets low marks for being mean and offering useless advice.
"I think that Henry Rollins was probably the best judge," Tati says. "Everything he said was so smart and on point. It surprised me because I didn’t know what to expect from him … except that he’s hot. And I liked Niecy because she told me I was the prettiest. I love you!!"
The situation was exhausting, with crewmen around all the time and interaction discouraged when the cameras weren’t rolling.
"You film all day, and then they put you in a room with a producer who asks you questions," Tati explains. It’s there that you realize the lack of reality in reality TV — they producers tailor the interviews to sow discord and pit queen against queen.
"The mean girls were mean, but not all the time," says Pandora. Tati calls having to "lip synch for her life" against Jessica the worst part of the show — they really were friends.
And then there’s the experience of watching it long after the fact.
"In the beginning I really enjoyed [watching] it," Tati says. "But by the end it got dramatic and I didn’t want to watch anymore. Of course I did…."
The next stop is Cyclone Anaya’s. You might expect the girls to pick at their food, but they jumped in to the rich Tex-Mex cuisine (lobster enchiladas, anyone?) and filled up on margaritas. But dinner was more akin to holding court than a enjoying a meal.
"Incoming!" one invited diner warns as a phalanx of Drag Race watchers line up to pay homage. Fans stop by, stammering and asking for photos; one even leaves a note inviting the girls (especially Tati) to a party at his house the following night. They will be leaving town Saturday morning and politely send back an RSVP. You finally realize why they are called drag queens: They are treated like royalty.
And they are all fine with the term, too.
"I prefer ‘drag queen.’ — ‘female impersonator’ seems to say ‘I do pageants and I’m a lady,’" says Pandora. "’Drag queen’ encompasses camp and being pretty and performing in general."
"With a drag queen, anything’s possible," adds Jessica. "I wear strong makeup. I don’t want to look like a woman you see on the street, I want to be Jessica Wild."
But even in the gayborhood, they become ladies. Tati uses the women’s restroom at Anaya’s, and says her feminine side always rears itself more in drag.
"Everyone has a little queen in them, but when I’m in drag it comes out," she says.
It’s time for the late show at the Rose Room, where even among other queens, the Drag Racers are stars. They seem impressed by Cassie Nova, Jenna Skyy and the famed "Cellblock Tango" opener. But there are still questions about the show to ask: If they couldn’t have won, who would they most like to see crowned? No one says Tyra Sanchez, that’s for sure.
"Now? Pandora," Tati offers.
"Jujube," says Jessica.
But Pandora has her own take.
"Kathy Griffin — she was the best drag queen on the show," she says.
And with that, we call it a night. A lady needs her beauty sleep.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 14, 2010.