‘Drag Race’ fan favorite Latrice Royale joins her fellow queens for Divas of Drag, a nationwide tour that proves drag is bigger than Latrice herself
As anyone who has ever seen her perform could tell you, Latrice Royale is larger than life — in a multitude of ways.
Although she began performing drag in the ’90s, it wasn’t until 2012 when she chose, on a whim, to audition for Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race that she became a star. Her deep baritone, huge frame and saucy attitude kept her in contention through the Top 4, alongside Phi Phi O’Hara, eventual winner Sharon Needles and Chad Michaels, who himself went on the win the first-ever All Star edition. When Royale was cut from the competition, Entertainment Weekly called the elimination “shocking.” (Royale was later voted Miss Congeniality by the show’s fans.)
Fans also know that life hasn’t always been easy for Royale, who spent time in prison for possession of marijuana and prescription painkillers. But she managed to survive the experience. “My size helped. The other prisoners didn’t mess with me. They knew who I was on the outside and gagged at my splits. The worst part of prison life was losing my mother,” she says. “It was the most alone I ever felt.”
She sings about the tragic loss in “I Need You Now,” a gospel song by Smokie Norful, on her new full-length album Here’s to Life. “It was the hardest song to record. It really speaks to how alone I felt at that moment, grieving in isolation,” she says.
The album reveals another surprising fact of Royale: She can sing, not just lip-synch. Unfortunately, unless you buy her album you’ll just have to take her word for it when she’s in Dallas Thursday at the House of Blues as part of Live Nation’s Divas of Drag Tour, which reunites her with fellow Racers including Alyssa Edwards, Kennedy Davenport and more.
“Because we all travel so much, we are bound to bump into each other, so I’ve grown to love a lot of these women,” she says. “As we were putting this together with Mimi, we were brainstorming on who we wanted to work with. It’s been amazingly fun, and a learning process — I’ve never done anything like this before.”
The resulting show is “a mixure of duets, groups live singing and powerhouse drag numbers with a lot of eclecticism,” Royale says. “You have Milk, who is very avant garde, and then you have the likes of Yara Sofia who dances, and Jujubee who is beautiful and gives you goddess — everybody gets something out of this show.”
And there’s what Latrice herself has to offer: A towering disco ball of sassy femininity with a basso-profundo voice. She often jokes how her deep baritone voice sounds like Barry White in drag, which she embraces on her album. “I’m not trying to sing like a woman,” she says. “My goal is to be authentic to myself, my voice and my experience.”
Her style is so distinctive among the cast, it’s something she almost can’t get away from. While some queens can go incognito by dressing in boy-drag, Latrice admits, “I can’t hide this no matter what!” She loves the chance to interact with her fans, though.
“When you’re trying to eat [at a restaurant], it’s a little awkward sometimes, but still I’m gracious because you don’t know what kind of day that person has had — so why not? We’re all going to have bad days, but a rule for me is to always be gracious when they recognize you … cuz if they don’t recognize then you’re not doing something right!”
Latrice concedes that the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race has created some tension in the drag community between pageant queens, club queens and those in the middle who simply want to be on the show, but in general, the impact has been incredibly positive — not just for Royale, but for the culture at large.
“It has really elevated the art as a whole and put us in a place where we are exposed to the world,” she says. “Before, it wasn’t so easy. The show has afforded us the opportunity to travel the world — it’s what you do with that opportunity that matters. But now people have something to aspire to that is greater than what we’ve had before.”
— Arnold Wayne Jones
with additional reporting from Shane Gallagher
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2016.