In defense of Chik-Fil-A (sort of)

Drag Racer and my former roommate Willam Belli was kicked off by RuPaul this week for still mysterious reasons related to a rule violation (Adderall addiction? Improper phone use?) but he turned lemons into lemonade by releasing at the same time this hysterical music video parody that asks: Is it still an endorsement if drag queens like your product? Enjoy!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My life with a Drag Racer: Willam Belli

A NEW pic of Willam, who didn't like how he looked in the last one.

I didn’t get a preview screener of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 4, which premiered last night on Logo… probably because last year, they were pissed that I spilled the beans a few days early that Dallas’ Shangela would be the series’ first returning contestant. Maybe to get back at me — maybe to toy with me — this season began with Shangela again jumping out of a box as if she’d be the surprise 13th contestant… only it was a fake-out: She was in fact booted instantly with Ru reminding everyone this is her show, her rules.

Fair enough.

The premiere was pretty good, with lots of other past queens returning as drag zombies. But what really piqued my interest was the appearance of my former roommate, Willam Belli.

I wrote about Willam living in my house for two weeks (scroll down) about three years ago, when he was in Dallas filming Ticked Off Trannies with Knives. Aside from the “drag bomb” that turned my guest room into a clothes hamper, Willam was a very agreeable roommate with lots of experience as an actor. (I remembered seeing him on My Name Is Earl.) But he has already become “the bitchy one” on Drag Race, irritating the other queens by, apparently, reminding them that he is not a club dancer, but a cross-dressing actor who has worked with Oscar winners. You really get a sense for how much he antagonizes the more insecure queens on RuPaul’s Untucked after-show.

Still, I have nothing negative to say about Willam. But it will be interesting to see how the series plays out. Watch the first episode after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Logo announces cast for Season 4 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

The new season won’t kick off until late January, but Logo has already announced the 13 contestants competing on Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race … and none are from Texas.

Of course, that was true last season, too … until Shangela made a surprise return in the season premiere, so don’t write anyone off yet. But it looks like the producers concentrated on Chicago, Florida and the Caribbean more than Texas. Joining Ru again will be judges Santino Rice and Michelle Visage, and the winner gets a healthy $100,000 cash prize, plus the title of top drag superstar.

Here are the contestants, and their cities:

Dida Ritz, Phi Phi O’Hara and The Princess (all from Chicago), Kenya Michaels and Madame LaQueer (both from Puerto Rico), Alisa Summers and Lashauwn Beyond (both from Tampa), Latrice Royale (Fort Lauderdale), Milan and Jiggly Caliente (both from New York City),Chad Michaels (San Diego), William (L.A.) and Sharon Needles (Pittsburgh — who wins my award for best drag name).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cowboy up!

Full schedule of events planned around IGRA Finals Rodeo in Fort Worth this weekend

Cowboy-1

HANGING ON | One of the most popular events in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is bullriding. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The “best of the best” in the world of LGBT rodeo are coming to North Texas this weekend to dress goats, decorate steers, wrestle steers and ride wild horses and bulls, according to Randy Edlin, president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association.

A total of 90 competitors will be competing in the 25th World Gay Rodeo Finals, being held Saturday and Sunday at the Watt Arena in the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. They will be representing the 27 local International Gay and Lesbian Rodeo Association affiliates around North America, including two from Texas — Texas Gay Rodeo Association, which has five chapters around the state, and Red River Rodeo Association, based in Aubrey, northeast of Denton.

Edlin said that participation in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is by invitation only. Contestants earn points through the year at regional rodeos, and the top 20 in each event are invited to the World Gay Rodeo Finals.

Edlin will compete in the chute-dogging event, sometimes known as steer wrestling, and in two camp events, the wild drag race and steer decorating.

Dan Nagel, president of the Dallas chapter of TGRA, said the camp events are one of the things that distinguish gay rodeo from traditional rodeo, adding to the entertainment and fun. But the inclusion of the camp events, he said, shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking gay rodeo contestants aren’t as tough as the mainstream rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.

In fact, Nagel said, the caliber of participants in IGRA’s 10 more traditional events are equal to those in any rodeo, and a number of members of TGRA also enter other rodeos.

Another difference between the gay rodeos and mainstream rodeos is that in gay rodeos, men and women may compete in all events.

In mainstream rodeos, you usually only see women competing in barrel racing. In gay rodeos, men race the barrels, too. Chute-dogging is usually a men’s event in the mainstream, but the women are out there wrestling steers, too, at the gay rodeos.

Nagel called those two events two of the most competitive on the circuit.

Gary Miller, owner of Dallas’ Round-Up Saloon who is also a former TGRA president, explained that while men and women compete together in chute-dogging, the top male competitor and the top female competitor both get first place trophy buckles.

Miller encouraged people who might be interested in participating in rodeo come to Fort Worth  to see the sport’s finest athletes and recommended the camp events for those just starting.

“Try goat decorating,” Miller said. “You won’t get hurt and you don’t have to have the skills of riding a horse or roping.”

Nagel agreed that some camp events are great for newcomers. But he called the wild drag race — in which teams of three, with one of the three in drag, work to get their member in drag on a steer and across the finish line in the fastest time — one of the most dangerous events on the circuit.

Miller and his partner, Alan Pierce, have been named honorary grand marshals of the rodeo. Miller joked that it was a role he was getting very used to filling. Two weeks ago, the pair were grand marshals of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“It’s an honor for us since we’ve been involved since the 1980s,” Miller said.

Miller was among founding members of Texas Gay Rodeo Association in 1985 and served as its first president. Pierce helped form the Houston chapter while working at Bayou Landing, a country-western bar in that city.

The couple met through their work with the rodeo and became owners of the Round-Up in 1998. They celebrated their 26th anniversary this year.

Miller said the Round-Up Saloon sponsors five participants by paying their entry fees. He said rodeo can become an expensive sport, especially
for those traveling with their horses.

“It’s a big deal to trailer one in, especially from the coasts,” Miller said.

He said the trip takes several days because they have to stop every few hours to exercise the horses.

Events connected with the rodeo begin at the Crowne Plaza Fort Worth South, the host hotel, on Friday, Oct. 7. The honorary grand marshals will be presented at a dance at the hotel that evening.

The finals rodeo events begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, then again at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.

“Peak spectator time is noon to 5 p.m.,” Nagel said. “They’ll run slack in the morning.”

“Running slack” means that rather than have all 20 competitors take part in one event twice in one day and declare winners, some of the entries from a variety of events will run in the morning. That way people attending during the peak afternoon hours will get to see the full variety of events.

Winners won’t be named until Sunday evening after each competitor in each event has been scored in that event twice.

In addition to the competitions taking place in the Watt Arena, a vendor area and an entertainment area will be set up in an adjoining building.

Edlin said each regional association has “royalty” — association members who have competed throughout the year and raised money for their associations to claim the Mr., Miss and Ms. Titles — and they will be entertaining throughout the day.

Nagel said that IGRA’s archives of the 35 years of gay rodeo and 25 years of international competition will be on display at the arena as well.

Dance has always been a big part of gay rodeo. Saturday night, a dance competition takes place at the host hotel.

Despite the fact that a Nevada sheriff shut down the finals in 1988 because area residents didn’t want “those type of people” in town, Edlin said the rodeo is a great place to bring kids.

“Gay rodeo is very family-oriented,” Edlin said. “It’s not cut-throat competition.”

Edlin has been involved since 1999.

“Friends took me to a gay rodeo in Calgary and I was hooked,” he said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”

Edlin said gay rodeo is so welcoming and family-oriented that a number of straight people participate in gay rodeo — including his straight son, a two-time Iraq War veteran who competes in chute-dogging and junior bull riding.

Nagel said TGRA has a number of straight members who enjoy the close friendships and fun.

“But the other side of all this is that we give money to the community,” he said.

Last year, the Dallas chapter of TGRA gave $30,000 to eight local groups including Resource Center Dallas and Youth First Texas. This year, he said, they’re already ahead in the amount they’ve collected. They’ll distribute  those funds in March.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: ‘Drag Race’ winner Raja premieres her 1st video, ‘Diamond Crowned Queen’

As Drag U gets under way, how perfect that last season’s winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race would have her debut video premiere. Raja (Sutan Amrull) debuted the video for her new single “Diamond Crowned Queen” on Friday. Even though the video is rather simple, it’s not shy on racy and sexy. In a myriad of outfits, Raja runs with the edgy drag shtick and even shows up without it. Although that I didn’t like. It kinda took me out of the illusion and Raja creates striking looks that are easy to stare at.

The song itself reminds me of a cross between early Nine Inch Nails and Jeffree Star. I think the song lacks some hook, but she’s definitely not delivering the obvious, which I can appreciate.

—  Rich Lopez

Class in session

Ru & crew, back for ‘Drag U,’ Season 2

RuPaulThere’s a difference between a TV show that is intentionally cheesy and one that induces cringes by mistake. Thankfully, RuPaul’s Drag U knows exactly what it’s doing, laying the puns on thicker than Jujubee’s makeup. They can still induce groans, but at least we’re all in on the joke.

After all, Drag U is all about the fun side of our favorite competitive drag queens. Leaving (most of) the drama over at the Drag Race, each week queen “professors” (including Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet, pictured) are tasked with making over three ordinary women and unleashing their inner divas, complete with drag personas and styling. On the line are sorta-fabulous prizes like jewelry, a vacation and a cash prize of $3,166.17 (seriously).

But it’s what the women gain in self-esteem that’s the most valuable parting gift, and don’t think the producers don’t know it. In the first episode alone, one of the women is trying to overcome the pain of having her ex-husband end their marriage via email; she, of course, learns “to love herself again” with the inducement of wigs and outrageous makeup. That’s some powerful Oprah-level stuff, but Ru, “Dean of Drag” Lady Bunny, guest judges like Beverly Johnson and the rest of the girls give advice that’s equal parts sassy and sincere.

The result? Incredible transformations at the end of an hour of deliciously fluffy television — and every one of these straight gals owes it to the gays. For anyone in withdrawals since Drag Race ended, or in love with makeovers, or just interested in learning more about one contestant’s husband’s “diesel mangina,” the second season of Drag U is more than deserving of a season pass on your DVR.

— Steven Lindsey

Premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Logo

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Drag Race’ tour hits S4 this month

As anyone who watches the show knows, one of the perks of winning RuPaul’s Drag Race is that the victor gets a victory lap … around the country. Raja will come to Dallas as part of the Drag Race/Absolut Vodka Tour later this month — on my birthday, no less. (Hold the applause.)

The tour kicks off in Denver on the 14th and goes to eight cities; the only Texas stop will be at Station 4 on Wednesday, May 26.

In addition to Raja, other queens from the show (names are not yet available) will be on hand, as will Absolut mixologist Justin Winters. We’re holding out hope someone from the “Pit Crew,” pictured, will make it, too. Sigh.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Casting under way for Season 4 of ‘Drag Race’

The bodies that Raja walked over while clawing her way to the top of RuPaul’s Drag Race aren’t even cold, and already the team is looking for more contestants for Season 4, which will begin airing in early 2012.

World of Wonder and Logo have begun their nationwide search for America’s next drag superstar — a title that, this year, came with a $75,000 cash prize and a lifetime supply of cosmetics. And since only the returning Shangela was on deck to represent Texas in Season 3, it’s about time we added some Lone Star glam to the mix.

If you want to lip-sync for your life, send an email to DragRace4Casting@gmail.com. And don’t fuck it up.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lady Raja

Raja
SHANTAY, SHE STAYED | Raja Gemini was announced this week as winner of Season 3 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’

‘Drag Race’ winner Raja had to keep a poker face for 8 months, but now she welcomes the papa, paparazzi

RuPaul’s Drag Race crossed the finish line this week, and the best woman won. Sutan Amrull, better known as Raja Gemini, kept her eye on the prize since the first episode and ended up being crowned the next drag superstar.

This 6-foot-3 Los Angelo, who is part Dutch and part Indonesian, is no stranger to reality television, having appeared on America’s Next Top Model as the show’s principal make-up artist and serving as Adam Lambert’s face painter for his tour. In short, Raja knows glam and glitter on the road.

After winning a close race, Raj was crowned the winner and rose early the day after to chat about his experience on the show.
— Jerry Nunn

Dallas Voice: How do you feel now that the experience is over? Raja Gemini: I don’t think it has really hit me. I have been keeping the secret since August, even from my parents. I didn’t even talk to my mom about it. She seems to have known, though. She said, “A mother always knows…”

Do you think the judges were fair? I think for the most part the judges were fair. I think Delta Work should have stayed longer. I don’t think they really understood her humor.

Did you have a favorite celebrity judge? There were a few of them. I couldn’t believe that my season had two of my greatest idols: Vanessa Williams and Jody Watley. Jody Watley was a style icon for me since I was a boy in junior high. I wanted to wear giant earrings when I saw her. For her to be there as one of the judges, and Vanessa Williams as well, was a really huge deal for me.

How old were you when you first did drag? Experimenting with it, probably about 15. I have been doing drag all of my life. I was that kid that played dress up all the time, wearing different sheets and dishtowels. I made costumes. I was really getting into it by 16 years old.

People are saying you were friends with RuPaul before the show. People have made a lot more [out of it] than it really is. I have been a makeup artist for a very long time and have crossed paths with a lot of people. Ru at one point lived in L.A. and was a big fan of the L.A. drag scene. She went to all of the shows and I would see her quite often. We weren’t friends where we would call each other up and talk about boy, financial or family problems — we were just aware of each other’s presence. That’s inevitable when you work within an industry. I wouldn’t even say that Ru and I were acquaintances.

Where did you learn makeup? I was actually an art student and went to University of Orange County in California. I tried to be a student and hated it. I decided to be a makeup artist and then a female impersonator!
What are your plans for the prize money?  Actually, I am going to spend it wisely. I am going to pay off all of my bills No. 1, and clean my plate. I will be able to focus on working now. I will be elaborating and creating a brand, if you will.

Some of the money must go back into your act and the latest outfit. You know, it really does. It is very true when they say, “You have to spend money to make money.” Drag is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. I am a pretty frugal drag queen and I love a bargain. I am definitely a thrift shopper. I love going to flea markets. It doesn’t always have to be that expensive.

Do you regret fighting with Shangela on the show? No, I love it. I love watching Drag Race and love, love, love watching Untucked as well. That’s my favorite thing! I watch it with all of my friends. We totally laugh and cackled at everything Shangela says. She is brilliant and super smart. She is a really great person. She has a bright future ahead of her.

So you don’t have beef with anyone on the show then? Not at all, not that I can think of…

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas