Alyssa Edwards talks about Camp TAZO, her new venture with Tazo Tea, and finding Oz

UPDATE: Watch the video to see Alyssa herself explain Camp Tazo:

Brandi Amara Skyy | Contributing Writer
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It’s easy to look at all the projects and accomplishments of someone famous and reduce it all to their Wikipedia page: Resides in Mesquite, TX. Miss Gay USofA 2006. Miss Gay America 2010. Breakout star of RuPaul’s Drag Race season five. Season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars. Dancing Queen.

That’s because a list of accomplishments always sounds better than the decades-long, never-ending list of to-dos, hard work and hustling it took to get there.

And it’s far easier to look at the highlight reel of someone like Alyssa Edwards and believe in the millennial dream of the overnight-insta-famous-influencer success story. But while it may seem like Alyssa was an overnight success to some of her newer fans — those who have joined team Alyssa since 2013 — Dallas, the city that loves her, and all her friends know differently.

The truth is Justin Johnson, the man behind Alyssa, has been working towards all of this since he picked up his first pair of dancing shoes. It is a point that he reiterated in my recent interview with him for The Drag Show Podcast. “My book of life has already been written,” he declared. “It’s just now being read out loud.”

I’d argue that “out loud” is an understatement. It’s more like his book is being blared over millions of loudspeakers all across the globe on a billion different frequency and channels. And what we’re seeing and experiencing now are the aftershocks of him believing 150 percent in himself and his abilities first and never compromising his integrity, even when that meant giving up a title and crown.

But that part — believing in yourself and jumping on your own bandwagon before anyone else does — is not easy.

Something else Justin admits is that it wasn’t an easy ride. “There were many chapters that were dark,” he said. “But I was steadfast, and I held tight to the hope for my future. … I weathered the storm, and you know, there were days I forgot my galoshes and my raincoat and umbrella, and I was soaking wet. But at the end of the day, I came home; I was blessed and fortunate enough to dry off and put on something warm.”

Coming out the other side of our own personal darkness, breaking out of your own comfort zones, and believing in the greater vision for yourself that only you can see — takes a lot of soul-searching and strength, just so happens to be the exact idea that Justin’s latest (and perhaps biggest and most important) brand collaboration expounds upon.

When TAZO Tea approached him, Justin was a bit a leery about taking on another big project — until he heard their tagline: “Brew the unexpected.” But what really sealed the deal was when he learned that TAZO wasn’t interested in telling him what to do, i.e. slapping the “IT” drag queen’s name on their big brand move and calling it a day. They wanted to dig deeper and get to know the things that Justin loved, the things that transformed his life.

The first thing that popped into Justin’s mind was “summer camp.” And just like that Camp TAZO, a three-day, all-things-Alyssa-Edwards extravaganza, was born — three days for people like us to see what unexpected and beautiful surprises percolate within ourselves, to break out of our routines, to try something new, and to be our out loud and proud selves.

The fact that a major brand like TAZO is bringing visible diversity to the forefront of their marketing efforts in a time when U.S. leaders are trying to erase diversity is not lost on me.

Nor is it lost on Alyssa, who declared, “I applaud TAZO for just being so open. This is very unique. We don’t hear things like this.”

Booker T. Washington said, “Success leaves footprints.” Camp TAZO is way for all of us who feel a bit different from the status quo and social norms — or those of us who want to break out of the norms that bind us — to step outside of ourselves and into the six-inch Louboutin stiletto heels of someone who has been brewing the unexpected in themselves for years and turning their tea into gold, and leave some big footprints of our own.

All I can say is if I got a year’s dose of wisdom in just our 30-minute conversation for The Drag Show Podcast, I can’t imagine the kinds of breakthrough and inspiration three full days doing the kinds of activities — dancing, kikis, maybe even a bit of drag? — that birthed the icon we all know and love will bring.

But Camp TAZO and Alyssa Edwards can only provide one part of the story — the experience, the space to transform and break free. The rest of our story is up to us.

But Alyssa has some wisdom for that part of the journey, too: “Just follow the yellow brick road and know that your yellow brick road is your yellow brick road, and there is an Oz, and you’re gonna get to obstacles, and it’s important not to give up, to find a way to maneuver around or over.”

Camp TAZO is our opportunity to explore and find our own Oz alongside a queen who’s all brains, all courage, all heart with a heavy dose of magic and humility brewed beyond belief and served to perfection.

Listen to the entire 30-minute The Drag Show Podcast interview with Alyssa Edwards here. For more on Camp Tazo and how you can participate, visit CampTazo.com.

Brandi Amara Skyy is a writer and coach for intersectional creative entrepreneurs and Queer/POC writers. Find out more about her at www.brandiamaraskyy.com