At last year’s Miss’d America Drag Pageant at the Borgata in Atlantic City, previous winner Mimi Imfurst performed “American Idiot” backed by videos of Trump committing faux pas, Mimi also making a point by sardonically throwing paper towels at the crowd. The same night, Tina Burner came in third by wearing a blue (state) gown, doing a “resist” tap number, and skewering Trump in the Q&A section.
Well, that was then. Contestants for this year’s event—a gala benefit for LGBTQ charities—were sent a notice that the Borgata didn’t want them to do political performances, and that they have “a very diverse clientele,” after all. Since there weren’t any Pro-Trump performances last year, I can only gather that there are people who pay to watch a drag show slash benefit for queers, but who are offended by someone mocking the faux patriotism of Trump, who’s against LGBTQ rights. And the queens have to cater to them!
When I asked pageant writer-director Mark Dahl, about this, he said the Borgata simply didn’t want a repeat of last year’s theme, which was America, so they went with a (safer) Broadway theme—but “you can’t have a drag pageant without political content,” he added.
How true. There was no political stuff in this Saturday’s talent section (unless you count an anti-bullying number or Cabaret songs), but host Carson Kressley managed to get in sly digs at Ted Cruz and Chris Christie. Contestant Margeaux Powell’s anti-gun work was omitted from Kressley’s narration of her evening gown strut, but she was given a politically tinged query in the Q&A section and attempted to answer in kind.
And another entrant, Shelby Late, was asked a Melania Vs. Stormy question and replied that Melania’s complacence in the wake of her husband’s doings is just wrong, while Stormy impressively pushes envelopes. For all I know, she was wearing Nikes. She came in second, and the winner was Adriana Trenta, who performed a stunning dance-lipsync. I congratulated her and she responded, “It’s been a while since you fell asleep during my first number in the So You Think You Can Drag? contest.”
Lies! I only fell asleep during her second number. More lies! Adriana’s actually fabulous, and told me she is political, she cares about the children, and she’s going to vote by proxy because she lives in Massachusetts. I hope next year’s theme is America again—and if it’s Broadway again, they should all do scenes from Hamilton.
A Backstreet Boy With a Backdoor Boyfriend
Yes, there are oppressions in Britain, too. Aaron Paul was the lead singer for the British group Worlds Apart, founded by Simon Cowell in the 1990s. As they achieved four Top 30 songs in the U.K., not only did Aaron have to stay in the closet, he had to contend with the fact that he was the only band member that could actually sing! It’s all documented in Aaron’s new book, I Don’t Care! Lessons in Life, Love, Music, and Boybands, cowritten with Nathan James. I talked to Aaron—with whom I’ve recorded a remake of the Diana Ross hit “Muscles”—about why he said “Bye, bye, bye” to that life.
Hi, Aaron. So, Worlds Apart was a multi-culti boy band?
Yes. Every member had to appeal to a different race. I’m biracial. They said they auditioned like 10,000 people. I thought, “You picked these guys?”
They weren’t talented?
Not at all. One was. He had dance training and martial arts training. One was a model. The others were guys off the street. Apparently, one of the managers of the group took a shine to one of them. They were good-looking guys, but in terms of any kind of talent, nothing—except one. I recorded all the vocals, including the backgrounds, by myself. At live shows, none of their mics were ever live. Imagine you’re doing a radio interview and they say, “We’ve got Worlds Apart in the studio and they’re gonna sing a cappella.” I’d start it off and they’d go ahead and chime in, and you had to imagine the mess. I’d be cringing, “Oh, my God.” No matter how much Simon Cowell said, “Aaron is the singer, I don’t want you singing,” they thought they were pop stars. That’s the tragedy, believing your hype. Some promoters would have live mics for us. Can you imagine that? I remember Wembley—I waited my whole life to get there and every mic was on! I can hear those croaking toads. Five opinions, five egos, everyone wants to be the star, and their mothers want their sons to be the star.
Were you eased out or did you leave?
I left. Two of them became my brothers because you spend time together, and they couldn’t take it, so they left. Basically I was left with the idiots. I said, “Fuck it, I’m going to America,” so I moved to New York. They pressured me to do one last tour of Germany for 50,000 pounds. I said, “I have to have my own tour bus—yes, I’m being a diva right now—and I want to bring a companion. I can’t bear to be in a bus with these guys.” They agreed to that, but they didn’t tell me I’d have to pay for this with my own royalties! I got a check for only 15,000 pounds!
How many of your bandmates were gay?
At the time, I didn’t know any of them were. One of them seemed to have bisexual tendencies, but I never saw anything go down with it. He was just a flirtatious guy, that was his personality. I came to find out later that one of the members who had a mental breakdown is gay.
And you? How did you deal with your sexuality?
I kept it a big secret for a year and a half. I was 19, I’d left home, found this whole underground gay circuit going on in London, and had an older boyfriend, then I got signed. So I had to keep him hidden. They were spending millions of dollars and the lead singer is gay! Also, my father’s Jamaican, and they have an angry anti gay attitude. If my dad found out, it would be World War III. But when I came to America and decided to live my life, I told him, and he was actually okay with it. He was just proud. His son’s a pop star and everyone paid him attention because of it.
Don’t you think the girl fans could have handled you being gay?
Yeah. The ones I got close with didn’t bat an eyelid. They like me for me. I was always the one who was hands on with them. I’d camp out with them—sneak out of the hotel and drive around with them. I had more fun with them than with the band, that was my escape. To this day, they’re still very loyal. I get off the plane and there’s still 20 girls waiting at the airport. But there’s this whole hierarchy that goes on. The higher tier bullies the lower tier. There were girls petrified to talk to me because the other girls would say, “If you talk to him, we’ll beat you up.” But we could have our pick. I’d have no interest. The guys would pick and party with the girls, and their mothers were literally throwing their daughters at us.
Did young gays throw themselves at you too?
Yeah, a couple of them, but I was so under the radar and petrified of anyone finding out.
I remember ducking and diving at [NYC gay bar] Splash to avoid this British TV presenter who was there–the biggest queen you ever saw. I was literally hiding under the seats. “Don’t let him see me!” The third year, I revealed my gayness to a couple of members and they were fine. I told my manager, who was always so gay. No one said anything, really. I was openly gay within the group, but not to the fans. I was living this kind of double life. That’s no premise for a relationship. He obviously couldn’t keep it in his pants. I was a good boy, but naïve, still figuring out this whole gay life and did I want to be a part of it. Only when I got to New York, did I fully embrace who I really was. “Wow, does this exist? I’m free!”
Can boy banders be openly gay today?
Oh, yes. Times have changed so much. When I came back as a solo artist, I used my true self to elevate me. I want to appeal to the gay community but still make it mainstream. But I would tell a young guy, “If you feel you want to come out, go ahead. But my advice is to establish yourself as an artist, then come out. I’m proud to be LGBT, but it doesn’t define my every movement. But you’re safer now than when I was doing it. You can get away with it.”
Kinky Glitter Boots
Hey, open gays: The tightest, most high energy hour in town is Kink Haus, an experimental work by performance artist Gunnar Montana, who stars with five equally great dancers at La MaMa. Spanning topics like drugs, sex, love, gay stereotyping, drag, and even bashing, the show is a kinetic swirl of movement that grabs you and doesn’t let go, as the word “FAGGOT” looms in lights onstage. Whenever you’re called that, one segment advises us, simply imagine that you’ve been called “fabulous.” Okay, in that case, this show is faggot! (And it’s political too.)
Cher and Cher Alike
A lot of people are in Cher’s video for ABBA’s “SOS”—like Betty Who and Trace Lysette—but not Cher. The result is what people are finding a moving treatment of women’s relationships to each other. But I hear Cher was in the video, she simply pulled her footage because she didn’t like the way she looked. No jokes about face-pulling, please.