New York’s Next Top Drag Queen Contest

April 20, 2014

NY's Next Top Drag Queen ContestPerhaps taking his cue from the success of the club’s summer MetroStar Talent Challenge, the Metropolitan Room’s Joseph Macchia—one of the busiest cabaret producers on the scene—has come up with “New York’s Next Top Drag Queen Contest,” now in its second year. It runs every Monday night until the winner is crowned on May 5.

The last I heard, tolerance etiquette was phasing out the term “drag queen,” which some people find offensive. However, the talented eight contestants who performed the night I attended seemed not to mind at all.

However, my research—I’m not an expert on the art form—revealed the surprising information (to me) that drag performers are not necessarily trying to impersonate women. I was curious about this because, as talented as the contestants were, some were obviously men in costume—while the makeup and dress were exaggeratedly feminine, most of the voices were clearly male.

Among the crowded field of talent contests that have invaded the television airways and now the clubs, each often has an angle that sets it apart from another contest. Here, all the performers sing live (and mostly successfully)—no lip-synching here, which has often been the specialty of drag performers. There was a great variety of musical styles among the final eight, although the theme was very broadly Broadway.

One element that the judges did not take into consideration in their mostly insightful comments was the fact that some sang live with piano accompaniment (Tracy Stark playing) while others sang to tracks. The difficulty of singing to live music, after perhaps just one or two run-throughs with Stark before the show, cannot be overstated in comparison to someone who has been able to stage and practice her routine countless times to an unchanging track.

An early crowd favorite appeared to be statuesque Crystal Demure, who not only had the voice, but a great look—a black velvet jacket on top, her long, sleek legs in hose and a chiffon train in back. Her routine was perfectly choreographed, from her hand gestures to her batting eyelashes and come-hither smile. The material, too, was terrific—a medley of “Pure Imagination” (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley) and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Leo Robin, Jule Styne). But again, Crystal sang to a track, following the less fortunate Destiny Devine, who sang, somewhat tentatively at times, the demanding “Somewhere” (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim) to live accompaniment.

If being convincingly female were the criterion, my vote would go to Mica, who was the epitome of female grace in both voice and demeanor, through her lengthy patter (criticized roundly by the judges) to her heartfelt rendition of “Out Here on My Own” (Michael and Lesley Gore). Sapphira Cristal (I think it’s time to retire variations of “Crystal” as a drag name) shimmered in a drop-dead gorgeous red gown—and it didn’t hurt that she looked an awful lot like a young Diana Ross—but her musical selection may have been ill-advised: a leadenly slow version of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” (Hammerstein & Kern).

True to her name, Terra Terra Grenade exploded onto the stage with a dynamite version of “Sweet Transvestite” (Richard O’Brien). With her long black mane and butt cheeks showing, along with her strong, manly voice, Terra was not unlike that other gay favorite, Cher.

Sasha Pierce had perhaps the most awe-inspiring vocal of the night. Standing at the mic stand, she tiptoed into “Maybe This Time” (Kander & Ebb) and I wasn’t sure she’d make it to the big ending. However, she layered the song nicely from verse to verse and, indeed, shook the rafters by the time she reached the closing note.

Finally, closing out the night, redhead Honey LaBronx got points for comedy and improv. Performing “Here I Am” (David Yazbek), the mic became disengaged from the wire, but she kept going, throwing out witty lines while she pulled it all together. She was also the only one that gave as well as she received, throwing good-natured shade back at the judges. When a judge noted that she missed a few lines because of the mishap, LaBronx countered, “They told me to do a few lines downstairs.”

The one who was let go after the votes were tallied was the adorable, pint-sized, and dimpled blonde, Flippe Kikee. She had chosen the very challenging “I’m the Greatest Star” (Bob Merrill, Jule Styne). Her pitch was all over the place and she was at times like a deer in the headlights—a shame, because she’s a true original in terms of look and personality. Again, she was hampered by singing live and, while admitting the failures were her own fault, said she had wanted to change the key before the performance but there was no time. Poor dear.

In addition to Macchia himself, permanent judges are Frankie C of Odyssey Magazine and Arsenio Amadis, 2013 Mr. Eagle Leather. Other performers are guest judges, including more established drag artists.

Drag has long been a part of cabaret’s history, and it is only fitting that there be a contest to showcase these unique talents. Macchia, in producing an American Idol-style show for them, has perhaps not come up with the most original idea in the world, but this variation on a tried-and-true formula will still have you cheering.

Metropolitan Room  –  Mondays, through May 5


About the Author

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for, and freelances for other publications.