Gone are the days when gay bars and nightclubs were the only places to catch a drag show in Charlotte. Today, drag is everywhere, including traditionally straight spaces like drag brunch at restaurants, music bingo at breweries, and story hour at local libraries.
Most drag artists credit that growth to drag becoming more mainstream thanks to shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, but in reality, it’s because of local queens and kings who put in the work to create safe spaces where drag can flourish.
As the city gears up for Charlotte Pride, we reached out to some of these performers to learn their stories and what drag means to them.
Jaime Crespo had been involved in the drag scene for years but always backstage, so to speak, hosting shows, helping drag friends dress and serving as a Charlotte Pride board member and president of Charlotte Latinx Pride.
At the start of 2021, he decided to face his fears and step into the spotlight himself. The only problem was there wasn’t anyone for him to look up to.
“There wasn’t a Latinx king that was bigger bodied that could go out and do something like Jason Derulo or songs you typically see thinner, leaner individuals performing to, so I said, ‘Screw it. I’m going to be that person that I wanted to look up to,’” Crespo said.
Crespo debuted plus-size Salvadorian drag king Oso Chanel in May 2021.
Opposite of a drag queen, a drag king is usually someone who identifies as female out of drag but performs as male in drag. However, Crespo, who identifies as male and performs as male, is proof there are no rules.
Some might consider Oso a male lead, a male who performs male drag, but Crespo said the term doesn’t quite fit.
“My makeup, the femininity I brought to it, wasn’t something I could consider myself being a male lead because it went totally against what they brought,” Crespo said. “If I had to further classify myself, I would be a femme king.”
Backed by DKO Entertainment, Oso Chanel takes gender-bending further than the typical male lead or drag king by performing songs by both male and female artists such as Ginuwine, Jason Derulo, Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Shakira.
Crespo said he wants Oso to be a voice not only for the king community, which is often overshadowed by queens, but also performers who fall into the gray area in between.
“I’m more of an Elton John in the drag king community, but there are Adam Lamberts, there are Freddie Mercurys. The same way there’s variety for queens, there’s variety for kings,” Crespo said. “I want people to question what they’re seeing when I’m performing. I want them to realize I’m sending a message whether it’s for trans rights or just queer rights in general.”
Growing up in a traditional Latinx household, Crespo couldn’t express himself the way he wanted to and came out later in life. He needed someone to look up to. Oso showed him that person was inside him all along.
AKA: RC Goslee, 30
Upcoming shows: Aug. 12, CGN’s Gaymer Gathering at Carolina Esports Hub; Aug. 20, Brunch and Rave at Resident Culture South End; Aug. 20, Charlotte Pride Main Stage
Incorporating elements of both glamour and cosplay, RC Cola keeps crowds wondering what she’ll come dressed as next — Spiderwoman, Squirtle, Buzz Lightyear or Sully from Monsters Inc.?
Underneath the eyeshadow and the sequins is RC Goslee, a certified public accountant with a love of Pokémon and a knack for makeup, thanks to his cosmetologist mom.
Goslee debuted RC Cola in April 2021 at an event for Charlotte Gaymers Network (CGN), a local LGBTQ gamer organization where he serves as treasurer.
“I was bit by the performing bug and I fell in love with it,” said Goslee, who now produces and hosts CGN’s regular drag shows and brunches. “It’s like an adrenaline rush. As soon as they call your name and that music starts, it’s like boom. Let’s do this.”
He describes RC Cola as a glamour nerd, dancing queen and pop princess who combines top 40 songs with an element of cosplay — like when she performs “Levitating” by Dua Lipa dressed as Japanese anime character Sailor Moon.
Despite being fairly new to the Charlotte drag scene, RC Cola is already making a name for herself with the support of mentor and fellow queen Lolita Chanel. Both are backed by Onya Nerves’ DKO Entertainment, which hosts drag events around Charlotte.
When Goslee first moved to Charlotte six years ago, he said drag was mostly contained to gay bars and nightclubs, but has since worked its way into the mainstream. And there’s more diversity now with drag kings and alternative performers emerging onto the scene, he said.
“Drag can be pretty much anything and it’s at the discretion of the performer,” Goslee said. “When I go to a drag show I just ask myself, ‘What am I gonna see?’”
Growing up in a conservative suburb outside of Atlanta, drag was never something Goslee thought he’d be doing. He wasn’t in dance or theatre as a kid and he didn’t come out as gay until college.
Being RC Cola tapped into a passion for performance Goslee didn’t realize he had — or maybe it was there all along, repressed due to his fear of being too flamboyant and accidentally outed at a young age.
“Now it’s very liberating and basically I can do whatever I want,” Goslee said.
The only question is, what will he have RC Cola do next?
AKA: Nic Booher, 34
Upcoming shows: Aug. 19, Ink N Ivy; Aug. 20, Brunch At Angeline’s; Aug. 20, Day party at Merchant and Trade; Aug. 20, Ink N Ivy; Aug. 20, DJing in the Pride parade
A difficult coming out experience as a kid left Nic Booher yearning for a family-like support system as an adult, so he created his own.
Enter The Vanity House, a collective that specializes in drag queen events and is home to queens Erica Chanel, Ariana Venti and Riley Malicious.
Booher started Vanity House with his husband in 2018 as a way to combine his background in hair, makeup, event planning and music.
“It was so important that I started to find my own family within my drag house and gave that opportunity to other people as well,” Booher said. “I wanted anybody to feel like they could come to our shows and feel like they’re Vanity family because that’s something I felt like I missed.”
It would be almost two years from then that Booher finally debuted Vanna Vanity, a DJing drag diva and sassy Southern gal who charms everyone she meets. Booher said it was initially nerve-racking to come out as a queen, but the response thus far has been overwhelming.
“Vanna is very much my superhero that gives me strength to do a lot of things that Nic can’t do. She can take it that extra step,” Booher said. “People that I would be nervous to talk to, Vanna can just walk up and talk to.”
Vanna can be seen spinning live mixes of house, EDM pop, disco, ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s music at Vanity House events and venues across the city. This fall, she’ll DJ a festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Being Vanna is the platform Booher said he always wanted as a kid. Growing up in rural Virginia, he used to perform on his front porch and pretend he was a popstar.
“Miss Vanna has made that become a reality,” he said. “And to know that I’m going to be playing festivals this fall for thousands of people, it’s made my little gay heart explode.”
Booher thinks his obsession with the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire as a child pushed him toward theatre and the idea of being someone else. Growing up to do drag, he said it all makes sense.
“It’s very much my theatre kid getting to finally break out and be a theatre kid and do show choir all at one time,” he said.
Though Booher’s parents eventually accepted him, they’ve yet to see him perform as Vanna. Luckily, he said his extended family and in-laws are supportive of his drag career and he feels at home at The Vanity House.
Through drag, Booher found the family and acceptance he yearned for, and Vanna found her groove.
AKA: Lester Arnold, Jr., 28
Upcoming shows: Aug. 12, Creepchella at Snug Harbor; Aug. 18, Charlotte Beer Garden; Aug. 20, Creepshow Charlotte Pride After Party at Skylark Social Club; Aug. 21, Billy Sunday at Optimist Hall
For inspiring alternative drag queen Misster, Lester Arnold says we can thank sorceress Rita Repulsa, one of the main antagonists of the Power Rangers franchise. She was Arnold’s first cosplay character and sparked his passion for portraying villainesses.
“I love a strong, evil woman who knows what she wants,” he said.
Cosplaying eventually led to performing and, in late 2017, Arnold debuted Misster, his very own supervillain. He describes Misster as a sultry pop culture junkie who is not afraid to play with gender and expression and pushes the boundaries of what drag artistry can look like.
Misster has since become a leader in Charlotte’s growing alt drag scene, which is distinguished from traditional drag by its emphasis on fantasy, gothic and grunge-inspired looks. Arnold said he initially tried to be a traditional queen, but received pushback because he wanted to keep his beard.
The alt drag community allowed Arnold more room for personal expression and freedom to portray androgynous characters.
“It goes back to the more punk, underground idea of what drag used to be back in the day,” he said. “It was counter culture whereas nowadays, with capitalism and RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag has become a little sanitized. It lost the edge it used to have, which I think you still get with the alt community.”
Rather than play by the rules, Arnold created his own scene. In 2018, he and fellow queen Vegas Van Dank founded alt-based drag show Carolina Creepshow that’s less top 40 hits, flips, tricks and splits, and more storytelling, creativity and artistry.
Creepshow books performers traditional drag shows often won’t, such as drag kings, trans men, and queens who identify as women.
“Creepshow just started as a celebration of outcasts and the weirdos that don’t fit in because, even in the gay community, you still feel like an outcast if you don’t fit this certain idea of how you’re supposed to look or act or enjoy art,” Arnold said.
In creating Misster, Arnold created the ultimate strong, evil woman who knows what she wants: to blaze her own path and inspire others to do the same.
AKA: Emory Sloan, 28
Upcoming shows: Aug. 14, Brunch at Queen Park Social; Aug. 19, Ink N Ivy; Aug. 20, Brunch At Angeline’s; Aug. 20, Day party at Merchant and Trade; Aug. 20, Ink N Ivy; Aug. 20, Charlotte Pride Main Stage
When Emory Sloan came out to his parents, their only request was that he not dress up like a woman. At the time he had never planned to, but eventually his love of musical theatre and dancing pulled him toward drag.
In 2012, he debuted Erica Chanel, a lady with a love for luxury labels and a passion for the people, and he hasn’t looked back since. Thankfully, his parents are now his biggest supporters.
“I remember going out there and I was like, ‘This is what I’m meant to do,’” Sloan said. “I can’t really explain it because it was such an unreal feeling being this totally different character because, me in drag and out of drag, I’m like two completely different people.
“Once the wig and the lashes are on I’m like Sasha Fierce,” he continued, referring to Beyoncé’s sensual, aggressive alter ego. “I can do whatever I want to do. It gives me a lot more confidence to be more outgoing, be outspoken, which I would never do in my day-to-day life.”
Erica Chanel is part of The Vanity House, a Charlotte-based collective headed by Vanna Vanity and home to fellow drag queens Ariana Venti and Riley Malicious. Sloan describes Chanel’s performance style as high energy and old-school drag mixed with new-school drag — with a lot of Beyoncé.
“You’re gonna get the splits, and the dips and the twirls from me but also I have a more sultry side where I can do the power ballads — Celine Dion, Whitney Houston,” he said.
As a Black queen in the South, Sloan said there weren’t as many opportunities when he began performing as Chanel. Though white queens continue to dominate the drag scene, Sloan said diversity and inclusion are improving as more Black queens step into the spotlight and demand their art to be seen.
For Sloan, performing as Erica Chanel is about more than just dressing up like a woman. He said drag brings joy and a sense of leaving your problems outside. It creates a judgment-free space where you can be whomever you want and everyone is loving and accepting.
“You could be in the worst mood ever and come to a drag brunch and just know that we’re going to make you laugh, we may make you cry, but when you leave that brunch your spirits will be lifted,” Sloan said.
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