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Pride Guide 2019: Performers to Check For

Pride can be fun for a bunch of reasons, but we’re here for the music. Head to the Wells Fargo Stage at South Tryon and Stonewall streets to see these 12 performers on Saturday and Sunday. (All photos courtesy of Charlotte Pride)

Amara La Negra

A breakout star on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Miami; an electrifying entertainer who has shared stages with Latin legends Tito Puente and Oscar de Leon and a fearless advocate who routinely speaks out about race and sexuality, Amara La Negra still pisses off some people simply by existing. The 27-year-old singer ruefully describes the racist pushback she’s encountered: “Too black to be Latina, too Latina to be black.”

Born Diana Danelys De los Santos in Miami to parents of Italian and Dominican descent, she deliberately includes “Negra” in her stage name because the term is a pejorative in many Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic included. Claiming the language of oppression and turning it on its head is just one aspect of La Negra’s activism. If La Negra’s appearance and outspokenness push against prejudicial barriers, her soulful and militant Afro-Latin dance pop ups the ante. She challenges assumptions about race and gender, applying powerful feminine energy to traditionally macho genres like reggaeton, Latin hip-hop, favela funk and dembow. Her recent singles and videos “What a Bam Bam” and “Insecure” are smart, sexy and danceable, illustrating a contemporary yet timeless confluence of Cardi B and Celia Cruz.

When: Sunday, August 18; 4:30 p.m.


Asia O’Hara

There’s flamboyant and then there’s Asia O’Hara. The drag queen, costume designer and reality television personality attracted the ire of PETA, Ru Paul and the VH1 network during the season 10 finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race when she attempted to release a swarm of live butterflies from her costume. Spoiler alert: it did not end well for the insects. Taking her cue from exotic Egyptian and Aztec goddesses, O’Hara has crafted other outlandish outfits including a yellow feathered costume inspired by the Warner Brothers cartoon character Tweety Bird.

Born Antwan Mason Lee, O’Hara grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas, where she helped raise her five sisters. The showbiz bug bit O’Hara hard in high school, where she performed in band, color guard and theater. She’s since gone on to win three national drag pageant titles, and in 2016 she was crowned Miss Gay America.

From her humble beginnings, O’Hara has gone on to television fame and entrepreneurial success. An accomplished makeup artist, O’Hara has launched Helen of Seven, a couture company where she creates and designs custom costumes for dance teams, color guards, ice skaters and drag queens. O’Hara’s career is a true rags-to-fabulous outfits story.

When: Saturday, Aug. 17; 7 p.m.


Betty Who

It turns out that independence is a feature, not a bug, in Betty Who’s career. The bold and brassy R&B singer of Queer Eye’s second-season theme song inked a deal with RCA in 2014 and subsequently scored a string of hits that catapulted her into Billboard’s Hot 100 and Dance Club charts. Then in 2017, at the crest of her commercial impact, she walked away to become an indie artist. The move resulted in Who’s 2019 release Betty, a showcase of her most heartfelt, introspective and eclectic music to date. The gutsy decision is characteristic of Who, born Jessica Anne Newham in Sydney, Australia.

Who originally set out on a classical music career, picking up the cello at age four and moving to America in her teens to study the instrument at Berklee College of Music in Boston. But she was also enamored with larger-than-life pop divas like Robyn and Katy Perry. While still at school, Who met producer Peter Thomas and the pair started developing material together. In the end, pop’s siren song won out, and Who devised a sound that entwined carefully crafted songwriting with addictive synth pop hooks. Since then, Who continues to break through stylistic barriers.

When: Saturday, August 17; 9 p.m.


Chasers Drag Review

Regular old gender-bending drag competitions? That’s so 2010. We’re on to the next thing, which in the case of the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, means species-bending, fantastical darkness. Season 3 of the OUTtv reality series features more drag competitions that work in the realm of the undead, monsters and being buried alive. This is not like any drag competition you’ve ever seen.

This Pride review will feature Abhora, reigning Drag Queen of the Year and drag supermonster. Her winning portrait shows her decked out in a dress that includes body organs, a new take on accessorizing. Abhora will be joined on stage by fellow performers like Vegas Van Dank, Misster, Skylar Michele Monet, Erica Chanel, Angela Lopez, Riley Malicious and Rosè Zaye.

When: Saturday, Aug. 17; 4 p.m.


Courtney Lynn & Quinn

Courtney Lynn Russell and Jocelyn Quinn Russell have been busy lately. After a packed first half of the year between live performances, adding a new member and stepping into the studio for their first full-length with drummer Steven Cornacchia and bassist Luke Barnette, the Charlotte-based band is taking to Charlotte Pride’s Wells Fargo Stage on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

With Quinn backing up Courtney Lynn on vocals, their voices and lyrics layer and weave in and out with one another easily, as if they’ve been singing together their whole lives. While supported by experts Cornacchia and Barnette, the two have finally rounded out their sound and added an extra dimension of sound with the recent addition of Barnette.

The upcoming EP, Remiss, is a turn away from Courtney Lynn’s 2016 solo project, Wander Years. With more soul in their sound and more years of life experience under their belts, Courtney Lynn & Quinn are set to explore the underlying theme of “remiss,” whether it be lacking self-care or lacking care in your relationships. Don’t be remiss in catching their new EP when it drops.

When: Saturday, August 17; 3:30 p.m.


Gia Woods

Centering on rippling synths, languid beats and Gia Woods’ smoky purr of a voice, “Only a Girl” was the Persian pop goddess’s big breakthrough in 2015. The accompanying video garnered over 10 million views, but Woods was particularly focused on two of those viewers — her mother and father. The video is more than dreamy images of queer eroticism on the tennis court. It was Woods’ official coming out to her parents.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Woods channeled her interest in music into playing the violin when she was a kid, and later teaching herself how to play guitar. Woods bypassed college to pour her energy into honing her songwriting and a signature sound that entwines sultry pop with the kind of experimental quirks essayed by Lorde.

“Only a Girl” represents just the first step in Woods’ self-discovery. Subsequent singles like “Feel It” and “One Big Party” examine freedom along with the frisson of anxiety that comes from experiencing life without a safety net. Fans are grateful that her music has inspired them to explore and accept their sexuality, yet Woods looks beyond being a member of LGBTQ pop’s holy trinity of Hayley Kiyoko, Zolita and herself. “My sexuality … is a part of me,” she recently told pop culture website i-D. “But I don’t think that is all of me.”

When: Sunday, August 18; 4 p.m.


Kameron Michaels

After earning a runner-up title in season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Michaels went on to release her own music video single, “Freedom.” Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, and identifying as a muscle queen because of her body-building hobby, Michaels is one of only a handful of queens to go on to release their own music. In the music video, over bumping beats and staccato synth, Michaels sends positive messages throughout the drag community and beyond about being comfortable in your own skin and embracing who you truly are. Because what would Pride be without self-love and acceptance?

But it wouldn’t be a drag show performance without lip-syncing, an entertainment category in which Michaels excels. During her time on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she set multiple lip-syncing records. This has earned her the name, “Lip Sync Assassin,” after eliminating other contestants through a sudden-death lip syncing challenge. Catch her lip-syncing prowess and the recent single, “Freedom,” on the Wells Fargo Stage.

When: Saturday, August 17; 7:30 p.m.


Kotic Couture

Something new and something fresh is probably the best way to describe Baltimore-based rapper Kotic Couture. With lyrics and one-liners as colorful as his makeup, Kotic Couture toes the line between club music and cruising tunes. Starting out DJing eighth grade and high school dances, Kotic Couture had to work harder to overcome the bias of how he presented himself.

While it’s not easy to break out in a scene that might balk at a black, gay rapper who wears makeup, Kotic Couture took his hard work and undeniable talent and turned it into success and a prolific backlog of music on Soundcloud. Diary of a Dreamer is the latest EP release, which dropped in May 2019, and takes a more serious turn from his previous releases. While Kotic Couture had previously released music asking for beef and touting his excellence, Diary of a Dreamer delves into more emotional and introspective lyrics, as shown in “Intro,” the first track of the EP.

“I promised myself as the librarian of my heart, I would never allow it to be rented,” his voice echoes over silence of the track.

When: Sunday, August 18; 3 p.m.


Kristen Merlin

Kristen Merlin has received some odd looks for diving into the country genre despite being from Boston, Massachusetts. But Merlin’s voice more than makes up for her unconventional roots. With a sweet twang and smooth vocals over her acoustic guitar, Merlin finished top five in season six of TV-singing competition The Voice.

Merlin’s slow-burning covers of tunes like “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town and “Marry Me” by Train show off her talent and ability to draw in listeners through somber lyrics paired with vocals dripping with emotion.Her December 2018 single, “Don’t Call It a Comeback,” is a classic example of a modern country song. With nods to Johnny Cash and drinking wine at night with a significant other, it slides right into the country genre’s repertoire of bittersweet love songs.

While there aren’t many other country singers out there that are openly gay — see Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally — Merlin noted in an interview with AfterEllen.com that she hopes her involvement in country music will break the genre’s mold.

When: Sunday, August 18; 3:30 p.m.


MAX

To say it’s been one hell of a year for MAX would be an understatement. Though the musician-artist-actor-dancer-model has been enjoying success since releasing his debut album Hell’s Kitchen Angel in 2016 — touring the world multiple times, getting featured alongside Madonna in a Dolce & Gabbana campaign and starring in critically acclaimed films and TV shows — people are really taking notice in 2019.

As MAX prepares for his sophomore release, he’s been a 2019 iHeart Music Awards “Best New Pop Artist” nominee and called a top popstar by Billboard, not to be outdone by GQ, which called him a “Young Pop-God.” We may stop short of calling anyone a deity in these pages, but MAX will have the crowd swooning with his smooth voice and relatable storytelling. Though he said it was his honesty that shot him to stardom with the release of his single “Lights Down Low,” MAX said he’s just “scratching the surface” of the emotional well. “The new music continues to dive deeper into spreading a message of being true to who you are, wearing what you want to wear, loving who you want to love, and being accepting,” he said.

When: Saturday, August 17; 8 p.m.


TT the Artist

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, TT the Artist came into her own as an artist of multiple mediums in Baltimore, where she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art. She tried the NYC life after graduating, but returned to the community she connected with most in B-More, where she then went on to grow her innovative style of both art and live music performances.

As a musician, the “Queen of the Baltimore Club Scene” mixes her roots into a blend of Baltimore club and Miami bass, with a good bit of hip-hop, EDM and R&B thrown in for good measure. Her single “Payroll” goes heavy on the hip-hop aspect, as her intense delivery hits harder over a chill, soothing beat. The visuals for the song show why TT the Artist lives up to her name, as she’s recently been expanding her interests into filmmaking and directing. She’ll soon debut her first feature-length film, Dark City Beneath the Beat, about the Baltimore club and dance culture. As for the Pride performance, expect TT to bring that Baltimore essence to Charlotte, as she’ll bring her dance crew and put on a show unlike anything you’ll see over the weekend.

When: Saturday, August 17; 7:30 p.m.


UNISEX

Billed as Charlotte’s only LGBTQ+ rock cover band, UNISEX is all about diversity, inclusion and bringing people together through music. The band is made up of (in their own words) hairy beast and proud trans man Mac on vocals; lost hippy child, smooth character and Rainbrow Brite fashionista Froman Howard on bass; proud trans woman and raunchy rocker chick with a wicked sense of humor Andi on lead guitar; and brother pastor church aka Bruce Vayne aka the Batman on drums.

When: Saturday, August 17; 3 p.m.

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