The New York’s Next Top Drag Queen contest returned for a 5th season on Thursday, March 9 at its regular home, The Metropolitan Room. Ten daring performers are competing for the honor this year, and they are a widely varied group as to age, experience and style. Which one will please the judges most over the next six weeks is the question.
Those judges include chief judge and co-producer Joseph Macchia, last year’s winner, Shirley U Jest, Adam Shapiro, Doris Dear, Witti Repartee, and Vicki Bouffant. Drag legend Ruby Rims is serving as a mentor to the competitors. As each of the contestants performed, the judges offered up criticisms and suggestions that were always encouraging and specific, whether concerning make-up, costuming, song selection or working the cabaret room. Hosting the show was the whimsical, sharp-tongued and fast-thinking Holly Dae who kept the nearly two-hour program moving.
One of the unique things about this contest is that all the queens sing live, some to tracks and some to the accompaniment of the versatile pianist Yasuhiko Fukuoka (“Yaz”). It quickly became apparent that those contestants who chose the live option fared better, and the judges urged the others to take that route in the future.
For the season debut, the singers had drawn papers with previous episodes’ themes on them. It was up to them to find an appropriate song to meet the category.
The glamorous Diana Carfire, having been assigned “Air”, offered up the most dramatic delivery of the evening with a version of “Skyfall.” Ms. Bella Noche, having drawn “Aladdin”, offered up “One Jump Ahead.” She had some problems keeping up to the musical track, but looked great in a self-designed harem costume. Jenna Fitz, from Tennessee, participating in her first competition, drew “Whitney Houston” and tore the place apart with “How Will I Know.” Emi Grate, who had travelled to the United States from Burma, had to choose a song from “The ’90s” and showed off her powerful voice with “Love You More.”
Easy Mac, making her drag debut, chose “Madonna” and offered up a wonderfully bizarre version of “Like a Virgin,” beginning in Biblical garb (yes, she went there) and then revealing a more Madonna-like outfit underneath. Bella Lemay also went for the twisted approach, having picked “Mary Poppins,” in a sweet mezzo offered a medley of “Feed the Birds” and “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” for hilarious results.
Being assigned “Bette Midler,” Celah Doore, who has been doing drag for 6 years, channeled both the legendary performer’s look and sound, working the room while belting “I Put a Spell on You.” The youngest competitor, 20-year-old Constance Busti-ae, returning to the contest for the third year, was given another show biz legend, “Carol Channing,” to whom she paid tribute with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” though somewhat surprisingly she chose the Marilyn Monroe arrangement to perform to.
Having done drag for less than a year, Cherry Poppins appropriately drew the “Disney” category and offered up a medley of pretty much every Princess’s “I want” song while decked out in a long red wig and peasant costume. Finally, Mildred Scrodom offered up old-school drag in a clever comic turn of a trailer trash slut of a certain age, and, having been assigned “The ’70s” offered up her very personal version of “To All the Boys I Loved Before.”
The contest, and the fun, continues every Thursday through April 13 at The Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St. in Manhattan at 7:00 pm. There is a $12 cover plus a $15 minimum from the bar and food menu. www.MetropolitanRoom.com
Photos by Mark Wallis