Alaska shows true, inclusive (zebra) stripes with her Drag Queen of the Year show
Amid a sea of hand-poured candles and collections of zebra fashions (pronounced "zebb-ra," ma'am), there are currently two crowns in Alaska's possession: The one she won on RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars 2, and the other she's set to give away at Sunday's Drag Queen of the Year pageant. It's a fitting symbol for her place in the drag industry as an all-powerful icon at the top of her game using her unyielding reign to spread the wealth and expand the scope of the medium to the next generation.
"The crown arrived today... it's so beautiful," Alaska tells EW, marveling at the thought of placing it atop one of eight diverse competitors — from transgender showgirls to bearded burlesque performers — contending for the title (and a $10,000 prize) at this weekend's show. "We're only crowning one winner, but the things that I've seen people do with this platform and this stage [during] this experiment, no matter what happens and no matter who wins, everyone can take this and run with it. The inspiration that they're putting out there is going to keep affecting people in positive ways."
What began in 2019 as a fluid study mashing entertainers of all kinds into one competitive space has since evolved into a timely reflection of the world we live in, as Alaska and co-creator Lola LeCroix (who rose to prominence alongside Alaska on the Pittsburgh drag scene) have spent weeks adapting their experimental drag pageant for the pandemic era.
Beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 p.m. PT on Sessions Live, the 2021 Drag Queen of the Year ceremony will mix live segments filmed from a studio in Los Angeles with pre-recorded vignettes featuring the contestants in their respective elements, all to "outstanding" results that pushes the boundaries of what a mainstream drag competition can be — both in terms of casting and presentation.
"To me, it was natural and made sense [to be inclusive], because I don't know about other drag queens, but I've always shared a dressing room with a drag king over there, this girl does burlesque, this girl is trans, but she does drag... it wasn't whacko in the culture of drag to see people who have a different drag perspective or history working together," she says. "To me, it was natural.... isn't it absurd that there are so many rules?"
Among Alaska and LeCroix's crop of maverick rulebreakers are Chiquitita, a Brooklyn-based transgender performer; Lucy Stoole, a Chicago queen who describes themself as an "International Black Bearded Beauty;" beloved drag king Tenderoni, and Jake DuPree, a lingerie-loving "boylesque" artist with big muscles and an even bigger stage presence. And seeing them all together in one space is an unprecedented (at least in the mainstream) act of defiance that Alaska hopes can bring about a change in the way queer artistry is digested by the masses.
"It's about inspiration and it's especially inspiring to see the work that these performers are doing, especially considering the state of the world and the state of drag, nightlife, and entertainment," she says. "Seeing what these performers are doing, pulling together, and making happen, that's really what it's about: The gift of that inspiration is something that everyone who's seeing the pageants gets to enjoy, and it reverberates out into the world."
RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.
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