Sasha Velour gushes over Quibi's colorful NightGowns cast: Meet them here
The Family That Drags Together Stays Together
Queer crusader and superstar artist Sasha Velour has been building to this moment — one where she can use her power as a RuPaul's Drag Race royal to highlight alternative forms of underrepresented drag — her entire career. With the April 6 launch of her new Quibi series NightGowns (an adaptation of the Brooklyn-based revue of the same name), Velour is poised to shake up the drag industry with a fierce cast of kings and queens primed for an LGBTQ revolution. Playing the drag mother of our dreams across eight episodes of the upcoming docuseries, Velour shepherds a colorful cast of underground performers onto a national stage, grooming each of them across capsule episodes that delve into their personal lives and end with explosive stage numbers that will leave your jaws on the floor (and wigs in outer space). In celebration of the launch, EW gathered the cast back in September for an exclusive collection of portraits, paired here with adoring quotes from the queen mother herself. Scroll through the gallery ahead to lift the veil on the NightGowns ensemble.
Vander Von Odd
As the winner of The Boulet Brothers’ inaugural Dragula reality competition series, Vander Von Odd has made a name for themself as a representative of the monstrous side of drag. Clashed with Sasha’s optimistic brand of theatrical elegance and glamour that rose to prominence on RuPaul’s Drag Race, their collective vision makes for an interesting juxtaposition that yields inspiring ideas ultimately centered around mutual themes. “It became so much fun to watch someone else approach numbers so differently yet similarly, with such different results. I joke that Vander and I are light and dark; I’m so much more of an optimist in my performances, perhaps, but we’re playing with the same themes and different music selections,” Velour says, adding that there is one similarity: “We’ve both done Judy Garland!”
Through their art, Vander’s often grotesque imagery is typically paired with an emotional message, and the soft, genuine emotional reaction to their hard-edged presentation is an interesting one not often experienced by casual drag audiences.
“Vander’s performances are really haunting and stay with you,” Velour explains, noting that Vander’s NightGowns gig involves “body modification that really shocked and scared” the theater audience. While they were fascinated and horrified, Velour has a theory on why viewers — particularly queer ones — have such a raw reaction to Vander’s work.
“We’ve allowed preconceptions about beauty and normalcy to inform our first impression, and by the end of a two-minute number, you are the weeping monster onstage,” she muses. “Everyone is there with her. Particularly for queer people, we don’t need a lot of convincing to see ourselves in the monstrous other, because we’ve been told we belong in that position for a long time.” And, as Vander proves, embodying the horror is key to breaking free.
Dancing diva Neon Calypso is so committed to her art that she regularly commutes from Boston to New York City (via bus!) to share her craft with the right audience. It’s that commitment to expressing her lived-in vision that impresses Velour most. “Neon has such control over how she moves, and she’s so expressive and passionate with how she dances onstage,” Velour observes. While Neon’s body talks in physical tongues most of us will never master, it’s not mindless death-dropping for a quick spectacle. “I’m in awe of people who build their drag around just what they can do with their body and their face to tell a story,” Velour adds of Neon, who also choreographs, mixes, and directs her own performances. For NightGowns, she wanted to touch on her evolution in pursuit of her passion.
“People can come to the club and appreciate her, but they don’t know that she’s been up since 6:00 a.m. on a bus…. She’s spent so much time in literal dark spaces, buses in the middle of the night or early in the morning, her entire work life is completely at night, but she’s able to generate light,” observes Velour, who teases Calypso’s NightGowns set as being one of personal growth and experience told through an impressive lighting concept — including an eye-popping electric dress. “She’s choosing to be an optimist, while acknowledging all of the f---ed up problems in the world of drag, the inequalities, and the racism, while she’s still giving it her all, and that’s very empowering for people to see.”
If you believe the age-old saying “the higher the hair, the closer to God,” then Miss Malice is the towering conduit between heaven and earth you’ve been waiting for. When a lovely lady describes herself as a “high-femme drag dreamboat,” you know you’re in for a spectacular experience, and the fierce femmecee of Brooklyn’s Switch n’ Play — a queer drag and burlesque collective that shepherds alternative art into the queer nightlife scene — serves vintage fashion, whip-smart comedic chops, and towering wigs like a camp-glam fantasy come to life.
“Over the time I’ve known Miss Malice, she went from not seeing herself as a drag artist to fully claiming her power as part of the drag world and a drag performer herself,” Velour describes of her years-long friend, who also serves as her NightGowns cohost across the eight-part series. “At first, she felt like she couldn’t take up space within this world, which is wrong,” Velour continues, noting that Malice’s significance to the drag community transcends matters of gender identity: “There have been high femme queer women in the drag scene forever. Trans women and cisgender women put themselves into giant hair, big eyelashes, tons of jewelry, and makeup, and that’s been completely part of the drag world and queer nightlife from the beginning. It’s impossible to separate drag from artists like that. Miss Malice does a great job at positioning her own artistic practice within the history, and it’s undeniable that we need to keep holding up these great traditions.”
Sometimes someone is so beautiful, it actually hurts to look at them. NightGowns’ resident drag king, K.James, has a jawline so sharp, defined, and utterly attractive you’d barely bat an eye if he wanted to slash you with it from head to toe. In fact, he plays on his devilish good looks for his NightGowns set, which Velour describes as a “burlesque striptease” with “strong vampire imagery” that plays like “a love letter to Miss Malice and the queer relationship that they’ve fostered in and out of drag.”
“I love being able to watch K.James, because it gives a positive edit on what being a man can look like or be all about, and society needs that very urgently,” Velour explains. “Drag kings are vital, as well as being entertaining, gorgeous, and easy to throw ourselves on the ground over.”
But that’s not always how the rest of the drag industry sees it. While the transmasculine heartthrob has been performing in New York City for 12 years, is a regular staple of the aforementioned Switch n’ Play collective, and previously won the Brooklyn Nightlife Award for Drag King of the Year in 2016, drag kings like him still aren’t afforded the same space under the mainstream spotlight as their queenly counterparts.
“I need there to be more drag kings so I can fully stan every single one of them,” Velour says with a laugh. “I think there’s an idea that masculinity is not as fun as femininity…. the idea that femininity would be more superficial and lighthearted than masculinity, the problems are clear. Drag kings like K.James, who performs queer-friendly masculinity, expose how playful, appealing, over-the-top, and ridiculous masculinity is, and how constructed and artificial it can be, too. People who don’t appreciate drag kings just haven’t seen any!”
For some, drag is a fun distraction for a boozy weekend. For performers like Untitled Queen — a Brooklyn-based visual artist who focuses her work on self-empowerment, discovery, and selfhood — it’s a vessel to cultural commentary through the intersection of fashion, poetry, sculpture, and drawing. “She’s been pushing boundaries as to what a drag performance can be and what kind of music selections you can choose,” Velour says of Untitled’s approach, which incorporates a spoken-word poem, a complex soundscape, and transformative stage design. “The curtain opens and it’s like an Untitled sculptural gallery show. I’ve watched the one-second transition from the theater to the start of her number over and over again in that episode because it’s so satisfying to see her take over the entire universe of the theater like that.”
One look at Polynesian goddess Sasha Colby, and it’s clear to see why the transgender showgirl has dominated the world of drag pageantry with her poised stature and elegant looks. But, the performative animal inside fully unleashes when she’s on the NightGowns stage, letting her improvisational approach to dance — with skills she’s partnered with everyone from Drag Race royals like Latrice Royale to actual icons like Janet Jackson — fill the theater with her unbridled spirit.
“She’ll try anything, and she’s such a pro that she can make anything look like she’s been practicing it for ages,” Velour praises of her fellow Sasha’s love for losing herself in the moment, though she wanted to try something more structured for NightGowns’ transition from stage to screen. “I wanted to test that by throwing something challenging at her…. I thought about the idea of using projection, which she hadn’t experimented with. I thought it would be cool to have different multiples of her dancing at the same time on stage, through shadows, so it doesn’t distract in the same way from what’s happening on the stage and she has the chance to do something separate from them, because improv is so important to what she does.” So, if you’re merely blown away by one Sasha Colby, her clones are here to finish the job and slay you into oblivion.
"Drag is all about telling your own story and putting your own performance and idea together. It’s sketching out a dream and then bringing it to life," Velour previously told EW of the series. "The goal of NightGowns is to show people behind the scenes of that process, the real-life of a drag artist and the real work of a drag artist."
She adds: "The [fantastical world of drag] can be a way of communicating this story as well, we didn’t have to wrap things up in the behind-the-scenes sections and then tack on a performance at the end.... Each section had to ask questions that the other section answered. The in-drag and out-of-drag experiences of these people’s lives flow completely together, and the artists are in charge of how both acts are told."
Sasha Velour: RuPaul's Drag Race winner, serious artist, and dance mom extraordinnaire.
Vander Von Odd sashays their supermonster ways.
Neon Calypso shimmers in a light-up dress.
Miss Malice and K.James: Drag's finest couple.
Velour adapts her iconic Smoke & Mirrors tree number for NightGowns.
Sasha Colby lets loose with her shadows in her epic NightGowns finale.