Celebrating her fourth year of hosting karaoke at Club Evolution in Jackson Heights tonight, and coming up on her eighth year of being Queen Mother at Boots & Saddle in the West Village, Victoria Chase has had a long and storied career. From small-town Texas to Florida to Fire Island to NYC, this songstress and hostess has been there and done that, but wherever you find her, she makes you feel like you’re home. Now, Victoria talks about her milestones and spills her tea with Thotyssey.
Thotyssey: Hi, Victoria! Congrats on the four-year milestone of hosting Friday karaoke at Club Evolution! Are you really cooking a hot buffet for the whole bar tonight?
Victoria Chase: I’m gonna do some cooking for the event. Hope I have enough for 80 people.
Wow! Actually, you’ve always been a great asset to the bars you work at, because you make genuine friends with the customers and treat them like family. It must be hard to keep track of all these people by now, isn’t it?
Well, I have to say that the ones that sing karaoke are the ones that I know by name because I read it on the song slips. In Queens, it takes longer to get to know their names when you’re dealing with 12 Joses, 15 Juans, and countless names ending with a O. Gustavo, Alejandro, Alfredo, etc.
You do know a LOT of Joses! Let’s just talk about your background for a bit. You were raised near San Antonio, right? Was it a very small town rural life, or were you close enough to live an urban life?
I grew up and went to school in the suburbs, but it didn’t stay rural for my entire childhood. Several housing developers quickly bought all that farm land and turned in into residential communities. The area grew so fast that the once-tiny high school became the largest in the county. They couldn’t build the high school fast enough to accommodate the influx. By the time I graduated, you really couldn’t tell where San Antonio ended and where small towns began.
As for urban things, we had no choice but go into town for years because until I was 19, we didn’t have a grocery store in our town. I have to laugh because we didn’t get our first traffic light until I was 12. And there was only one until they put one in front of the Elementary school, but it only worked in the morning and at the end of school.
I moved to Florida in 1990 to get away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. I was having trouble with being gay, and being in love with my best friend, and truly sick of my mother and older brother (four years ago, my mother and I reconciled, as well as my brother [and I]).
Were you always a singer?
No. I was actually never allowed to sing in the church or school choirs . My brothers were both tenors. The first director kept trying to make me sing tenor. He didn’t want me in the choir until one of the others told him I was a bass. It wasn’t until my senior year that the new choir director auditioned everyone and realized that I could sing. By then I didn’t care anymore and didn’t want to sing.
I started trying to sing again as Victoria on Fire Island in 1999. It was kinda short lived because I was still a bass. In 2006, I was asked by a friend to host karaoke at Pieces. I didn’t want to do it at first because it meant I’d have to sing in public. I didn’t know about karaoke and if they had the key change ability. I took the job and the customers fell in love with me because I wasn’t perfect and I like making people happy.
The next summer I got laryngitis and the only thing I could do was shriek high pitch sounds. I learned to control it until I got better. That was the first time I could sing falsetto. I lost the ability for two years until I got sick again. I vowed that I would pay attention and not lose my falsetto again. Recently, I’ve been rediscovering my bass again on my days off. It makes me happy. I miss it.
We’ll get to Pieces in a bit. By the way, you’ve said in the past that lip sync is more challenging than live singing. Why is that?
Lip sync is more challenging if done properly, because 1) You have to remember how that person actually sang it. 2) You have to learn to convey the same feeling as the singer 3) You have to learn to breathe the same way as the singer 4) When it’s done properly, you will be more out of breath and sweating like hell, because, as a drag queen, you need take it two steps further than the original singer. It’s harder to do all those things when you’re singing live. Also, when you’re singing live and you get winded, you can pull back a little and even change the words if you have to. IF.
Now’s as good a time as any to talk about where Victoria was created. It was in Florida, right?
Victoria was part of my mind a couple of years before I left Texas, but materialized in Florida for an AIDS benefit in August that year. Original name: Raylisa Victoria Gordon Starr Chase. When it was my turn to perform, the DJ asked my name, looked at me funny, and said “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Victoria Chase. ” That was the end of that.
There’s this Florida queen, Kendra Kinx, who’s getting all the Fire Island shows now. She kind of reminds me in one sense of you, because you were a Florida queen who started getting regular gigs at Fire Island, and you permanently relocated to New York in… 2000? What was Fire Island like at that time?
Fire Island was the only reason I came to NY. It was a haven for being around the most wonderful people in the world. I worked for the most wonderful women in the world. I was a bartender at Cherrys for the 4th year. There were so many wonderful things that kept me coming back to Fire Island and so many wonderful people. My life changed that year more than I could’ve ever possibly imagined.
In New York, you were living in Jackson Heights, right? Do you think one of the reasons you bonded with the Mexican-American and immigrant community there was because they reminded you of San Antonio?
Oh my. When I moved to the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst community, I had a craving for Filipino guys and Mexicans which I’d had for many years, even before I moved to Florida. Jackson Heights is nothing like San Antonio. It doesn’t even rank.
How’s your Spanish?
It’s much better than it was in Texas, but nowhere close to fluent. I’ve always liked to say that I know enough Spanish to get laid or shot. It all depends on who I say it to.
So, Boots & Saddle. The bar was a different place before its manager Robert Ziegler hired you. How did that gig come about?
It’ll be 8 years next month. Robert had been wanting To start a karaoke night at the old Boots and Saddle. He pursued Both me and Peppermint because apparently we were the most popular hosts in NYC. He liked my style better, and the fact that I had a bigger crowd and I was always on time. I was told by many people she was constantly either not there or late up to two hours sometimes.
I told him I wasn’t interested for almost 6 months. I went to visit the place a couple of times and just wasn’t really sure if it was the place for me. The owner of Pieces was angry because I was considering doing it on a different night (though I hadn’t made a decision). He told me that I had to make a decision by the week’s end. I got really sad and extremely offended. I called him back four hours later and told him I was quitting, and starting at Boots. It was the best business move I ever made.
You now do a variety show midnight on Saturday, and you host karaoke there Sunday nights 9pm until close. The Saturday show has had a lot of incarnations over the years, from amateur stripping contests to a full singing concert from you and guests. How would you describe it now?
I sincerely miss the Strip Search. That was fun. Right now, it’s a one person concert (Both live and lip-sync) with games. I’m considering bringing back Strip Search, but have to see what the owners are thinking in their ever-changing minds.
I miss it too! And on Thursdays, you deejay out of drag (as DJ Kdon) for Dusty Ray Bottoms’ show at 10, and for Thick Thursdays with Brita Filter and Tammy Spenks at midnight. Is it fun to work and not be the center of attention for that one night a week?
Any day that I don’t have to put on make up and still get paid is a nice, relaxing day. I don’t need to be in the spotlight 7 days a week.
As a karaoke hostess, have you ever advised anyone who sang amazingly well to pursue singing as a career? And has someone bombed so bad that you said “don’t quit your day job?”
I have encouraged people to audition for The Voice and American Idol. I would NEVER tell someone that I didn’t enjoy their singing. Karaoke is karaoke. It’s not, and should never be, used to hurt someone’s feelings. Karaoke is for making friends and spreading love. I actually get angry when I hear people bad-mouthing singers who may not be perfect. 19 out 20 times, the person making the nasty comment is the one that won’t get up and sing. Most people that are regulars at karaoke, or frequent karaoke places, would NEVER bad-mouth a singer. I’m not perfect , so I couldn’t expect someone else to be.
And now you also host karaoke at another Jackson Heights bar, Music Box, Saturdays 4pm to 10pm, right before you have to schlep on out to the midnight show at Boots in the West Village. I just need to say that the bartender you work with there at Music Box, Pauly, is hot.
Ha ha, Pauly is extremely HOT! Next time you see him, bring a balloon and tell him I told you how much he loves balloons.
I’ll bring all the balloons he wants! But I know he’s your bar family. And back to Evolution, you’re very close with the barstaff and patrons there. Have you worked with (the Friday happy hour bartender) Glen the whole 4 years?
No. Glen has been with me about 2 years. He was my 4th bartender after one moved out of state. Ariel and J-Lu were my first 2. J-Lu became upset with the management and left about 6-9 months into it. He was replaced by Leo who later moved away. Ariel stayed until last year when he and his cousin opened their own restaurant, which they had been dreaming about for years. He was replaced by Manny.
You probably know the whole work history of the entire Jackson Heights bar community. Last question: When we come to your 4-year anniversary at Evolution tonight, what should we serenade you with that will blow your karaoke mind?
LOL. I wouldn’t know. My Sunday DJ has offered to work at Evolution tonight, I might just get drunk.
Victoria Chase performs at Boots & Saddle Saturday nights midnight to 2am, and hosts karaoke there Sunday nights 9pm to 4am. She hosts karaoke at Club Evolution in Jackson Heights Friday nights at 6pm, and her four year anniversary party is TONIGHT (March 25th). She also hosts Saturday happy hour karaoke at Music Box in Jackson Heights, 4pm to 10pm. As Kdon, he deejays for the drag shows at Boots & Saddle Thursday nights 10pm to 2am. You can follow Victoria on Facebook.