This New Orleans-born bearded beauty just placed in the Miss Stonewall pageant, and is headlining a variety show there on May 1st! Thotyssey proudly spills the tea with Florence D’Lee about the rise of the beard queens, Bianca Del Rio’s early acting career, and her own new weekly show debuting next month!
Thotyssey: Hi Florence, congratulations on placing 3rd for Miss Stonewall 2016! Was this your first pageant?
Florence D’Lee: Thanks so much! Last night was a blast! Yes, Miss Stonewall 2016 was my first drag pageant! I have competed in a few smaller competitions, but nothing this expansive!
It looked like a very fresh batch of contestants this year. Did it just work out that way, or were the pageant runners looking for fresh faces this time?
You know, I think it just worked out that way! I was a little surprised, and a lot of relieved, when I saw so many new and fresh faces in the dressing area. It filled the room with a kind of vivacious, fresh energy. All the girls, including myself, were so genuinely excited to be there performing together. We were all getting ready together, shooting the shit and snapping some fun and tasteless photos in between acts. Such a riot!
Love it! What did you do for talent?
I did something really revolutionary for a drag queen pageant: I did a lip sync [laughs]. I am what they would call a “mix queen”. I use and ABUSE my free version of Audacity whenever possible. This [number] was mostly dialogue from Jerri Blank in Strangers with Candy. Amy Sedaris is my spirit animal.
Yes, okay, speaking of which, how about that last Drag Race??? Wow. Thoughts?
Poor Derrick! Watching Drag Race has become such a personal journey. I watch it almost always alone, in my room, with wine and various other recreational activities.
So, you’re part of a growing movement of fabulous bearded bear queens in the city. Or is it a movement? Or another great coincidence?
Aren’t those bearded queens somethin’?! I am one of the few, the proud, the she-bear queens.
When Florence was born, I was 21 years old. I was a total babyface without a spec of chin hair and a Honey BooBoo face. I stepped away from drag for a few years, and when I stumbled back into Florence, my whole look had changed. I had aged a bit, I had slimmed down and I was…a newly formed bear. So the beard came along for the ride and I haven’t looked back.
I have noticed that the trend is growing, and that’s great! Being a drag queen means giving the finger and a big FUCK YOU to society. So who is deciding what look is right or wrong? Beard or not, pants or dress, flats or stilettos. It’s all drag, baby.
Is it harder or easier to paint with facial hair? Or just different?
You know, it all depends on the day. There is less ground to cover, but prepping and trimming a beard is a whole other ballgame. Plus, I fill in my beard and mustache with makeup to even out and stylize the look. The stylistic choices you make with your beard as a queen are important. I think it just gets an unfair reputation in the community.
So I see you’re from New Orleans! What was your life like growing up there?
It was a TRIP, sugar! Never a dull moment! My mother was a representative for Estee Lauder and Clinique, so I had an appropriate drag queen upbringing full of “Gay Uncles” and a five year-old screening of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
The city of New Orleans is great. It’s an old city with a heavy history and a pulsating energy. You can really feel it weighing on you when you’re in the heart of it. As Florence, I enjoy bringing that haunting energy into my performance.
I attended an arts conservatory high school in the Marigny/Bywater area, before it got all Gay Brooklyn on us. I don’t get to go back as often as I’d like to, but I jump at any opportunity to get a few sweet southern days under my belt.
Could you per chance be old enough to remember when New Orleans was Bianca Del Rio’s hometown?
I do remember when Nola was Bianca’s town. Bianca and I both worked with/for the same circle of costume designers in the city. Very small, tight knit theatre community in New Orleans, and Bianca was prominent in it.
I wish people could get a chance to see her as a musical theatre actress. Her Angel in Rent and Emcee in Cabaret were flawless. Slaying all around. We both worked with/for the same costume shops, theatres and designers, just always at different times. But yes, point is, she’s the crown jewel of N’awlins rightfully so!
Tell me about costume design. Was that your first love before performing, and were you always intending to design for yourself?
I was the BIGGEST ham as a kid. I was performing 24/7. I was “on” more than a Hell’s Kitchen drag queen, ready 24/7 to give you a full on show.
After Hurricane Katrina I moved to Dallas, TX for a short while, where I landed in an arts school, and a costume design class I took there kind of altered my artistic course in the theatre world by putting a fork in it. Now I work full time at a costume studio in the garment district, building costumes for a variety of Broadway shows, dance companies, touring productions, and whatever other work rolls in.
Is it an assembly line situation, or do you have any creative control over what you make there?
Think turn of the century, Les Mis style sweat shop, and that’s about it. Kidding! It’s really great! It’s a job like any other job. we keep a schedule and we get dealt projects. There are a lot of creative opportunities there. Not so much in the design of the garment, but in the way it’s built, the way we assemble it and how it will function. My boss is really great at sending us off with projects and allowing us a chance to Figure It Out” [laughs].
What is Florence like, as a character? Or is she a character?
I like to say that Florence has the disposition of Rosalind Russell’s Auntie Mame and the face of John Goodman a la Roseanne Days.
It’s pretty hard to distinguish [between Florence and my boy-self, Bryce]. I find it really important that my work speak for me. That is the same in and out of drag. Shut your mouth and werk henny! So that’s what Florence does. She stays present and observant and then gives it all to you on a platter when she hits the runway with those boat-sized heels. I try keep it lighthearted and jovial. No need to be shady to anyone else. We’re all here doing our thing as best as we know how.
So who’s Tucker Bowles, and when did you meet him?
Tucker Bowles and I met about three years ago. I basically followed a message from Growlr to a Christmas party in Brooklyn being thrown by a couple of nice-looking guys (Actually, [one was] Matt Knife who produces Homo Erectus), and ended up staying for two days straight. Tucker found his way there too, and it’s been history ever since!
Matt is important to mention because he got both Tucker and I into boylesque through his monthly show. Homo Erectus is where Florence was re-baptized, and Tucker became a part of my family.
So you and Tucker became creative collaborators?
In a matter of speaking. I became involved in the annual NYC Aids Walk, benefiting GMHC, the year I moved to the city. The first year I walked by myself and just kind of did it. The next year, Tucker pulled me onto his team – The Candywrappers, led by Candy Samples. It’s one of the biggest groups in the Walk, and together we are able to do so much good.
Yes! Tell me about Candy for a sec… Isn’t she great? She’s kind of like the high priestess of bears, a great entertainer, and such a devoted fundraiser.
Candy is a literal angel. She is a presence and a force to be reckoned with. Candy has done so much good for the world around her, and everything she touches is left better than before. She has also been a HUGE supporter of Florence! I have been lucky enough to get closer with her over the past few months, and it’s clear to see she’s someone that you want in your life.
So, this variety show on May 1st, that you and Tucker co-created! What can we expect?
This year, Tucker and I wanted to do something different in our fundraising efforts [for AIDS Walk], and together we kind of jointly birthed this idea of a variety show fundraiser. Because who doesn’t love a variety show? [Laughs.]
The audience can expect a cavalcade of acts. I was always fascinated by the late variety shows of Judy Garland, Mitzi Gaynor and Lawrence Welk. It has such a soft, wholesome atmosphere to it. A one-of-a-kind live experience. We have singers, dancers, drag queens, burlesque artists male, female and undecided. You will leave feeling like every base has been covered!
I love that! And Marg-OH! Channing is in it, she’s great!
Right?! What a treat! When she signed on I was like, “We have arrived, y’all.”
And this is all for the Candywrappers and the AIDS Walk. Are you walking again this year?
I am! The walk is the best part! Are you walking? Can I talk you into joining!? [laughs] That’s what the Candywrappers do. We get people involved. Spending a day surrounded by a community thirsty for change is life-changing. There’s nothing like getting to Central Park at 8 a.m. to sign-in, and looking for a big red bouffant floating around. That means you’ve made it to Candy’s section.
I cannot handle! Brita Filter has been a huge part of my drag family here in the city. I have guested in her shows many times, and GLOW is one of the most fun parties in town. And Kareem McJagger is like a fierce, terrifying tropical storm high kicking right for you. She’s stunning. I’ll be stepping out in a new look and some big-ass hair. But seriously, everybody should come out! It’s an all night blast.
What else is coming up for you?
I am premiering my first solo show at Rockbar on May 17th, the Tuesday after AIDS WALK. It is in collaboration with the fantastic Jason Romas. He hosts a weekly trivia night every Tuesday, and Florence will be joining the party starting May 17th for a trial run of a weekly show starting at 7 and leading into Jason’s Trivia, with myself playing Vanna White. Should be a blast! Rockbar is an amazing place, and I couldn’t think of a better bar to premiere my first solo show in!
So, let’s end with the job interview question that everyone hates answering: Where do you see yourself in, let’s say, two years?
Welll, my plans have all recently been thrown through a shredder and incinerated in the last few months, so it’s anyone’s call at this point! I love entertaining and performing, so hopefully my path finds a way up that route at a more frequent pace. I am the most impatient person on the planet, so keeping myself in the moment and savoring every experience for what it is is an uphill battle.
We’ll see you on the top, Florence! Thank you!
Florence D’Lee will appear at G Lounge’s GLOW on Saturday, April 30th. Her “Tuck & Flo Variety Show,”
a Fundraiser for AIDS Walk, will be held May 1st at Stonewall. She’ll guest perform for Princess Bitch & Lilith LeFae’s Bottoms Up Brunch at Boots & Saddle on May 8th (and every second Sunday). Starting May 17th, she will host her own show at Rockbar at 7pm, followed immediately by co-hosting Trivia Tuesdays there with Jason Romas.