Although she’s one third of the nightlife collective known as The Nobodies, drag queen Ariel Italic is making her mark as a Somebody in a major way. She turns heads with her creative looks, which may not have won her any crowns or sashes yet… but it hasn’t kept her and the Nobodies from creating their very own pageant. An unusually erudite and observant queen with a tendency towards honestly self-deprecating humor, Ariel also applies her sharp wit and language skills to her nationally read Drag Race recaps for Queerty. Now busy with a weekly Drag Race viewing party in Brooklyn that will evolve into an original Nobodies showcase after the season finale, Ariel takes a moment to walk Thotyssey through her secret garden of gorgeous neuroses.
Thotyssey: So I just read your recap of the last episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Queerty. It was very tight, sharp and funny, so obviously writing is a thing for you. I also see that you wrote a play in 2010. Was writing your first creative outlet?
Ariel Italic: I was a big reader when I was a kid, and so that got me writing fairly early. I remember enjoying assignments in school where we had to write stories. I was always artistic; I drew, I did school plays, I sang, I wrote. I wasn’t necessarily always good at all of those things, but I was always drawn to creative pursuits.
Where did you grow up, and what was childhood like for you?
I was always “different” as a kid, and my classmates could tell. I don’t think they called it out as gay or queer right away, but they knew I wasn’t the same as them, and in a small school that makes a difference. So I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up because I didn’t fit in, and I was pretty introverted as a result. I read a lot, I played Nintendo, I wrote… I kept to myself. I didn’t learn how to be outgoing and reach out to people until high school. I wasn’t necessarily unhappy, but I was definitely pretty solitary. I wanted more friends, but I learned to keep myself entertained.
Who is your glamour/style icon of all time?
Oh gosh. I am terrible at picking favorites in any category. I always need several answers. I think the first time I saw someone as “stylish” was when I watched The Cosby Show growing up. Clair Huxtable was so chic, so assured, so vibrant. I think on some level, I wanted to be her. Since then, I’ve looked back at a lot of the fashions from the show and found that Denise also rocked a really impressive fashion point of view, and her quirky couture has influenced me. But I have a hard time nailing down just one person who inspires me. Half the time I don’t even recognize the source of my influences; it all just melds in my head like a weird stew.
I like your story of how a friend suggested your drag name while you and a group were just throwing ideas around one day, and it just felt right. Are you a font nerd?
Not to any great extent. I’m a writer, and Arial is a basic, pre-installed font. If I had chosen a more esoteric name, I don’t think it would have resonated with as many people. This one is easily identifiable to most as a typeface.
You won a Reddit drag pageant. The concept of online pageantry is kind of a fascinating development in drag. When you’re participating in the challenges, does it feel like you’re just throwing something out there into a void, or does it feel interactive?
The Reddit pageant was extremely interactive. I felt phenomenally close to the other contestants and the audience, and I’ve remained connected with a lot of them. Online forums like Facebook make it easy to stay in touch, but I’ve even met some of them in person, either because they live in NYC or because one of us is traveling. The online nature made performing difficult at times, because you have to look energetic and engaged even though you’re doing it all in an empty room, but once the videos were posted, we all communicated constantly.
Did it prepare you for live drag performing?
In some ways. It helped me to get used to the idea of putting together costumes and concepts and numbers. Performing in front of an audience is a whole different animal, and I realized once I started doing it that I had a lot to figure out still, but the initial process of figuring out songs and looks through the online competition was extremely helpful. My “Total Eclipse of the Heart” lip sync, which was maybe the third or fourth act I had ever created, is still my most popular number. Every time I do it live, it kills.
What drew you to drag in the first place?
Like I talked about before, I was kind of an effeminate weirdo growing up. I didn’t make sense to my peer group; they didn’t understand my interests or my mannerisms or my awkwardness, and so I struggled to make friends. But I always enjoyed doing the school musicals, and did well in that world. So, as with so many queens (especially in New York), I combined my love of performing with the feminine side that I had always struggled to embrace. I’m not a brilliant actor, I’m not the world’s best singer, I’m no phenomenal comedian. But I’m decent enough at all those things that when you throw in some personality and shake it all up, a drag queen emerges.
Where was your first live performance?
I did an amateur night at the Gay 90s in Minneapolis when I was in college, but that hardly counts. I don’t remember exactly which came first, but I did two or three little guest spots at variety shows that my friends had put on before I did the Reddit competition. After I snagged my internet crown, I made mt proper debut at an art space called the Morgan Avenue Underground, where I did a lot of my early performing.
I see you participated in the Dragged doc that many queens in the city took part in. Any idea what the status of that is?
I think I heard that they’re screening a final (or at least final-ish) cut of it at the Austin International Drag Festival, but I’m not 100% on that. I’ve seen an earlier version. It’s good, but I cringe whenever I’m on screen because my make-up was a lot rougher back then, and the knowledge that I’m being filmed makes me babble incessantly.
So Lady Bearica Andrews, DJ Accident Report and yourself are the drag entertainment collective known as The Nobodies, which is kind of punk rock, or at least a super-villainous. How did this union come about?
I had met Bearica once or twice in the city, and then we ran into each other at the Slammy Awards, which is a ceremony put together by Bob the Drag Queen where people in nightlife can sort of lovingly throw shade at each other with mock trophies and titles. Afterward, when all the popular queens headed off to Westgay or the Ritz or something, Bearica grabbed me and was like, “Let’s go to the 9th Avenue Saloon.” We shuffled into this dive bar in full drag and ordered a cocktail, and of course this guy at the stool next to me tried to read us. Well, we read him right back (I’m pretty sure there’s still a smoking crater there), and the bartender thought we were hilarious and we basically forced him to give us a gig hosting Season 7 of Drag Race at the bar.
Bearica came up with the idea of calling it “Nobodies Hosting Drag Race,” just because of how ridiculous it was that two queens no one had ever heard of were running this show in Hell’s Kitchen. After that season, we started figuring out how to keep working together, and we roped in Accident Report. He’s been a friend of mine for a while and is an awesome DJ, and including him meant that we could throw parties and put on proper shows instead of just showing up as dudes in dresses. We kept the name “The Nobodies” because it was funny to us. Sorry, that was a really long story.
It’s a great story! So, what other gigs and projects have you guys collaborated on in the past?
We did six months of this variety show called “Nobodies Talking Shit.” Rather than focusing on lip syncing, we wanted to do something where we could talk to the crowd and make our personalities part of the deal. So we would pick a theme like “Professional Wrestling” or “Business Casual” or whatever popped into our heads, really, and then we’d select a bunch of video clips related to that theme and screen them for the crowd and talk about them.
We eventually pulled in all these random other segments, like “Teat It or Beat It” which is definitely not based off that Raja and Raven YouTube series so please don’t sue us, or “”ASMR Cher Tweets” where Bearica whispers snippets of Cher’s Twitter feed into the microphone and makes wet mouth noises. And then afterward Accident Report would play hot dance tracks and we’d try to keep the crowd drinking and grinding for irresponsible amounts of time.
You did a great job at Ms. Barracuda by the way. Your gown in the second week had this very original, Woodland Elf Queen flare to it. Did you create that yourself, and in general how hands-on are you in the creation of your costumes?
For starters, thank you. I wish I were a seamstress. The gown was a vintage beaded piece that I got for like $60 at the Alotta Stuff auction at Metropolitan. The only thing I added to it was the long train of dried grass and leaves and various other bits. It took more time and effort than one might imagine, even if it just ended up looking like a had a bunch of compost stuck to the bottom of my dress.
How was that experience for you, overall?
Other than the Reddit pageant, I have always done atrociously in competitions, and this was no exception. I was extremely proud of what I had turned out every week, and I’ll admit that it stung when I didn’t even place. I’ve done Look Queen several times, I did the Miss Abracadabra pageant, and every time I put myself in front of a panel of judges, I land squarely in the bottom. What it’s really taught me is that I can’t put my sense of worth in the hands of a few people. If I work the crowd and the crowd is happy, then I did my job. I might not be the most fashionable or the most artistic or the prettiest or the funniest or the best dancer, and I might never be. But I’m OK at a lot of things and I put on a show that people enjoy, and if all I ever get to be is the best filler queen in the business, then I’m OK with that.
So now you, Bearica and Accident are at the Eastlands in Brooklyn, hosting a weekly show and Drag Race viewing party. How did that come about?
Bearica found Eastlands for us. I think they were hosting a pool league on Mondays or something like that. She’s a businesswoman, and she talked to the owner and pitched a show and basically convinced him that we would bring in more business than their other option. It all happened really quickly: she saw the opportunity and snagged it and all of a sudden we had a show.
Tell me what about you thought about the most recent episode. The top three have been selected!
Listen, I’ve said that Bob the Drag Queen was going to win this thing since she disappeared over the summer to “go on a cruise,” and nothing has happened to change that opinion for me since she first entered the workroom. She is just supernaturally good at being a drag queen, and this last episode showed that even when she’s wearing a questionable outfit (that she had the nerve to call a tuxedo), she’s still impossible to dislike. I love all of the Top 4 and would have felt satisfied if any one of them had taken the crown, or if they had just gotten $25,000 each and called it a day. It sucked to see Chi Chi get eliminated because she’s phenomenal. But at the end of the day: give it to Bob. She’s head and shoulders above the rest, and not just because she’s freakishly tall.
And now, the Nobodies just had a brunch at Eastlands on May 1st. How did that go?
From a show standpoint, well. From a personal standpoint, terribly. Here’s a tip: don’t wake up at 7:00am, skip breakfast, do tequila shots, dance around in heels for a few hours, and then devour an entire plate of nachos at 4:00pm. It’s not a recipe for happiness.
Anything else coming up you want to talk about, projects, gigs, etc?
Starting on May 23rd (the week after Drag Race ends) and running into mid-June, we’ll be sticking around at Eastlands for the first-ever “Miss Nobody” pageant. We want to provide a space for weirdo entertainers to come and strut their stuff. We want to see what they think their best is. I’m hoping it’s fun and dirty and unpredictable. Also, don’t you love how I just talked about how I such at competitions, and then all of a sudden I’m judging one? After the pageant, we’re going back to the “Nobodies Talking Shit” format for a while.
Finally… I know you’re young to the drag world, but what kind of energy and personality do you want to put out there that is specifically you, that isn’t there already?
I think everything is there already, to some extent. But the drag world has a lot of ego and a lot of shade, and I hope that my presence balances that out. My persona tends to be more self-deprecating. Instead of talking about how I’m the greatest or I’m better than everyone else, I want to tell people I’m an idiot. I don’t think I’m a bad drag queen, but I want to keep my perspective. Even if I get famous, I’ll always be a Nobody.
Ariel Italic and the Nobodies host a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party at Eastlands in Brooklyn, Mondays at 8pm. Beginning May 23rd (Monday at 9pm), also at Eastlands, the Nobodies will host the first week of the Miss Nobody drag pageant. Ariel Italic can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. As actor/writer Chris Kelly, he can be found on his website, and his writings and TV recaps are also archived on Queerty. The Nobodies can be followed on Facebook.