Nobody puts Yuhua Hamasaki in the “pretty little Asian queen” corner! She’s a fierce dancer, a fan-favorite NYC nightlife entertainer since she was 16 years-old, a business-savvy costume designer and a multimedia presence with her very own annual calendar! Yuhua’s Friday night show at Boots & Saddle is a mandatory stop for anyone looking for a fun time in the West Village; she also has a Stonewall Invasion showcase this coming Sunday, and a charity concert later in the month. And of course, Yuhua’s been a staple in every incarnation of the long-lived drag restaurant Lucky Cheng’s… in fact, she’s got some exciting news to share with Thotyssey about it! Let’s get right into the life and times of Yuhua Hamasaki…
Thotyssey: Hi Yuhua! I wanna start with your designs and costumes, because everyone seems to be wearing your stuff lately. What are you working on right now, as of this moment?
Yuhua Hamasaki: Hi Jim! I’m currently working on some costumes for a few girls in the city. But for the last few weeks, I was pretty busy because all the girls wanted new costumes for their Drag Race videos. Glad that rush was over!
Wow, must be a busy (and profitable!) time of year.
Yes, it does get busy this time of the year, as well as during gay pride month and around The Glammy Awards.
How long have you been making costumes for yourself? And when did you decide to branch out and sew for other queens?
I knew how to sew when I was younger, my mom taught me. But then I kinda forgot and my friend Cheng retaught me. I didn’t have any expectations to start sewing for other people, until other people started seeing what I was wearing and they started contacting me.
I’m guessing Cheng has a lot of good advice for you in the garment-making department?
Of course! That bitch has been featured on the news, magazines, magazine covers and has dressed for celebrities including everyone’s favorite, Lady Gaga!
When other people approach you to make them something, are they generally full of ideas (maybe based on something else you made), or do they usually just want you to come up with some idea completely yourself?
Usually it’s something they’ve seen I’ve done, or something they’ve seen on some else. Or they will explain what ideas they have in mind, and we go from there.
What’s the most annoying material to work with, as far as drag costumes go?
Sequin! They get everywhere and they are difficult to sew! They break needles so easily, and easily scratch the person wearing it! URGH!
And, you designed for Patricia Field as well?
Yes, for awhile, but she has closed her store. She is over 70 now!
So Yuhua Hamasaki the drag queen has been working in nightlife for, what, a decade? You were only 16 when you started?
Oh yes! I started in 2006 when I was 16. I was entering the clubs with a fake ID in drag and during that time, the security were more lenient with drag queens than they are nowadays. I was partying for a while before I worked anywhere. My first gig was working the door for Drew Zailen’s Thursday party at La Pomme. But my first drag gig was at HK Lounge when I was 18; I hosted there Fridays and Saturdays.
What made you want to try drag at that young age?
I started drag because I’ve always been interested in makeup, wigs, heels, and the beauty of women’s clothing designs. Also, when I was younger and I was pretending I was singing for an audience, I was always pretending I was Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Never was I one of the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync members. When you combine all of those elements together, you get a drag queen.
I started drag because I’ve seen pictures of other men dressed up in fabulous makeup and attires on MySpace, and wanted to be like them. I started playing with makeup at the age of 14 at home, and just took selfies at home. Also, it was an escape for me from middle school and high school, because I didn’t quite fit in. Drag gave me so much life and energy, and something to look forward to after I finished my school day. It gave me something fun to do outside of school. I mean, I didn’t want to play with the other boys after school with basketballs or baseballs. If they were the other kind of balls, maybe.
I take it you must have hid drag from your family, at least back then. How did you do it, when you were going out? Did you get in face on the train?
Yes, I’ve hid it from them, but they’ve still managed to see it in photos, because back then in order to get the photos you have to develop the film and get them printed. Not just take it on your phone and you can hide it.
I used to get ready at my friend’s place in the West Village before going out, or if she wasn’t around, I would get ready downstairs in the apartment building behind the trash cans and I would sneak out after I’m finished and take the train.
Was it terrifying, being so young out in drag, in the crazy bar scene? Or did it feel like home?
IT FELT LIKE HOME! I felt so comfortable. For once, I felt like I wasn’t judged no matter how crazy I looked; everyone embraced each other for who they were. I felt free, and realized what freedom is really like as someone who is LGBT. I didn’t have to put on a mask to try to fit in or live up to someone’s expectation on how to dress, talk, and behave. I felt like I was able to find connections with people, and socialize with people finally, which I was not able to do for years while growing up.
That’s wonderful! So your first hosting gig was HK Lounge, where was your first performance? And can you remember the number?
When first started hosting, I was just mingling and sitting around with a table of alcohol in front of you. It was more of an atmospheric hosting gig, where you just dressed up and talked to people and invite your friends out, nothing on the microphone. But I did have my first group performance there along with Spicky Hilton, Logan Hardcore, Chandelier, and Maddox Madison together, in which we did “Lady Marmalade.” My first solo was Gwen Stefani’s “What U Waiting For,” and I still have videos!
Oh my gawd, I’m gonna force you to show that to me one day! Did it feel natural, performing? I take it you weren’t death-dropping yet?
No I wasn’t death-dropping yet. Yeah, it felt kinda natural because I’ve always done it when I was younger in front of the mirror at home. But now, it’s in front of people with a wig on.
Boots & Saddle first in 2009, and then The Web in 2010.
Okay, I’ll get to Boots in a minute, but let’s start with the Web. I heard legendary horror stories. Did you like working there?
In the beginning, no. But I eventually started to love working there, it was such a family! They were the ones that started to mold me into pageants!
I started off as a shot girl there. I hated it. I had to sell shots to customers and made $1 off of each $2 jello shot I sold, and got to keep whatever the tips were. Some nights it would be good, some would be bad. I was 20 at the time, and was still in college, so was like, what the heck.
Eventually, they gave me a try-out one night because all the girls called out and they liked me. They gave me my first show there monthly to host, and eventually I was performing there every Saturday with a lineup of other girls.
I would go there every Saturday after Lucky Cheng’s, all the staff would hang out in the dressing room and even after the show. We would hang out till closing.
Yes to al,l except Tara Miso Rice. I met her through one of her friends who came to my show at Boots & Saddle, and he told her to message me to perform with me!
You’re the #2 seniority queen at Boots & Saddle (right after Victoria Chase!), having started working there when the owner just began hiring drag queens at the original location on Christopher Street. How did you get that gig?
One of the barbacks that used to work there, Gabriel, and me set up a meeting between the owner and management. The crowd used to be so different from what it is now, or lack thereof. My first solo show ever was with them!
Wow! Your Boots show is now every Friday night at 9:30 to 11:00. It’s very high energy and fun, with a lot of audience participation. I think you’ve kinda become the undisputed queen of the drag lap/chair dance, where you’re basically climbing over these guys (and sometimes girls) like they’re a jungle gym and freaking them, and they usually love it. Is this fun to do, or are you terrified that you’re gonna fall/get dropped/get a bad reaction/whatever?
The lap dances are all about safety first. I make sure that they are in a safe position first before I do the moves. Safety comes before the fun. Nobody wants a cracked-open drag queen or customer head! That would be an epic fail!
What was the most awkward experience you had doing one of those dances?
I was doing a dance for a bachelorette one time at Lucky Cheng’s, and she farted while my head was down on her coochie… and I still have to give the expression on my face that her coochie was yummy. Her fart was so stinky, considering she was just eating Chinese food before I pulled her onto the stage!!
A drag queen’s life! I notice that as a queen, you’re very friendly with the other queens and everybody, and you don’t seem to get too involved in gay drama. Even when it looked like one of your venues was restructuring and canceling your show (the cancellation lasted less than 24 hours), you seemed super zen. Are you naturally a calm person offstage, or do you have to really put on appearances?
I’m pretty much a calm person. I believe that whatever happens, happens for a reason. If something bad does happen, it is up to you as a person to move forward and into other opportunities. You cannot let the past or other people’s drama affect you. You choose the life you want to live, and the journey that you want to go on. And if you want to be involved with drama, go ahead–but that is just a waste of time. It may be a competition in the world and industry that we live in, but the competition is only with yourself. If there is drama, a few days or weeks from now, that won’t even matter. You have to look at the big picture in life.
Well put! And speaking of drama: Lucky Chengs! When did you start working there?
My first time working there ever was in 2010, I was a door hostess in drag. I hated it. Worked there for one night and never went back. I didn’t even bother picking up my money.
I didn’t start working there again till 2011, when Tara Miso Rice and I both auditioned and we got the job. At the time, I was already working at Boots & Saddle, The Web, and Suite and wanted to add Lucky Cheng’s to my working menu.
Cheng’s moved around a lot, and had many different incarnations. Which version did you start working at?
I was working in the [original] East Village location. I moved with them when they moved [to a larger location on 52nd Street] in October 2012.
I know that while you were there at 52nd Street, you filmed some background work in a scene of an episode of Blue Bloods that was shot there. You had the best gaping-mouth reaction take to something ominous Donnie Wahlberg said to Jinkx Monsoon in the scene! Were you directed to do that?
Everything was improvisation. There was no rehearsal or anything. We did that with two or three takes, I believe. That was a fun day, though!
She was such a optimistic person! She was kind-hearted and always wanted her employees to succeed. Whenever I was doing a fundraiser and need Lucky Cheng’s dinner passes as prizes, she was always willing to say yes to help the LGBT community.
Now you work Friday and Saturday at Cheng’s temporary, reservations-only pop-up location at the Red Room, ironically back in the East Village where Chengs started. This looks like a very intimate, VIP-ish experience for a patron and for a drag queen. What’s it been like performing there?
It is a smaller room, but it is very cozy and intimate. We get to be more close up with the customers now!
Do you know of any plans at this point to get Cheng’s back to a stable venue somewhere?
Oh, wow! What great news! What nights will it be operating once it reopens there?
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! [I’ll be working there] Fridays and Saturdays for sure.
I guess there will be more details announced soon! Looking forward to seeing the new venue. So in the meantime, back to you! You graduated with a business management degree at Pace University. How important are business and marketing skills in the drag world?
Just like any business, drag is a business if you want to make it your career. You need to know how you will stand out from the rest of them. I mean, before Drag Race, there were about 20 drag queens in NYC. Since Drag Race, there are like 100 of them. You need to make sure you are not only talented, but also smart. You are your own PR, accountant, manager, and assistant on top of doing your own make up, wig, costumes, music, and rehearsals.
You are a veteran pageant winner and placer. What was your first win?
And then there were many more. Do you sit down once a year and methodically plan which pageants you’re going to enter that year, and start budgeting and preparing for them? What makes you decide what pageants to enter that year, what to wait for another year, or what to never do?
Depends if I’m around that time of the pageant, and if it is worth doing. If it’s something I’m into, I’ll do it. And when I do it, I give it my best shot. And then the rest is in the judge’s hands.
But sometimes it’s not just about winning, there is the experience and exposure that comes from it as well. It’s a sisterhood from the contestants and a community from the event that you get to build.
That turquoise/silver gown you wore fora few pageants: I think Miss Boots & Saddle, Miss Asia NYC, Miss Hell’s Kitchen… maybe more! that’s still, I think, the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen at any drag pageant. How did you decide that a gown is gonna be The One?
When you see it, you’ll know! When you wear it, you’ll know if it walks right with you. It’s all about feelings when it comes to the evening gown! And my God, you are so on top of you drag queen game! Knowing who wore what and where!
I’m a professional journalist! Any more pageants you’re entering this year that you can tell us about?
No pageants so far!
Keep us updated!
There aren’t a ton of working Asian drag queens in this city. Do you feel that sometimes the city’s venues, and maybe the whole community, are trying to put you as a Chinese-American in this “Asian drag queen” box?
Yes yes yes yes yes. It’s not just about the Oscars being “too white” and lack of African Americans, but also the lack of Asian Americans. This also applies in the drag community. Whenever I get introduced onto the stage, I am always introduced as “the Asian drag queen.” Why can’t I be “the drag queen” or “the talented drag queen?” When you’re an Asian entertainer, especially in the drag world, you are expected to be quiet, pretty, fishy, and walk around and do nothing. But I know I am entertaining, I am funny, I am talented, and I am very vocal, and that’s what matters: knowing yourself.
Totally! At least on Drag Race, there have been a number of high profile Asian queens, maybe they will enlighten people. You just hosted a Drag Race viewing party in Queens, are you super happy for Kim Chi?
Yes, super! It’s been a while since an Asian queen has made top 3!
You pose for a lot of very editorial and stunning photoshoots, with a lot of shots winding up in the Yuhua Hamasaki calendar that you’ve been selling annually for a few years. How hands-on are you with these shoots?
Thank you! I’m pretty hands-on, usually I have a vision of what I want to portray and tell the photographer to snap it. Sometimes they have their own way of photographing certain things, so we work together on that as well.
Who do you collaborate with to do them?
I work with various photographers, but the past few years, Preston Burford has been turning my pussy out with his photographs!
Are you working on a 2017 calendar yet?
At the end of the year around November, I’ll start looking at all the photos from the year and select the ones to match the months of the year. I don’t plan for the calendar, the calendar is just something that branched out from the photographs.
You made two cute music video parodies, “Let’s Find Some Rice Queens” and “Swallow.” Anything else in the works as far as musical projects go?
Nope, not at the moment, those were just for fun. If I’m in the mood and can relate to it, I’ll make it.
It is a landmark! It is also the place I won my first pageant! It is a very sentimental venue to me. I enjoy doing the Invasion because the audience there is so relaxed and laid back. If you mess up, they are there to laugh with you and at the situation, not at you. The audience is very diverse, not just one type of group of people. You have the locals, tourists, the gays, lesbians, straights, old, young, twinks, muscles, daddies, bears, jocks, and everything in between! Everyone is just so friendly and welcoming!
Entertainment! Lapdances! Jokes! Games! Prizes! Audience participation!
And on May 25th, you’re involved in a fundraiser at CUNY Kingsborough, for their LGBTS Alliance organization.
It’s the annual drag show at Kingsborough College, and I’m hosting it this year! It’s mainly to raise LGTB and drag awareness in today’s world where kids are growing up.
For the first half of the show, it’s performances with a fierce lineup of performers including Jiggly Caliente, Honey Davenport, Brenda Dharling, Detoxx Bústi-ae, and Stefon Royce. For the second part of the show, we will be doing questions and answers for the students where they get to ask the performers anything that intrigues them. Last year was such a success that all the pizzas that were ordered for the show were left untouched because the students’ eyes were so locked into the show. We will be doing that again this year, so I hope they didn’t budget too much money for the pizza!
Ok great!, last question… What would you prefer to be known as in 10 years, an amazing designer and fashion entrepreneur who also does drag, or a fiercely talented, gorgeous queen who also designs on the side?
And so it will be! Thanks Yuhua!
Yuhua Hamasaki performs at Boots & Saddle every Friday night from 9:30 to 11. She will work and perform at the new Lucky Chengs location on the third floor of Stage 48 in Hell’s Kitchen starting the week of May 16th, nights TBA but will include early Friday and Saturday evenings. She will headline the Invasion at Stonewall on Sunday evening, May 15th, and will host the Boas Over KCC concert at CUNY Kingsborough on May 25th. Yuhua can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube, and she can be contacted via social media for bookings, design work, or to obtain one of her original calendars.