Anyone who claims that Jamaican-born Drag Race alum Osmond Vacious, better known as Vivacious, is not a living New York nightlife legend is clearly a LIES-a Minnelli. Thotyssey is greatly honored to talk with this Queen of Clubfish about her fascinating career in the 90′s club scene, her new weekly show, and the T on Rupaul, Bianca, Bob, Laganja, Trinity, Michael Alig… and of course, that scene-stealing bitch Ornacia!
Thotyssey: Hi Vivacious! Thanks for talking to us! Let’s get right into it. I see you’re from Jamaica. What was growing up there like?
Vivacious: I left Jamaica when I was very young, so I don’t have much memory of it. I’ve been here since I was 7 years-old, so to me Jamaica is just a blurred memory.
So you’ve been a New Yorker almost your whole life! Why did your family leave Jamaica?
My parents wanted us to move from Jamaica; they feared that with each election [in Jamaica], the violence in the country would get more violent. It was two parties, and if you voted for one of the parties, the opposition would always come and be very rude to you.
And it was a teacher who inspired your stage name Vivacious, right?
Yes, it was my teacher. Her name is Miss Bright. She was the one who would always in the morning greet me as, “Hello Mr. Vivacious!” as in, my energy was very bright. And that’s how she always greeted me. So years later, when they asked me to come up with a drag name for myself, I dug hard and deep in myself and decided to use the same word that she gave me all so many years ago: Vivacious!
How did you first get involved in the club scene in the 90′s?
Just from going as a regular patron [to the clubs], and I fell in love with it. The people who were around me realized that I had a skill set, in terms of the ability to dance quite well, and just lip sync tracks the minute I heard them. So, they took it upon themselves to put me underneath their wing, and said that they were going to teach me the ropes of how to do it correctly: how it is to actually perform, and how to command the stage.
That’s actually how I got my start. I got my start with Shequida, Lee Chappell, Winona & Fabian, Zach Augustine, Lavinia, Lady Bunny, Miss Understood. These were the people that were around me constantly. These were the people that I looked up to. And then you have the fierce divas like Lina Bradford and Candis Cayne that were always turning it out left and right. So, that’s what I would see every night that I walked out into a club.
Plus, the house of Patricia Field: that was always there during the daytime. That was my safe haven to go to and hang out.
Interesting, it seems a lot of queens and nightlife personalities sought refuge with Patricia! And speaking of fashion, how did your club look evolve? Who or what were inspiring your looks?
I grew up in the club scene, so I would say the people who are around me where the inspiration. Each week, it was a fierce child: back in the early nineties, there was a [new] student of FIT Parsons each week. They made fierce, fabulous costumes, and debuted during the week at different parties. And I saw all of that.
I was very timid at first to be a part of that, because I wasn’t so bold in terms of wanting to make an outfit that would show my ass. I’d wear a corset, but I didn’t quite embrace that aspect of me yet. That took years later on. Just seeing all those beautiful looks, for so many years, after awhile it becomes a menagerie of images in your head. And then you just pick and choose, in terms of what inspires you.
Is it a slippery slope to be inspired by so much visual artistry around you–as far as creating looks are concerned–and to still be original?
I’ve never copied a look from somebody. I always believe that you should find your own look, be your own unique person. There was never any need to steal from someone. Dig deep in yourself. If art is in you somewhere, and you speak the language, that will help you find who you are. You just have to stay quiet in the universe and listen to yourself.
My club look evolved over time because I like to push myself. I didn’t like to stay in the same look. Even during the night when I work, I like to have different looks. I believe that a look dies in 15 minutes upon walking into the door, so there was no need to stay in the same costume all night long [laughs].
I guess my inspiration kind of came from Cher, Grace Jones, Lee Bowery. Always switch costumes, and let them stare you. Let your art speak for itself.
Were you active in the club scene when Michael Alig was doing his thing? Did you know him?
Michael Alig and myself: we occupied the same club, same time and space. But I was not a part of his world. The people who I came in through made sure that I was not around that influence. We were in the same club, but we were not working under the same guidelines of rules. I worked with management. He had his own agenda, and my job was to work there on behalf of the club.
You gave such a fascinating and poignant response to the Advocate after your Drag Race elimination about how this young generation needs to know their history regarding your style of drag, how it helped ease homophobia in the straight clubs by educating clubbers with the artistry of the looks. Why did you go the straight club route at that point in your career? Was it just because the Tunnel, Limelight, etc. were just the best and biggest scenes?
I never worked in gay bars. Those were fictitious little places that nobody would dare go to. I worked at the real clubs, nightlife clubs. Clubs that did no less than 2000 people per night: Webster Hall, Tunnel, Palladium, Club USA, Limelight. The big spots. Not a bar with 40 people. And that was the life.
These clubs, what they had were a mixed crowd. It was for the gays and the straights who could appreciate entertainment. So, these were the places that I went to. These were the places that I was performing in at all time. Back then, there was no such thing as a “straight” club, or “gay” club, it was just mixed. We were all under the same roof: the roof of entertainment, the roof of house music, the roof of fun.
Did you notice the change in that unity as it was happening?
In terms of the club being divided up, that happened right around the time when Michael Alig decided to help Angel get to heaven. And from there, that’s where the split kind of came about.
Yes, other gay clubs always existed. They had their gay parties. I never did the gay parties that were around, because it wasn’t my element. What do I mean by that? I see drag as being an ambassador to reach others. To have stayed in a gay club would have been considered not growing. They are already gay; we speak the same language. The dialogue is incestuous.
Using drag to Influence People is what helps the gay movement moving forward. Because, by being visible in their face instead of being a fictitious urban legend, it creates a mental dialogue in their heads that gays do exist, and, how do we deal with them or not deal with them? Tolerate them or not tolerate them? But for the fact that you’re present, inside a straight club, it starts this inner dialogue with themselves, with them trying to find out, why are you here? How come you’re not afraid of me? You know I want to kill you, I’m a straight person.
Drag queens in the gay community have always pushed the buttons, stretched the border, brought life and light to things that need attention. We are shamans and vision seers.
Wow, that’s a pretty huge responsibility! Was there a definite point when your look evolved from “club” to “drag?”
My look when from drag to club, not club to drag, because I saw many drag queens trying to show up to clubs to get paid trying to look like a female, and being shoved a hundred bucks in there face, or $150. The minute that I switched to club kid mode, clubs started paying me anywhere from $500 to $2700 to walk through the door. I’m financially motivated in everything that I do. Why would I want to be stuck trying to look like fish, when I can get paid for true artistry?
Besides, female drag never enticed me. I didn’t do what I do as a performer because I needed to look like a female, I did what I did because I am an Entertainer. Learning the female side of drag was just an exam, to push myself. To see if I could do it.
So, full fish drag isn’t your thing.
Is it my cup of tea? No, it’s for somebody else. I like things that are on me to always look very artistic, structured, avant-garde. I wanted to look very unique. I want to look like something that no one has seen before when I walked into a door. I want all eyes on me. You can’t achieve that looking like a female, because guess what, God has already created females! And they look better in their own images than a man trying to emulate them.
If every female decided to get up tomorrow morning and started doing makeup and updo themselves the same way that drag queens do, the drag queens will be at a loss in competition in five seconds, because the females have the body to wear it well, and do it well. It’s just that they haven’t tapped into that side of their diva. They have yet to figure out that they can do that. They just haven’t embraced their female diva within.
Gay males that do drag have embraced the female goddess in themselves, and that’s why they are able to do what they do. Artists in general have embraced the artistry inside themselves, and that’s what gives them the appeal to the audience. That’s why people want to come back and see them, over and over again.
Did you know RuPaul prior to your debut on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I got to meet RuPaul 900 years ago, at the Limelight, when she was crowned king and queen–if I’m correct, I think it was her and Kenny Kenny at the time. I don’t think she remembered who I was [when I arrived on the set of Drag Race], but that was a lifetime ago. But I’ve always been a big fan of hers, and I will always be a big fan of hers. And to know that this was the lady who made ”Supermodel,“ and took a career of drag and made it into something that big… to know that years later I would have the opportunity to be considered one of her children! It is a huge honor, and every day I get up I thank the Lord that I have been inducted into her house, into her Hall of Fame, to be a Rugirl. I do deeply and humbly thank her for all she’s done for us, opening up the doors for us all to move forward in life.
You also talked about how, right before you debuted on the show, you changed your makeup style to more suit what Ru does now, and what the contestants generally do.
I had to adapt, as you can see, over the years. You know, from the old form of drag and the old form of makeup. I call it “1992.” And then Mother Ru came out of the woodworks with a new look. A looked that was so legendary and fierce, that it made everyone take notice. And I think Mother Ru’s looks inspired a brand new generation of girls, in the words of TS Madison, to “step their pussy up.”
I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s good to push the bar, in terms of what you think you know, and not stay in the same area, not be stagnant. Not just in makeup, but also in your drag looks.
Yes, I had to change my look. Yes, I had to step up my game. I couldn’t show up back on that show looking like my makeup was from 1992. I had to learn how to cut a crease, learn how to carve a face out. I’m not a makeup artist in any shape, way, or form. My background is in biology, but I forced myself to learn how to do makeup.
And when I couldn’t learn it properly, thank God there was a queen out there, Digna Shei, who decided to pull me to the side and say, “let me help you on the latest trends.” And I had one class with her, and took it from there. But I took a camcorder, went to her house, and I recorded what she did in a three-hour makeup process, with me asking questions left and right, to try to unlock the magic–the mystery–behind proper makeup. And I took it back home and I watched it over and over and over, and applied. Each time as I did, it I got better. Not only did I get better, I was able to speed up my time. Makeup that used to take me four and a half hours is now taking me one hour, one and a half hours, depending. And that is standard time for drag queens to beat her face.
So yes, RuPaul–by me being on her show–forced me to dig deep in myself, to try to bring a much more better, presentable look to represent her, and her brand, plus myself, and also the current direction of where the future of drag is going. There’s nothing worse than a queen who has a fierce costume on, but her face still looks like 1992. I’m not knocking 1992, I’m just saying we’re in 2016, that’s all.
So, this streamlining of drag looks, this refined way of doing things, is okay?
Fish drag is the norm. It has been subconsciously pushed towards us now that this is the new direction. I think that’s good for many people. But I don’t think it’s good for everyone. I think there’s a saying: if every day is a sunny day, we wouldn’t know what a sunny day is! You have to have contrast and opposition to–a yin to a yang–in terms of what makes the opposite of everything. People appreciate the opposite of what they have, so to each their own.
Gender-bending, Acid Betty–look, there’s nothing wrong with that. Bring a Carmen Carrera look, there’s nothing wrong with that. Bring a RuPaul look, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just bring it fierce to the stage, that’s all. I call my look “Clubfish.”
You were one of the most memorable early eliminations in the show’s history, and Ru’s decision to Sashay you on the first episode of the season was probably the first time a lot of viewers were like, ‘Wait, why? What is this show supposed to be?“ Do you get why you were eliminated now, and are you okay with it?
If there’s one thing I knew: I might mess up on a challenge, but you will never beat me in a Lip Sync For Your Life. I feed off of those things. I don’t freeze up. Lip Sync For Your Life is like… it’s like bathing me in a glow of energy from heaven. The more I lip sync, the stronger I get. So, I’m not okay with it. Because I know that, personally, I could have went further on the show, and I did not get a chance to do that.
You know, a lot of people– a lot of fans–were upset. They felt that, with my season, it became very calculated. As in, it got so scripted to the point where it’s like, this is where we want to take the show.
And I do believe that my looks were too strong for what they were trying to cater to, in terms of Middle America, Corporate America. Those people can’t handle big abstract costumes, spike titties and spike headpieces, and all of that madness. I mean, they can now, but I don’t think it was something that you know they could handle back then, three-four years ago. The fanbase, it’s like, if they don’t see hair, wigs, Gilda, hair-hair-hair-fish-fish-fish, they are very closed off, very narrow-minded. So, that’s my take on that whole thing.
Laganja Estranja is the most nicest person on the planet you could ever meet. She is a sister for life. Yes, I always keep in touch with a few of my sisters. Not all, a few. But I’ve also met many other sisters along the way from other seasons that I stay in touch with all the time.
Overall, I might not be on social media all the time to stay in touch with them. But they know that I have love for every single one of the RuPaul girls. Whether it be the bitchy ones, the bully ones, the nice ones, the passive ones, the shy ones, the fierce ones, the likeable ones, or the hated ones, I have love for every single one of them. I have enough love for every single one of their styles, of what they bring to the table.
Drag is a rainbow. Drag is everything. It is not my job to sit there and look down on one style over another [laughs], and I love every single sister and every single child that RuPaul has given the ability to be on that show.
Did you suspect right away that Bianca del Rio, your season’s winner, was going to do well?
Well, I knew Bianca was going to do well the minute she walked into the dressing room. Because you gotta remember, before she made it onto the show, RuPaul had came to New York City to visit one of her shows. Just like this season past, when she came to New York City to see Bob the Drag Queen. You know it takes a lot to get Mother Ru to get up out of her throne room and to descend to the Earthly plains to see a regular child, and then bring her on the show.
Mother has such a beautiful eye, and the ability to spot a winner, and I love that about her. RuPaul is the real deal: she knows how to spot the proper elements and qualities in people, on certain things. And she knows when this child is the one who has that Certain Extra that’s going to take them far.
And let’s be realistic. Hurricane Bianca is a force of nature. She is right up there with earth, wind, fire, water, and heart. I knew she was going to win, because there’s nobody in that season who would be able to keep up with her. See, Bianca is a type of queen…at no point did she say she was a theater queen. [She never said] “I’ll do tap dance steps around you, I know my lines better than the next queen.” Bianca didn’t talk what she could do, Bianca just walked into the room and killed you with everything she had, while you’re in the corner with your head reeling, going, “What the hell happened? I know I’m a theater queen, and I know I can sing better than her. But how the hell did she win this? I’m the theater queen from my state!” Bianca is what we call a Silent Killer: you only know your dead after she’s beating you.
A tough lesson to learn for queens everywhere! And speaking of Silent Killers, your headpiece Ornacia from your intro in that episode is now legend. First of all, how did you see underneath that?
Ornacia’s costume was three layers of veil. It was designed for me to see through it. I can actually do full shows, walk runway in it, and no one would be the wiser. Yes, I physically designed it like that.
She’s so popular! Do venues that book you expect you to bring her along all the time?
Venues do book me, but they know that to book Ornacia it costs extra money. Ornacia gets booked all the time. That child is out and about, running around getting her coins, getting her ducketts. And it doesn’t matter if they book Ornacia for more coins, and how much they booked me–I’m still her manager. She’s not going anywhere! All proceeds will go to the Vivacious Foundation from the Ornacia bookings. Mother owns her, lock, stock and barrel!
Some people do believe that there is a truth to what Trinity Bonet said. I think the only thing that shocked people is that she was able to say it. Two years before Drag Race started, drag was actually dying. Drag Race revived the want and need for drag. If you speak to management, they will tell you a Drag Race girl whose pricing doesn’t break their bank gives them a huge revenue for that night. A lot of people actually know it’s true.
And here’s the thing: it’s like, a lot of the patrons show up to these clubs to see the RuPaul girls, and they show up with a lot of money to tip the RuPaul girls. and it synergically helps the local girls as well.
And they do go hand-in-hand: it can hurt a RuPaul girl to be in a booking [as easily as it can] help a RuPaul girl out to be in the booking. A Rupaul girl goes to a booking, and if she is fierce, it justifies the fact that she deserved to be on that show. If a RuPaul girl goes for a booking, and a local queen beats the s*** out of her, it makes that local queen look nine times better than a RuPaul girl. Meaning, that [local] queen knew her numbers better, her costumes were better, she serves better, she stepped up her game much better. And the crowd that sees that is going to turn around and tip that local girl more money. So it works both ways. I don’t think it’s a negative one way or the other; it [potentially] helps both..
[There once was] a certain European club that was the joke’s end of nightlife clubbing in their country. No one went there, it was a dump a dive. People laughed at the owner and his tired joke of a club. He decided to sign a contract to hire Drag Race girls and make it a thing in his club. Two years later, he’s now laughing at the other nine gay clubs. No one goes to those clubs anymore. They only come to his. Also, he used the extra revenue from the Drag Race girls, and stepped his pussy up in terms of looks and presentation. And he now has the number one club in his country. And now, the same people who used to laugh at him are now kissing his ass.
That’s the power of a Drag Race event. It can change lives.
Speaking of Europe, I suspect you’ve performed all over the globe by now… what’s been your favorite venue to perform in?
Yes I performed in a whole lot of places. I would say, one of the best places that I have performed was in Russia. I know they say they “get” the girls there. But, there’s a fierce Club in Russia call Central Station. They booked me. This girl and I had a blast.
The next place was Norway, and I had a blast there as well. I’d say, some of those are my favorite places. And also, Japan, cannot complain. Mother Ru, thank you for the opportunity. And there will be other places coming!
What’s your favorite number to do?
Have you recorded any original music?
Darling, I’ve had original music out on iTunes before queens from my season even had their album out. But since Logo [the network that owns Drag Race] was so keen on only talking about what the top girls were doing, they made no mention that I already had many tracks on iTunes during my season, and still do. yes go on iTunes and check out the word ”Vivacious” I even have more tracks coming up, and more videos coming up, too I don’t sing, I do b**** tracks.
You hosted the viewing party at Hogshead Tavern in Hamilton Heights for this past season of Drag Race. That venue’s pretty new to the gay scene, now dedicating their Sunday and Monday nights to the LGBT community (and successfully, from what here, thanks largely to you!) How did you enjoy that experience?
I always believed in pioneering and engineering in new areas, and I moved up into this part of town over 11 years ago. It wasn’t up until last year that I felt that the energy was right in terms of the ability to do something in Harlem.
Regarding this season’s viewing experience: Did you know Bob’s win was a sure thing from the beginning?
The minute I saw Bob–the minute I heard she was going to be on the show–I knew she had already won. Why? Good luck trying to beat her.
One thing about Bob the Drag Queen–she used the name Bob the Drag Queen as a distraction, because there you are in your head, laughing at her. “Oh my God, she called herself Bobbbbbb!” Meanwhile, you didn’t realize that she is quite skilled in everything, and she knows everything. She’s everything.
And are you a fan of ”Purse First?“
I performed an excerpt of Bob the Drag Queen’s “Purse First” this [past] Monday in my skit, and I will also be doing so again next Monday. I like it!
Derrick Barry, though. Isn’t it totally bizarre that she didn’t know how to make brows at that stage, to say the least?
As queens, we all have to start from somewhere. That’s just how it is. There is no one person who was born an instantaneous queen. So, if Derek has to learn how to do her eyes now, then this is just that time frame for her. I hope she gets it right, and with more practice she’s going to be fiercer at it. That’s all. She makes a fierce Britney, and she turns it out like no other in the craft of impersonating Britney.
Well, the best news about the Hogshead Drag Race viewing party ending is that you’re sticking around for a new weekly show there! Tell me about what we can expect from the new Monday night?
So, we’ve decided to start and use RuPaul’s Drag Race as an impetus, and we’re going to keep going forward. The party is called “Keep it Comin’ Mondays” We do a few shows, a few games, a few trivias, musical theater and old school house numbers. I’ve also added in video music walls into the party, so that when you hear a song, you’re physically seeing the video for it at the same time. I DJ and VJ at the same time, plus I’m the hostess and the MC.
We have a new set of gays that come through the door, and they are very happy to know that there’s now something in the neighborhood for them to come and enjoy, so that they don’t have to trek all the way downtown to Hell’s Kitchen. They can now walk three blocks from their house, and have a good time instead of going downtown. I want to create something for the gays up here, so that they will never have to go downtown.That’s my agenda, and that’s what I intend to do.
And each Monday, I bring in a new girl [to guest host,] who will embody some fierceness, who will serve the crowd lovely with a fierce musical number. The reason why I decided to bring in somebody who was the opposite of me is because I believe that for the crowd overall, it’s best to give them different sides of drag. One that is old school, that can adapt to new things, and one side that is for musical theater. There’s a lot of musical theater gays that are up in Harlem, and it’s good to give those guys something that they can fully relate to. While on my end, I present to them where their past came from.
What do kids today really need to learn about club music history?
A lot of these new kids, they know Beyoncé, but they don’t know people like Inaya Day, Kristine W, Janice Robinson. They don’t know that there is a village, an empire, of straight people who use their presence over the last 40 years to help gay people become visible. And these people have risked their careers, and perform for us, and use their influence back in the straight world to help us become visible. And that’s the reason why I celebrate those performers, singers, DJs, producers, as my heroes. It’s because of them we as a gay community are still standing.
We have friends in the straight community. It is not our job to push them to the side. It is not our job to forget who they are. It is our job to always remember who they are. Because of them, we’re here, and we work synergistically together. They provide entertainment. They provide the fierce tracks, and we get to style their hair, and hang out with them, and make them look fabulous. It’s fun! We love i.t
Amen! Regarding your show, which debuted last week, how’d it go with your first guest Bootsie LeFaris?
Bootsy Lefaris is a kiki. She turned it out, and we had a blast with it
And do you know who your next guest is going to be yet?
Drum roll… Holly Box-Springs! A musical theater girl, and she’s going to bring her uniqueness of what she does. So I’m looking forward to what she brings to the table.
Any other future or current projects/gigs/events/topics that you wanna plug or discuss?
Yes, I have a b**** track album coming out shortly. We’re still working on the sections. It’s called “Bitch Track Haiku.“ I can say the name now, because everything is already registered with the Library of Congress. Fully copyrighted, it’s cool. We’re just getting all the parts put together by the various producers, and we’re still waiting for that to come to life.
We’ll look out for that! Finally: Is it disappointing that the NY club scene is so small now? Do you see any hope for nightlife becoming as big and sprawling as it once was again?
Well yes, it’s very disappointing that the New York club scene is so small now. The issue is not so much what we want. The issue’s with the city’s agenda, if the city is going to go around and keep rewriting laws so that clubs cannot exist.
Unless we all collectively sign a class action lawsuit to sue the city, I don’t think we will win. You have to also remember, eminent domain rules are stronger than the will of local clubgoers, and community boards wield a stronger influence than regular clubgoers. People, they like to party, but they will never risk or go to bat with a lawyer to sue the community for clubs. People like to go to clubs, but they will not put their 100% in it to defend the ability of having clubs coming around.
As for the next big club, I do believe there’s a lot of complacent people in the city in terms of what they do and what they bring to the table, and I don’t think that they will ever fully commit to the ideal club in the future. It would be like, say, if somebody like me was supposed to win the lotto… then New York City would probably stand a chance of having a fierce club.
Somebody who puts in a lot of energy into nightlife can. But you know, a lot of people say that they would, but it’s like they don’t have the chops, because they just really aren’t so rounded in terms of what they bring to the table.
It’s a very lopsided point of view, when there are clubs that are out there, that are doing parties, and they’re not even using a drag queens. They’re not using entertainment. What’s up with that? I’m just saying. Richard Grant, owner of the Sound Factory, always said, “a club is only as good as what the owner allows it to do be.” That is such a true statement.
Right now, there are a lot of people in the club scene that are in charge of clubs, and they don’t even want entertainment in there–good entertainment–because they can’t take credit for it. And if they can’t take credit for it, they will destroy it. So instead, they hire your inferior dancers that are not even–shouldn’t even–be on stage. [They do this] instead of getting the real performers who can actually do the job, because they want to take credit for what people see.
It’s an ego. The scene right now is being extremely ego-driven by these promoters in charge of clubs. Which is quite sad, because the truth is, they could have had stronger parties if they’d realized that you can work with entertainers. That’s New York City at the moment.
Hopefully it will come around, and go through a revival. And entertainment can go back to the entertainers.
Brilliantly put! Thanks so much, Vivacious! See you Monday!