Pint-sized but packing a punch, Jada Valenciaga is one of NYC’s fiercest drag showgirls. Now with two brunches, her first solo weekly show on Fire Island and an exciting cabaret revue about to debut that showcases her gorgeous singing and life story, the Age of Jada is officially upon us! Thotyssey catches hold of this rising star just long enough for this quick interview.
Thotyssey: Hey Jada! Thanks for talking to us! So, how is Fire Island treating you this summer? You’ve got a lot going on there!
Jada Valenciaga: It has been really great this season! I’m enjoying being able to be out on the place that I love, with people that I love even more! The atmosphere is just full of love, which is what this day and age need right now!
Has anybody thrown you in the pool yet?
Oh GOD no! Logan almost got me the second or third week in, but I grabbed onto her so tight and said “Biiitch don’t you dare!” [laughs] It was a good laugh with good sisters.
Sounds like you’re having fun! Is it weird without the Grove Hotel?
It is a little weird, not being able to stumble back to your room after a fun night out!
How long ago was it that you won Entertainer of the Year at Miss Fire Island?
That was two years ago? Yes, that was 2014! Such a great day and summer!
What did you perform for that?
I did a Fame mix, and ended with “Turn Me Out” with 3 costume changes and a hair change. Complete with live singing!
That’s the Full Jada! I understand that you’ve just been given a new show there at the Ice Palace.
Well, I have switched to hosting my very own show on Tuesdays now, so I no longer do the Saturday night dance party.
This this kinda your first solo weekly show ever, right?
Yes, actually it is! And what a place to have it!
Now you get to do all that stuff that you probably rarely got to do when you were part of an ensemble, or hosting parties… like talking! And playing games with the audience! Are you a “take your shirt off!” kind of queen?
Not really? Only when I’m in the rare mood will I ask a guy to take his shirt off [laughs]. I’m more like, “are you smart, and do you have a sense of humor?”
You’re a classy queen! So, you’ve come a long way from Kansas City, Missouri. What do you miss the most and the least about your hometown?
I miss the food, and a majority of my family. Least of all are the bigoted assholes I used to go to school with, and all the close-minded people who live there!
Was it all, like, Wal-Mart and guns and country music?
The first two are right. We liked a lot of underground rap [laughs]! They sounded like the artist who’s CDs they try to give you on the streets of New York City and make you pay for them. Only people actually pay for them in Missouri.
So that’s who buys those! So, for you as a kid, was it always Broadway and showtunes and the stage for you?
Nah, I started off with gospel music and r&b.
That makes sense! I guess that’s still a big part of your musical identity. You are also a songwriter, aren’t you?
Yes, I am songwriter and composer.
In fact, you went to the AMDA performing arts school here in NYC, which produced an unusually high number of performing drag queens. I talked to Honey Davenport about it a few days ago, and she wasn’t a big fan of the school. What was your take on it?
My take on the school is that, much like life, you get out of it what you put into it. I didn’t come to NYC to play games and fool around. I came here with a purpose. So I soaked up as much as I could, with the teachers who were actually willing to teach their students.
Where was Jada born?
What was Jada to you in those early days… What could you express through her that you couldn’t otherwise?
Someone else I could be, and say the things William couldn’t. Jada to this day still continues to be an artistic outlet for me. Also, a way for me to let out my feelings no matter what they may be.
You’re definitely one of the strongest dancing queens in the city today. Are you amused by other queens who fancy themselves as dancing queens but…. aren’t, really?
I’m not the master or mistress of dance by an means! But if there is a queen who fancies themselves a dancer, then I say go for it! I’m not here to judge or look at you sideways. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to keep going and perfect your craft. Whatever style “dance” it may be. Try to be the best at it.
That’s very generous! I know that a lot of queens ask you to be a background dancer for their pageant packages, as William and as Jada. Do you have to click into a different mode to be a background dancer, as opposed to being the star performer?
I’m still myself. I just make sure that queen is showcased to the best of their abilities as a performer. I refuse to bring a package to a stage where the star looks less than that of the background dancer. It’s not about us as backup dancers. It’s about the queen. And so many girls/queens hire a choreographer who thinks it’s all about the dancers. And that tends to be the downfall.
Don’t let your dancers outshine you. It’s your moment. My rule is “if I can’t do it….you ain’t doin’ it!” Unless you’re doing it as a comedy routine. Then it’s fair game!
I love watching you dance with two of your best drag sisters who are also fierce dancers, Brenda Dharling and Prada G. Major. You all do it every so often for Prada’s Boots show. Can’t somebody give you all a regular weekly or monthly show together? Would you be into that?
We’ve wanted that since forever! When we do have the time to get together, the energy and chemistry we have onstage is crazy!
It sure is! And you had a regular gig at the huge XL, with Bianca del Rio and other popular queens over the years. But that venue really re-purposed itself on several occasions over time, and now there aren’t really any huge spaces left in the city for the kids. What do you blame this on, and do you miss the larger venues?
Well, I can honestly say that it’s not about the venue, but the people you spend time with in the venue. Venues come and go, but the families you make in the venue are what really count. I had the honor and privilege of coming in and having fun with Bianca del Rio, Lady Bunny, Milan, Skyla Versai, Sugga Pie Koko and our dancers Filip and Devin every Friday! We were and still are a family! We all still see and even work with each other! It’s just the love we have knowing that we will see each other again!
I do, however, blame some gay owners of trying to price themselves so high that they overprice themselves right out of business. Know your clientele, and if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.
Real Deal Wednesdays at the Ritz was a big weekly show for a long time… That was you, Maddelynn Hatter, Chaka Khanvict, Ivana Taupe and–back in the day–Pusse Couture. Everyone was very surprised when the Ritz ended that show and parted ways with almost all of their queens. It seems like a lot of drag queens who came through that venue in recent years did not end things on a high note with the Ritz. Where do you stand now with how all of that went down?
That is a prime example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes people get too big for their britches (no pun intended) and shit happens. When I got let go, it was actually a huge weight off of my chest (once again, no pun intended). I’m no longer bitter about it. It was time to release toxic people from my life. And not to get all religious on you, but God knew I would continue to go there, and be miserable, and fight through the frustrations I had with the way some things were being handled… so he forcibly got me out [laughs]!
I still talk to Maddelynn and Pusse Couture through Facebook on occasion. And I still keep in touch with the DJs, bar staff, and security people. They are still my family. My problem was with certain queens. Not staff members. Our friendships don’t end because I stopped working there. Just ask my boo Xavier and my boys John and Lance and Anita and Micheal and Danny, etc! Love them!
At around the same time that you were let go from the Ritz though, you became a part of the Brandon Voss drag brunch experience at Senor Frogs on Sundays, which is arguably the most popular weekly drag show in the city. And this is one of those rare shows that crosswa over into straight audience territory. How are you liking this day drag experience?
This was one of the moments where I said, “Sometimes God closes a window and opens up a door.” I love this brunch so much! I’m done by 4:30, and I spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want, like the grown woman I am!
That brunch stage has you and a revolving cast that often consists of Bootsie LeFaris, Shequida, Aquaria, Ebonee Excell and your old XL pal Sugga Pi–who’s kind of been the breakout star! A lot of Drag Racers come through to guest host, too. Bootsie had mentioned that she was surprised a lot of them, like Derrick Barry, have been very quiet and reserved. Do you have any tales to tell about them?
And now this summer the Voss gang is also doing a Saturday Brunch at the Blue Whale in the Pines. What time in the morning are you heading out here to do that brunch?
I’m up by 7 painting my face, and on the 9:45 train…..oooof!
Yikes! So let me ask a little about your musical theatre experience. What has been your favorite role that you’ve played?
I mean my dream role Angel [from Rent] has been my favorite role so far. And I’ve played him four times!
And didn’t you collaborate with Julianne Moore?
I did a show called Freckleface Strawberry. The book was written by Julianne Moore who I had he pleasure to actually meet!
Oh my gawd, I love her. Is she amazing?
She’s very sweet! She sent the cast flowers on our opening show.
Nice! Do you ever feel that your theater work and your drag work compete with each other?
It used to. But I learned awhile ago from my sister Milan (who is also a Broadway veteran): you have to find a happy medium with both worlds. I’m still finding it, but the progress I’ve made so far has been great!
Now we have Lady Gay: All of Me, which debuts tomorrow at Stonewall! This is a cabaret and revue that you wrote and compiled yourself! I know this was a long time in the making. What motivates you to want to create this?
It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, and something finally said “it’s time.” And here we are!
Talk about this showcase for a bit! You’ll have monologues you wrote about your life, and songs. Are these original songs you’ve written, or covers?
There is everything from Broadway to Beyonce in this show. And yes, even some of my original music is in it! I don’t want to give much away, though. You’ll have to see the show!
We’ll be there! As the show is opening Tuesday at 8pm (and running through Thursday), is somebody filling in for you at the Ice Palace opening night?
Yes, my sister Bootsie LeFaris will be filling in for me!
Well, Lady Gay could be the seed of some huge new stage of Jada! I hear you’re involved in some film projects, too.
There is a film I did that should be coming out soon. It’s called Party of One! Be sure to look out for it! Also a mini-web series I finished doing a while back should be coming out as well! Details to follow!
Oh, and isn’t Dragged, that documentary featuring you and several other queens, being released soon?
I believe so!
We’ll look for it. So, final question: Who should play the lead in the eventual made-for-TV film Everything: The Jada Valenciaga Story?
I think I’d play myself!
I couldn’t think of a better choice. See you soon, Jada!
Jada Valenciaga performs for the Voss Events drag brunch at the Blue Whale in the Fire Island Pines on Saturday starting at 12:30, and the Froggie Style Drag Brunch at Senor Frog’s at noon on Sundays. On Tuesdays, she hosts her weekly show Hunty at the Ice Palace (10pm), and her cabaret showcase “Lady Gay: All of Me” runs July 19th-21st (8pm). She can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.