Proving that girls can drag as girls just as well as the guys, Mx. Nobody 2016 Elle McQueen is slaying us with her dramatic looks and graceful, sexy, fun performances. Catch her doing Madonna at Coney Island on Friday night–but read now as she dishes with Thotyssey about growing up in a family of strong ladies with great clothes, the meaning of Elysium, and staying out of the Shade!
Thotyssey: Hey Elle, nice to finally get a chance to chat! Last I saw you, you slayed for the win at the Mx. Nobody pageant in Brooklyn in June. That lip sync battle you had with Kandy Muse was one of the fiercest things I have ever seen! What was going through your mind during that, do you remember? Were you in the zone?
I was terrified. All I kept thinking was, “Kandy is so fierce, she’s got it.” But once we started, and the DJ picked songs I knew in all genres, I was like, “Girl, just be you and kill it, you’re a ham for the spotlight.” I felt a lot of pressure, and a lot of cold stares from her corner. And that just made me drive it home.
I didn’t want to say it, but yes, her team was intense! I ran the hell out of there when it was over!
Girl, let me tell you! Half of my lip sync was directed towards them because they just did not get the spirit of Mx. Nobody. Competition is fierce, but we’re not nasty!
Kandy did great, though, and it’s easy to get caught up in these things! You were painted gold head to toe, and it was gorgeous. How uncomfortable was that? Does it feel like you can’t breathe?
Yes! That paint was so uncomfortable! It went on easy but it itched and burned! My skin felt like it was on fire–I tried to use that discomfort in my routine. It took a few days to come off completely.
Makeup is your thing though, right? You’re an established makeup artist. How long have you been doing that?
Yes! I’ve been doing makeup now for about 5 or 6 years. My beauty blog is called Elysiumbeauty. I just started it, so there’s like nothing on it, but there will be soon. I specialize in natural and safe cosmetics, non-toxic beauty. I’ve been doing it for a while, but just getting the social media for it. I’ve been working on less toxic beats when its possible.
Where are you from, and what was life like growing up for you?
I grew up in White Plains, which is a little north of NYC. Suburbia. I grew up in a single parent household; at the same time I have such a big family. All I can say is, my dad was hardly missed. I always felt like he was missing out on a good thing, but, like, my mom was better off without him.
My family is very female-driven. Strong female leads. Captivating, wise, smart, “go get ‘em” types. It’s a blessing and at times a curse. I have two older sisters and one half-sister who’s about 10 years younger than me. No brothers. Although I do have a couple male cousins, the women in my family definitely run things!
I didn’t have a lot growing up, but I had what I needed. And growing up in the 90’s, creativity was the name of the game with hand-me-downs, recycled fashion, etc. We made everything work. And my mom gave us everything she could. I was rather privileged in that way.
Sounds pretty amazing. Speaking of creativity, how and when did you become an artist and performer?
It’s something that has always been there. I was playing dress-up from such a young age. I wanted to be a singer growing up. I was always a ham–shy, but definitely a ham.
I think my Grandma and Mom helped facilitate that. Whenever we went to Grandma’s, we’d play in her clothes, and it was always a fight over her suede thigh-highs. She had the best clothes and jewelry. In fact, that’s why I love vintage jewelry, because her jewelry was amazing. My Mom used to get us those plastic glittery princess heels with the matching plastic tiaras and jewelry. We loved that stuff. And the terrible quality makeup!
PS: my Grandma lived around the corner from me, so needless to say I was over my Grandma’s house every day.
I bet! So, when and where was Elle McQueen created?
Elle McQueen was born in Boston. My name is Elyse, but my loved ones called me Elle. And I worked in a natural skin care boutique, where one of my clients used to work with Alexander McQueen. And one day–after all the campy names I thought up of–I thought of Elle McQueen.
I wanted to be a queen, and had female friends at that time that were (are). And when I moved to Boston, I found a night scene I liked and went for it.
Were male drag queens always welcoming to you… and, I guess, drag fans in general? Or has it been a struggle to get respect in that world for what you do?
No struggle. I went out with my friends and ran into a queen I absolutely adore–Kurt Fowl–and I said I really want to be a drag queen. And he said, “Okay! Go over there to Violencia Exclamation Point, she has a show every Monday.” I spoke to her, she was so cool.
I did my show in October, and they were like, “Um, bitch, who are you!? We need you to come back!” It was awesome. I only performed once before coming back home to NYC. But I went out in drag all the time. I had some people be really confused, but they saw my pictures and the contrast of me in real life, and everyone was living.
In New York, I got a small bit of attitude once, and only once. I can’t be sure if it was shade, or just the way performing there (Boots & Saddle) is. But I performed there and was well-received. I don’t waste too much time asking for acceptance from people, because I know they will know who I am in due time.
Good philosophy! You usually appear with Crimson Kitty’s monthly revue at Stonewall, where new Ladyqueens (as she calls cis female drag queens, also known as bioqueens) are showcased. How did you meet Crimson?
I met Crimson Kitty through a Switch-N-Play show; it was my first show in NYC. She was a part of that collective at that time, before she went full-throttle with LadyQueen.
Do you think the Ladyqueen movement is somehow symbolizing the future of drag in any way?
LadyQueen is a wonderful platform. It provides an opportunity for bioqueens both novice and experienced to display their art in a space that is not dictated by cis males.
Drag as a whole is morphing, which is why more drag queens are finding each other and banning together. Drag is people saying you can’t tell us who to be. There are many drag queens that are ousted for not being traditional and being avant garde. Drag was a platform that pushed boundaries, so its only fair and proper that new boundaries are being pushed. Women don’t want to be told to just be kings; we are who we are. And there are many facets to that.
When’s the next showcase at Stonewall?
Crimson has been touring and taking over the world, so I don’t when the next show is.
Okay, back to your Mx. Nobody pageant win for a sec. Your talent that night was a dramatic lip sync and dance (“Zombie”). Do you generally go for the drama, or do you go for sexytime and laughs when they’re called for?
I’m usually known for hitting the crowd with femme fatale. But recently, with all the politics and debates going on, I wanted to hit heavy. I do like a more rock-like edge and feel. I just like intense. But every now and then. I like to show people I’m not just a pretty face, or hot bod.
You mentioned “Elysium,” a place you “created,” in your Q&A that night. It’s also part of the name of your beauty blog. Can you tell us about the significance of that place?
Elysium is a play on my name, but also an afterlife destination that only if you were favored by the gods you went to. It’s a paradise for the Chosen. It’s my brand. It’s a place I created after a horrible breakup. It was a metaphorical place I made up. It’s a place where I can turn heartache and pain into constructive creativity and art–a form of zen. It’s a space I created as a “no flex zone”. It’s where I create.
My social media handles and blogs all have Elysium in the title. It’s my brand, and who I am, and sometimes I share that with people. Songs, drawings, makeup, etc., all things that complete me.
I wanna go there!
It was what it was. There was solidarity, but also a sense of defeat. I’ve never rallied in New York, but I have a few times in Boston. Police brutality is happening way too often. I feel like the protest is no longer beautiful, but just sad that people still don’t get it.They don’t understand why we say “Black lives matter,” not all lives, or blue lives. We as a whole were tired but determined. I came close to being arrested. But I couldn’t be sure why I was doing it, and was I a sell-out for not committing to getting arrested?
It does sometimes seem like an impossible message to convey. Some people just really can’t absorb or understand what’s a pretty basic concept, I think.
Okay, let’s talk about gigs. First of all, you’re doing Femme Ambition at Coney Island USA with Crimson and a whole lot of burlesque performers on July 29th at 10pm. This is Madonna Season, so y’all will be serving Madge realness. what’s your favorite era of Madonna?
Actually, I don’t really have a favorite. I guess I like her more 90’s, but Confessions on a Dance Floor album was my shit.
Can you spoil what number you’re doing?
No!!! But it is a more recent song that she got a lot of shit for! (Like, when is she not getting shit for her stuff?)
It’s like a talk show of Nobodies talking about stuff. And its really hilarious, with a small but committed crowd. Very different from any show I’ve ever been to!
So, who should win Drag Race All-Stars Season 2?
RuPaul’s? I have no idea who’s even in it!
Good for you! Okay, last question… if you had a million dollar budget for a single stage look, what do you think you would do?
Oooooh I would go soooo big. Gothic excellence! Layered costumes with big hair! Statuesque, maybe even add wings like Courtney Act did in her season.
I was hoping you’d say wings! Okay Elle, thanks so much, and have fun doing your thing in Brooklyn!
Elle McQueen will perform for the Femme Ambition burlesque tribute to Madonna at Coney Island USA on Friday, July 29th (10pm). She’ll appear at the “Nobodies’ Talking Shit” panel and drag show with the Nobodies at Eastlands on August 1st and August 15th (both 9pm). Elle can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.