So, the Mr. / Ms. Gay New Jersey 2016 pageant was held yesterday, and the 2015 winner Davida Sky was not there to pass down her crown. The reason for her absence is quite shocking. And with the sudden closing of the historic Den Nightclub in Somerset where she’s been hosting a popular drag competition, it’s been quite a summer for Davida. Now taking a well-deserved break, there’s no doubt that this fiercely talented and gorgeous queen will soon be back on top… on her own terms. But until then, this Sky is raining the T for Thotyssey and the children!
Thotyssey: Hi Davida! Thanks for talking to us today. I have to first confess that I’m quite ignorant about the Jersey scene, but I know that your Den Diva Showcase was a great platform for new queens, and drag in general. I interviewed a young queen Zalika Parsons recently who debuted there. How long was that show running?
The Den Diva Showcase ran for over a decade. This night was a monthly competition where new queens and veterans of drag could compete on the same stage without any judgement. Many of New Jersey’s drag queens were born on The Den’s dance floor, as we opened our doors to the LGBTQ community for over 70 years. I myself was born at The Den two years ago. This is back when Alexis Milian was the resident host of the show, along with the current reigning Miss Den Bella Sky. The reputation of The Den in New Jersey was that it was always a venue where you could go, get your footing in drag, and be supported by a great cast of queens!
What a great, long history for that venue. I wish they were able to get hold of landmark status the way that some old venues in NYC are starting to get. Did it’s closing a few weeks ago come as a big surprise to you?
I think the closing of the venue came as a shock to many. The Den Nightclub is the venue that made it legal for gay people to congregate in public in the State of New Jersey! The owners took the fight to the Supreme Court in 1967 to allow gays to congregate in public spaces, and the family has kept The Den open since then. Unfortunately, like many gay clubs, a lack of support made it difficult to stay open.
The reason we have gay nights or venues in New Jersey is because of the work done by The Den’s owners. As a performer, I noticed that the venue was struggling to bring people in despite having a committed cast of formers who would perform for free or tips. What The Den never lost was a commitment from the queens who were born there to make great shows and community events happen!
That’s a very powerful legacy; it will be missed.
It will be!
So, you said you got your start there. What motivated you to do drag in the beginning?
I think that I was always drawn to the confidence and authenticity of drag performers! When I was not even in elementary school, I remembered watching Jerry Springer and Maury, and I always loved the (terribly exploitative in retrospect) showcases of trans women and drag performers! Like how many kids looked at cowboys or astronauts, I saw these people and said–“That is what I want to be when I grow up!” There is something really empowering about someone who can step into their skin and let the world know that they are who they are.
In terms of my own drag, I was inspired by the queens of the New Jersey stage! My first show was hosted by the legendary Princess Janae. She came out and performed Tamar Braxton’s “Love and War,” and I remember thinking that I have never felt someone exude so much power and strength than this woman who commanded a packed club with a ballad.
From there, I met Victoria Courtez and Cyannie Lopez, two Jersey performers who are legendary dancers and showgirls. I learned how to do my makeup by watching them do theirs in the bathroom of the club! [Laughs] it was a great time for 19 year-old me to make some real connections with the performers who would shape my drag.
Janae is another legend who is sorely missed.
She passed away a few months after that show, and I always consider myself so lucky to have seen her perform!
You have the polished look of a veteran pageant queen, despite your young age. What’s the first big pageant you entered?
Thank you! I will say that my look definitely evolved from performing at The Den. When we had our shows, there was no learning curve. Everyone was expected to entertain and the formers and current [Miss Den] would always give advice to those who listened.
My first pageant was Miss Gay New Jersey at Large! I was crowned a few months before the pageant as Miss Bergen County at Large as a preliminary for the state pageant. The pageant was a huge learning experience for me, as I had only been performing for a few months before I took the challenge. Thankfully, I had a lot of help from Lady Marisa, who is the Fairy Drag Mother of most Jersey queens. She helped a broke college student look like a polished queen and I ended up taking home the crown and every category! It was intimidating because I had never competed before the state pageant, and I was going against two queens who had years of performing experience over me.
I did MGNJ at Large because I believed in the mission of assisting our community living with HIV/AIDS. However, I served for eight months before I was decrowned from that title.
What was that all about, the decrowning?
I had a rocky start to my reign. I was raised to say what was on my mind, and stick up for what I know to be right. Because of my age and “newcomer” status, there were board members of the organization who felt that I wouldn’t speak up if I was treated as though I was powerless. The organization has a rocky history in New Jersey, as many formers and people in the scene reported that despite collecting money to assist people with HIV/AIDS, that little was actually done to provide that assistance.
My large issue with the organization began when a board member started to speak negatively about me to other queens. I started getting text messages from performers across the state–some who I did not know–asking why I was saying this, that and the third about them.
We eventually tracked back all of the text messages to a single person who was the board member of the organization. This individual then reacted to being caught by threatening to decrown me and then threatened me with physical violence. Month after month, a new drama with this board member would unfold, and would typically result in more threats of physical violence as well as threats to take away the crown. Despite not being in the greatest position, I was determined that if I did the shows and tried to stay positive, that I could survive my reign and make some change in the organization.
Everything escalated toward the end of my reign.
I attended a show where someone made a joke about the organization on the microphone. Although I was not there in drag or for a MGNJ event, I was blamed by the same individual (who was not in attendance) for not sticking up for the organization. At any drag show, jokes are going to be made, and it is not like anyone in the community is free from criticism.
This began what seemed like an unending barrage of phone calls, text messages, and threats emanating from the board of the “non-profit.”
Oh my God. So, eventually the decrowning did officially happen? I imagine they tried to keep it very low-key.
They tried! Haha! It was actually two days before my birthday (I know!) when I received the call. The official reason they gave me was because I missed a board meeting that was called the same day when I was out of state, and another that was over a two hour drive for me when I didn’t’ have a car. Although those were the official reasons, it was more of a weeks-long process of verbal harassment which lead to text messages from board members threading to have me beat up and jumped. When the call came, I remember feeling like giving everything up. I fought for months to survive that reign, because I wanted to try and make some change in the organization and community.
Despite them decrowning me, I had tremendous support from my community. In the eight months that I reigned, I traveled to every corner of New Jersey and tried to do as much as I good to represent the legacy in a positive light, even despite the drama. I had hundreds of messages, posts, and rants sent and posted by my community.
But that wasn’t all. After they decrowned me, the largest show of support came from one of my drag family members, Cristal Sky. She had been preparing to compete for the Latina division of Gay New Jersey, and the day I was decrowned, she pulled herself out of the competition. This is a queen who had already spent hundreds of dollars, but would not support a system that treated its queens like this.
There was a divestment from many formers, as well as from many who were planning on competing in other categories. Although it saddens me that it had to happen, I was so humbled by the queens who refused to by into a system that exploits and belittles their queen.
So yes, they tried to keep it “low-key,” but it majorly back fired on them!
I’m so sorry you went through all of that! So, how do you think they are going to acknowledge all of this for this year’s pageant on Sunday?
They won’t acknowledge it! [laughs] I received an apology from the president of the organization a month ago, along with the promise of a conversation with the board and currents to have me return for a step down at the pageant. A month went by, and so came a reversal of their stance, and they let me know that I was no longer welcome at the pageant!
The pageant is actually tomorrow, so to celebrate I may put on the new gown I bought and do a ballad in a McDonald’s parking lot…Because why waste a new gown? Ha!
That would be amazing! So, onto more pleasant and worthy topics: what did you think of the photos coming out of Continental in Chicago this weekend? Those are always fun to see!
I livvvvvvvvve for Continental! I really think that there is so much beauty and diversity in drag. The ladies really put together amazing packages, and put their backbone and a few months of rent into it too! Although I love the pageant scene and community, the thing I love about New Jersey is that you have all varieties of drag performing on the same stages. So there is a heavy culture of pageantry, but there is so much going on that defies the norms of what we call “pageant queens.”
It’s funny, because a lot of people always call me a pageant queen, and I don’t see myself at all as that!
It’s all in the looks I guess!
I’m from a family that cares a lot about pageantry, the Sky family, so it must run in the blood! My whole family always says that I’m the dark and evil one, because I always gravitate towards darker makeup and outfits!
How would you describe your performing style in general: do you bring the comedy, the drama, the dancing, the mixes, the singing, etc? And what’s your favorite number to do at the moment?
I would say that my performance style is somewhere in between dancing and comedy. Meaning, it’s funny to watch me try to dance!
What I enjoy the most is doing something the audience doesn’t expect me to. I’ll come out and if I see trade during a number, I’ll pull him on stage and sit on him. One time, I was performing J-Lo and I was tipped a 20 piece nugget, so I stopped performing and ate for the rest of the number while collecting tips! But I do like fast dance numbers, and I think that it’s just the fun of seeing a 300 pound queen buck and split and kick that makes the audience give back such great energy!
Is gigging difficult in NJ? Asbury Park aside, it seems like there isn’t really a gay hub there, and venues–many great and successful–are spread out all over the state.
New Jersey is an interesting scene. I’m based out of Trenton, so everything is usually an hour away at least! Although many see the Asbury scene as the center of NJ drag, I’ve had a tremendous amount of support in my drag from the Latino community of New Jersey. North Jersey is populated with venues that cater to gay nights, and they are always packed and ready to tip the girls! When I first started, I struggled to perform while finishing up college and having the money to even put gas in the tank to get to a club and perform for free [laughs].
But as I kept growing and experiencing new venues, it wasn’t long before I started getting booked regularly. Up until the closing of the Den, I was getting booked there twice a month, and usually two or three other venues. Drag had become such a huge part of my life that it became something I used to do once a month a year ago to something I did two or three times a week this summer.
Not a lot of queens experience this, and sometimes it’s because they get comfortable going to the same two or three venues. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve packed a suitcase, hopped in the car, and hoped for a successful night at a club I’ve never been to!
Including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I’ve performed at about 20 venues.
Wow! That’s good though, because it keeps you fresh and adaptable! Ever think about expanding to NYC venues, or is that too far and too tough a shell to crack?
This is so corny, but I have performed once in New York! We were lined up for NYC Pride with the Gay NJ float. There were hundreds of people waiting on the same side street as us, so we said, “let’s turn up the music and give the a show!” It was kind of a magical moment as we the queens on the float tagged each other onto the performing stage as the music changed!
But other than that, I’ve performed in Hoboken and Union City, so maybe one day I’ll actually make it out to a venue! And of course my friends are always trying me to do pageants in Queens! Maybe one day! [laughs]
I see that you’re also a graphic designer/poster maker.
I make horrible shitty posters! [Laughs] it actually was out of the need to learn how to make them for my own shows, and then suddenly everyone kept asking for them! So I said “girl, if I’m gonna have to make all these posters, I better see some coins!”
Anything coming up, gig-wise? Or are you taking a break?
I have nothing planned, it’s great! [laughs] I’ve been on a month-long break from drag. I’ve even grown a beard! I’m in a pretty transitional point where I just graduated college, am trying to move, and started a new white woman job, so drag has gone on the back burner. I have a guest spot lined up for the Miss Gay New Jersey United States pageant next weekend at Paradise! (It has nothing to do with Miss Gay New Jersey!) But other than that, I’m taking the first break I’ve had in a year, to plan my next move and amass some fun outfits and hair!
Sounds delightful and well deserved! Required Drag Race All-Stars question: whose team are you on?
I am in love with what Roxxxy has been bringing to the show! I think that they’re all really hitting it out of the park with All-Stars, but I am so rooting for her! I’m also rooting for Michelle Visages tetas cause I think that’s what’s really winning this season.
I heard they were getting their own spin-off! Okay, final, frivolous question: where in NJ can one pick up the best Trade? (I know you’re a LADY but what have you heard)?
Hello! Tinder! That’s where I get mine, because I’m a woman! But some great hunting grounds are Cascada, Georgies, and Paradise all in Asbury Park, Sangria Lounge in Perth Amboy, and Tequila 55, Vale Todo, and Mandala in North Jersey! Also opening up is PURE Friday in the end of September, which is an 18+ party in Sayersville!
My favorite places to see the queens are Cee’Mour Cox’s Drag Wars on Mondays at Cascada, Lady Marisa’s Glitz and Glam Thursdays at Georgies, Drag Attack at Sangria Lounge on Thursdays, Paradise on Friday, and Vale Todo on Saturdays!
Thank you, Davida! Enjoy your beard and your break, and hope to see you around soon enough!