Gogo boy Alex Beckett by night and drag starlet Adriana Trenta by… other nights, this dynamic performer slays innightlife’s two most visible performance worlds. Right now it’s Adriana’s turn to shine, having won Week 3 of this season’s seminal drag competition “So You Think You Can Drag?” Read her interesting thoughts on the difference between gogo and drag, the treatment of Phi Phi O’Hara, and her own near-foray into Reality TV in this exclusive interview!
Thotyssey: Hi Adriana! How’s it going today? Congratulations on your win for Week 3 of “So You Think You Can Drag?” It was Disney week, who were you?
Adriana Trenta: Hey queen! I’m walking on air, thank you! I went as the central Muse from Hercules with accompanying backup Muses.
Tunics all the way! And did I see that you were a cow on the runway?
Yes Ma’am! It was UDDERLY unforgettable….I’ll see myself out for that one.
So, let’s start at the beginning! Where’s your hometown?
Way over my graying head! Were you the most fabulous princess of North Easton? And did you always want to be a performer?
In all honesty, not really. Growing up I didn’t really have friends and bounced from activity to activity in an attempt to make friends. When that failed I wound up collecting more hobbies than I realized. I wound up on varsity track and cross country, in the orchestra, in student government and art before even setting foot on a stage for show choir, and musical at a school dance.
Once I did get on stage though, you were hard pressed to get me off of it. However, my parents practically forced me into majoring in business, so art and dancing/performing fell by the wayside for a bit.
Well, a business background will help you in showbiz for certain. Did you come to NYC for school?
Yes! After getting outed in high school the last thing I wanted to do was to go to college with at least 20 people from high school in the same state I grew up in. I knew I was never going to leave my hometown if I stayed much longer. Pace University was the farthest place my parents let me apply to, and it was a match made in heaven (aka Manhattan).
And you came out in a big way here I guess, as we’re wont to do! When and how did you start gogo dancing?
Ironically enough, it involves “So You Think You Can Drag?” I went to the season 4 finale on a whim, and met [contestant] Asia Persuasia. She tried bringing me to every bar in Manhattan (I was secretly underage at the time shhhh) and in order to sneak me past the bouncers, we’d lie and say I was auditioning to be a gogo boy (I didn’t know what that was at the time). In reality I just wanted to dance to loud music and try to make friends.
One time a bouncer called me on it, and then I actually had to go through with it… and that’s how I started gogo-ing on a random Thursday at the Cock.
Of all the places to start! People get very handsy there. Did that freak you out in the beginning?
Admittedly, yes. However, the staff and security there are family. If you work there, you are in control, and if things get too crazy, security has your back.
After going on a bit of a soul search and learning to love my body and all of my charisma and own my self, it really didn’t bother me as much. Soon it became a secret identity/Batman-Bruce Wayne type of thing. It felt liberating to moonlight as this confident boy, and then go back to my anonymous and quiet college boy life
Is Alex not your real name?
Alex is a fake/gogo name (insert shock and awe).
It’s a very respectful one! There are enough Colton Tylers out there! Do you feel erotically charged when you dance, or is it just totally rote?
I definitely feel that I channel a lot of my sensuality/charisma/masculinity while I dance, and Alex is definitely a part of my dual-ish personality (I’m a Gemini like that). But at the end of the day, it’s a character I play. I’m not like this sexpot that is a party animal, I just am drawn that way.
And you’re still an active gogo dancer, and do you have regular weekly gigs?
Yes! Gotta pay for this competition some way! I would love to be a boy who is set at one spot every week, but where’s the fun in that? You feel stale after awhile, and don’t get to be adventurous. It becomes more of a job that way.
I do have weekly gigs, and I always will welcome it, but I love doing one-off gigs as well. Also one-off gigs are easier to schedule a day job/life around. She does have to pay her rent as well!
By the way, what ever happened to Asia Persuasia? Did she leave the city?
She did! She was a student while
competing, and then went home to Borneo, while everyone thought it was Season 7. She’s in the UK for her doctorate last time I heard from her…which was ages ago.
Good for her! Wow, she’s the world’s tiniest, prettiest doctor by now. So, do I have it right that it was Strawberry Fields who asked you to be a backup (non-drag) dancer for her in a SYTYCD number, and that that was your debut of sorts on a drag-centric stage?
Yes, week 2 for Shoeless Joe (from Hannibal Mo)! Sorry. PTSD from that number is a bitch sometimes.
So what was so special about that performance for you, that made you want to try drag yourself?
Well it’s not just that one performance, since I was helping Ritzy Bitz (a dear friend from before SYTYCD) brainstorm ideas for the weeks.
But that performance happened at the exact right moment. I was nominated for a Glam Award, I was getting to finally step foot on the stage that started my gogo career, and it also was probably the most technically-challenging number that I’ve done. We rehearsed that for weeks. And it all paid off in spades. I made lifelong friends that week.
But it also was right when I was re-watching Season 7 of drag race, as one does, and gagging over Kandy Ho and Jaidynn Diore Fierce’s “Break Free” lip sync.
But that number was essentially the perfect storm: the thunderous applause, the friends made, the fun we had doing it. It was all there.
And how exactly did the spirit of Ariana Grande take over your body as you decided to create Adriana?
[Laughs] Ariana never really “took over.” She was never on my radar as far as music was concerned until “Problem” and “Break Free” were released. At the time, I was going through immense family pressure, and “Break Free” became my coping song. I always loved her stylistic choices, and see her influencing my drag in style and not necessarily performance.
Ironically enough we look nothing alike, which is why people don’t normally get the pun in the name (hint: I’m triple her size and have a penis, so it’s Trenta and you add a D).
My very first drag performance was to an Ariana song at Sutton Lee Seymour’s Pride show [at Albatross], and I went in drag for the first time Halloween as her as well. So I kinda had to choose an Ariana-inspired name.
Fun fact: since I was technically born on Halloween, and didn’t do drag again until around Pride, I’m both a Halloween and Pride baby!
It was meant to be! The first time I saw you perform was the Miss Lady Liberty semifinals at Boots & Saddle. You had four dancers and an elaborate onstage costume change, and of course you were doing Ariana. And you already had a huge following! Where did the fan base come from at that early stage?
I had a fan base?!? I brought 3 people! [Laughs]
The “fan base,” in all actuality, came from me connecting my social media platforms and really playing with the duality of my nightlife characters. With the connections through Alex, I actually managed to get a little traction with an image, and get dancers and props through friends I made while working as a boy. I had a lot of people in my corner that night.
Well, people loved you, so I guess you won more over that night?
I guess! Especially that switch into Iggy halfway through. Ironically I was supposed to pay my dancers all a free drink, and only got to paying one of the four before votes were counted. I lost on the Top 2 by 1 vote. You do the math.(Shout out to Juicy Liu for that tube and quick change gimmick idea).
So, people in Alex Gogo World have been mostly supportive of your drag? Was anyone like, “Ew don’t do that, be a cute boy forever?”
The response has been 90% positive. A lot of people that I met while gogo-ing were noting of how…queeny I act, and were happy to see me branching out and not getting caught up in the trend of becoming a muscular circuit boy hired to dance monthly parties.
However, there have been the occasional side eyes coupled with ”you’re a queen now?..“ But I see where they could start to think that. Especially with the popularity of Drag Race, a lot of boys suddenly think you can do drag just by stepping into a beauty supply store.
Once these few queens realized that I put in my time watching those before me get ready, studied how they performed, learned the tools of the trade as an outsider and really applied it, then I earned their respect…I think?
At the end of the day, my biggest fear starting out was being “that dude in a wig who thinks he’s flawless.”
Do you credit anyone specifically with helping you refine your makeup, or are you just picking it up in pieces everywhere?
I consider most of the queens that I’ve worked with to be friends and chosen family at this point, and have picked up tips and tricks from most of them. Queens like Aja, Momo, Kandy and Dahlia, my VSBU gals, my SYTYCD family, Sutton…they all provided some sphere of influence on my drag.
However, I will always and forever claim Strawberry Fields and Ritzy Bitz as my two drag aunties. Not mothers, since they have their own things going for them and they’re very talented in their own regards. But they have helped me both in and out of drag, just like I’ve helped them with things, and they are two queens I consider myself closest to. They have both sat me down and given me the most advice I could think of for drag and for life. They are the closest things I have to drag moms. Also they’re too young to be mothers yet.
It must be nice, and a little surreal maybe, to have Strawberry there every week as a rosy correspondent interviewing you when you win, right?
AbsoFUCKINlutely. I feel a lot more calm seeing her there backstage. She’s a completely neutral figure, and is nice and helpful to all the girls. But she knows me personally, and can tell if and when I’m feeling something.
Last week when I redeemed myself after an unfortunate start to the competition, Ritzy, Strawberry and I were all backstage in drag together for the first time ever. I felt like my drag was validated, and that I was finally at a level that they were at. I still have a ways to go before I’m considered equal to them, but it felt like I grew up.
A weird aspect of being a boy in nightlife is that queens are always ranked more important than the boys and dancers. Not purposefully, it’s just a pseudo status quo. Finally getting to say that I have the same experience as them and feeling like I’m a part of this family…it’s so special to me. After being ostracized a lot as a child, feeling like I belong is the best part of this competition.
Look at me getting sentimental!
That’s really poignant, and I get what a strong pull the drag world is when you put it that way. Aside from the obvious cosmetic differences, how does the energy differ for you between a gogo performance and a drag performance?
Alex is very masculine (or tries to be). Adriana is humorous and dorky and free to let her hair down. Gogoing is very much physical marketing, you’re paid to exude a certain energy and keep a party going. Drag is when you get to live your truth and just get this cathartic energy out of your body. Doing both is very therapeutic. You can feel confident and sexy as one, and then feel in touch with your wit doing the other. On nights when I do both, it’s certainly a mindfuck!
It seems like all the girls in your SYTYCD season are super nice and friendly. Are you worried about claws coming out when cuts will get made?
I feel like this season is extremely hard, given that there’s such a quick turnaround with cuts Week 4 and then Week 8. There really isn’t a week to get complacent, since placements could change every week.
Certainly the pressure to do well is a lot, however the girls are all super nice and friendly. Everyone congratulates everyone, and while we all want to win, we all want to win when everyone is at their best and so we can say we beat the best of the best. No one is trying to be mean to each other and there hasn’t been any fighting. But if it were to happen it wouldn’t be with me. I’ve been an open book throughout the competition and have helped as many girls as possible, and even told them most of my ideas. I don’t want to make enemies and I really want to focus on my craft first and foremost.
[Host] Paige Turner really said it best to us at the beginning of the season: You choose your experience with this competition.
That is a great way to put it. One thing that sucks about having to do the show on Thursdays is that you’re probably missing RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars! Are you behind?
Girl. Never. I’m active on the RPDR Reddit, and I am an avid superfan. I know most of the season, buy the season passes on iTunes, and am even clocking the Season 9 cast. RPDR is bae. (Not to say I’m a Drag Race groupie, it’s just gay football season and I’m a huge fan.)
FIRST OF ALL BITCH STOLE MY BREAK FREE LOOK. Second, I met Tati when I worked as Alex at Town in DC…breathtakingly beautiful and super nice. She treats coworkers like family.
Third, that lip sync was legendary. I wanted that song as a lip sync forever, and they didn’t disappoint
I’m sad PhiPhi went home on this note; she really doesn’t deserve this negativity.
It was obvious from the neutral exiting that Ru was gonna keep both girls, right?
It was from the moment Ru’s open mouth gaze didn’t change or react to anything else. Those girls earned it.
I really sympathize with her. Having almost been on reality TV twice, I can begin to understand a bit of what she’s going through. And to come back after having the most negative Drag Race experience bar none, and then kill it week after week. Sorry, she deserves better.
Most of the girls have come to her defense and said that her “temper tantrums” were actually conversations that were spliced together. We keep falling for these tricks season after season, with queens like Jasmine, Kennedy, Ginger, Roxxxy, Derrick, Acid, etc. It’s no ones’ fault, they’re being paid to make a story. We just react really passionately to the point of it being a fault at times.
Phi Phi earned her Rudemption with her performances and the moments they gave her to talk about her post show experiences. Her breaking down is human. Not immature, bitchy or “biting the hand that fed you”. The show broke her. Twice. You tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing and not want to associate with it, and I’d say you were lying. I only met Phi Phi once in passing at Industry, and it was lovely.
Regardless of if you know her or not, she is a person. If she was saying things about Alyssa in front of a mirror, hello! The judges said the same thing and eliminated her. Why is Alyssa mad at her, and not the judges?
All good points. How were you almost on reality TV twice, by the way?
I actually was contacted to audition for The Real World, and made it to the point just before psych evals. I was also contacted for an episode of True Life centered around being a gogo boy that I had to pass on.
What I learned from the experience is that even though reality TV isn’t in the business of ruining lives, it plays a psychological game with you to say what’s on your mind.
So, this week at New World Stages is the first week where SYTYCD makes cuts, sad face… what’s the theme?
Release your inner child! I’m waiting for someone to do a number about the time their uncle molested them to “I Touch Myself.” [Laughs] too much?
It could work! And what else is in the future for you, any other gigs or projects, for Alex or Adriana?
Well beyond this competition, I’m thankfully looking forward to working with Vodka Soda/Bottoms Up and Stonewall, rotating as both a queen and as a boy, serving cocktails, shots and shows. I have some guest spots that I’m finalizing right now for future drag shows.
Yay! Okay last question: will you be attending the “Dangerous Woman” tour, in any capacity?
You fucker. You really think I have the money to spend on tickets? Thanks for rubbing that one in.
If I somehow come across tickets, I will go in full drag, make my way backstage, and melt in her presence. Literally she is My Everything… Sorry, I couldn’t help that one.
Adriana Trenta is a contestant in “So You Think You Can Drag?” which is held weekly at New World Stages (Thursdays at 10pm) through November 3rd. She appears as a cocktail server in and out of drag on select evenings at VSBU and Stonewall, and as Alex he has various gogo dancing gigs all over the city. Adriana can be followed on Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.
See Also: Adriana Trenta (5.31.2017)