This hyper-sexual and hilarious queen has practically become a NYC nightlife institution in just the past few years: winning crowns left and right, killing shows with her gorgeous singing, sick moves and fierce looks, and making the most wonderfully perverted YouTube videos. Oh, and constantly changing her drag name. The new Miss Gay Caribbean Jasmine Rice LaBeija gives Thotyssey the full Monty on every damn thing!
Thotyssey: Hello Jasmine Gaysha Lola Mane Kim Chi Chi Maiden China Chinky Crash Leontyne Shamalan Carr Rice LaBeija! Did I miss anyone?
Jasmine Rice LaBeija: Yes, I am also a Dame and an Empress [laughs].
OMG I forgot titles, how disrespectful! Well, you’ve had a busy year so far. Lots of big pageants, two new weekly shows, a few new drag names (”Jasmine” has settled quite nicely now, I think), and just general fabulousity!
Thank you! It’s been a very exciting year for me and I am so grateful.
And you just got a new pageant crown with Miss Gay Caribbean, congratulations! When did you decide to enter that pageant? You were pretty stealthy about it.
I was contacted to enter about three days before the pageant to enter Miss Gay Caribbean.
How does that work? Were the pageant producers like, “We need a Miss Trinidad & Tobago and you fit the bill?”
[Laughs] actually Monet X Change recommended me because they needed more contestants. I was her helper when she won the pageant about two years ago.
I guess when you have so little time to prepare for a pageant, it’s probably less pressure to win? I mean, it’s not like you can get some new $1000 gown and learn some crazy new number in three days, right?
[Laughs] Yeah. The only reason I said yes is because I already had a package.
Were those Caribbean queens like “Who’s this bitch?” when you showed up?
Kind of, because I wasn’t at rehearsal or on the poster. I knew [contestants] Ebonee and Cyndi a little bit. I don’t think they were expecting someone like me.
Well, congrats on slaying.
When you were first starting drag, did you intend to go the pageant route, or did that kinda happen organically?
I never thought I would be doing all these pageants when I first started. It happened organically as I tried to elevate myself. I think you learn so much from doing pageants and competitions. Now everyone wants to get on Drag Race, but before Drag Race there were only these pageants. And these pageants have been going on for decades.
Mimi Imfurst certainly made a name for herself on Drag Race, and she just won the national Miss’d America pageant. Do you think queens who make it far on Drag Race should stay out of the pageant scene because they might have an unfair advantage?
I don’t think Drag Race girls have any advantage if they entered a recognized national pageant. Local pageants, maybe. I mean, Drag Race already had national title holders on their show: Roxxxy, Coco, Alyssa, Victoria, and Naysha are all national pageant title holders. And they have had several girls who have entered national pageants even before they were on the show, like Jasmine, Kandy, Ginger, etc.
I think Drag Race tries to separate itself, and categorizes itself as its own thing. But it’s basically a pageant with a bigger budget that happens to be a reality show. You need to have uniqueness, nerve, and talent just like the show to be a national title holder and to win national pageants. If you think Drag Race is fun to watch, go watch a national pageant… and be backstage where the girls are at. The drama and the conversation are a kiki.
Oh I bet! And that’s how you get to meet queens from across the country that you would never otherwise know, right?
Yes! I have made so many wonderful sisters because of it.
So, let’s get to your entire life story! I understand you were born in California, but moved to Korea where your family is from when you were really young. Do you have any memories of living on the West Coast, and what that was like?
I moved back to Korea before I was one, so I don’t have those memories. But I do remember a lot about when I lived in San Diego, where I lived briefly when I was in 2nd grade. The first school I was in was very traumatic for me, as I was the only foreign student who didn’t speak English. And the teacher was very racist, so I had to transfer.
That bitch! Well I hope you fared better when you transferred. And do you remember it being a huge culture shock when the family moved back to Korea after that?
Oh, I failed at almost every class when I got back to Korea, because the Korean education system moves very, very fast. At least a year or two ahead in math.
At what point did performing become an interest for you, and then opera specifically?
I’ve been into the arts since I could remember. Dancing, music, art and all of the above. I started studying voice since fifth grade seriously for opera.
Do you remember how you were first exposed to that genre?
Aaaaaa! I was first introduced to it by watching a movie about a castrato. It’s called Farinelli, and he was a famous counter tenor when young boys were castrated to preserve their voice. And the costumes, and all the drama… I fell in love.
I remember that movie. That’s really interesting that a movie about a castrated singer inspired you, and now you’re a singing drag queen! But you came back to the States to attend Juilliard here in New York. Juilliard is no joke… that’s the Fame school! How difficult was the curriculum there for you?
OMG… 9am-10pm everyday. It’s a very intense school.
Was the student body there very cutthroat and competitive?
No, but everyone was there to be the best. So, if that means cutthroat or competitive, so be it. Because that was nothing compared to what you were going to face in the real world.
I guess in the opera world now, it really is intense. Everyone is on steroids and diet pills, because in addition to having a superhuman range, now you also have to be a supermodel. Could you have navigated that world if you went into it full force?
I am still navigating through that world. [laughs] it’s a struggle.
You still pursue opera outside of drag?
Yes, anyway I can. Doesn’t even have to be out of drag. I just love performing and being on stage, whether it be lip syncing or singing live opera numbers.
So, I heard you made your fierce drag debut in your mom’s closet, basically!
[Laughs] Isn’t that how all drag queens start out… in your mother/ grandmother’s closets? It’s like stepping into Narnia!
White Witch Realness! When you came out into the world as a drag queen, where did you go first?
I am a Pride queen. I marched with Monet in full drag in the summer of 2012. Then I did my first “pageant” called Our Lady of Saliva at the Ritz with Thorgy as one of the host. Now THAT was a legendary historic iconic party.
So many classic, boundary-pushing performances that came out of Saliva! I hear you had an episode with a bag of “coke” in one of your performances! I.e., you were butt naked and gave birth to one mid-number.
[Laughs] Yeah, it was a fun night. Can you imagine that I didn’t win that day?
You wuz robbed!
I was bamboozled!
So when did the great Kizha Carr adopt you as her daughter?
I asked her to be my mother on the cab ride home after Our Lady of Saliva [laughs]. I am her first ever drag daughter.
And she must be very proud! I know she’s one of the nicest and most helpful queens in the world, but I bet she doesn’t mince words when she needs to criticize her children, right?
Oh, her favorite thing is reading me [laughs]. She is literally one of the best drag mothers. She has guided me and been there for me. I wouldn’t have won all those pageants if it wasn’t for her.
Your Miss New Jersey Continental Plus win was done in one of her gowns.
Yeah… we were going through it. She was trying to make a gown for me, but the materials weren’t just working. So we just looked through her closet the night before, and picked out a gown that she had that could be stretched out to fit me and just started stoning it [laughs]. It is one of my favorite gowns.
After that pageant win, you advanced to the elite Miss Continental finals in Chicago, and placed Top 5… which is extraordinary, for a first time Continental contestant. What was that experience like, in Chicago? Are the queens competing on that level a bit more competitive and stand-offish, because it’s such a big deal?
I had the best experience in Chicago! I love love love Chicago. The girls are very competitive. There are girls who have been doing this for years and spent thousands on it. However, the atmosphere is very welcoming and nice for the most part. Because at the end of the day, it’s is not about what the other girls are doing; it’s all about what you are doing and representing.
And then you became part of the House of LaBeija, a nightlife/drag family right out of the Book of Legends. Other than the need to constantly add to and change your name, how did that come about?
I went to a ball with my sis Kimberly Smallz LaBeija. I told some members I was interested in joining the house. The elders of the house loved me when they saw me. The NYC house father Tiny Labeija, who created Midget Runway and Vogue Femme, is the one who accepted me into the house.
I am really sad about it, because he passed away this weekend. May he rest in peace.
Very sad indeed, but his legacy lives on. You’ve won a bunch of other pageants these past few years: Miss Barracuda, Miss Get Out, Miss Industry… I saw your step down for this year’s Miss Industry, and that sushi dress was uh-mazing, who made that?
Thanks! I made the sushi dress and all the props.
Gorgeous! Were you always a seamstress, or was that a later-in-life skill?
I wanted to learn how to sew since I was a little kid. So as soon as I started doing drag, I bought myself a sewing machine and just started to sew. It’s all trial and error, a learn-as-you-go kind of sewing method [laughs].
Let’s talk about your weekly shows, which are all new this year! First, you’re hosting Skinny Brunch on Sundays at Hardware right now with the wonderful Brita Filter. 3-8pm qualifies as day drag, how do you roll with that?
Well, I used to do crazy camp drag when I first started. But now I’m lazy, so I just serve some fresh Shamu roll on a platter, and that’s how I roll with it [laughs].
So you give Foodless Brunch Fish.
People forget that drag costs a lot of money. For example, if you pad, you need to wear at least 3-6 tights to cover them… that alone can cost up to $60-$100. So doing elaborate makeup, costumes, wigs, heels, etc. is a lot of work, on top of lot of money. So I just serve fish for the most part. Also, it’s hard to really perform while trying to turn a look at the same time.
And then we have Rush Hour, your Thursday night show with Blackie O. at Pieces! Blackie wants you to sing more, and she says that you are one of the most sexual people that she knows. Are you less fish and more cooch on Thursdays?
[Laughs] I am very sexual. I can turn anything into sex. This plus-size killer whale fish is always serving you Happy Ending realness.
That brings me to “Tongue First.” Gurrrrrrrrl! OMG was that real Crisco, first of all?
It was 100% real Crisco! [laughs]
Werk. So, this is a fun parody of Bob the Drag Queen’s “Purse First,” and it has the most gogo asshole I’ve seen in any drag parody video! Did it get Bob & original producer Mitch Ferrino’s seals of approval?
Mitch and Bob both said OK. They thought that it was funny.
Oh it totally is! And Mitch looked like he was having a great time in it. You gotta campaign for “Tongue First”to win a GLAM, it might even beat “Purse First!”
[Laughs] I don’t know if Cherry will allow that to happen.
And, you’re also working at Lips?
Its great! I love working there. All the girls are there to do their job, and make their money at a place where it’s safe to self-express.
What else is going on for you?
Well now, I’m also part of Gurlesque every other Wednesday with Tina Burner at Barracuda.
Gotta love Tina! Sounds like you got a lot going on, congrats and good luck! Last question: someday, Netflix will be streaming something called “The Jasmine Rice LaBeija Show.” What will this show be like?
Yaz, send that out into the Universe and make it happen! The show will be everything you will ever need in life. #AlltheCarbs #Allthestartch. This Rice is done cooking, and ready to be served for the masses. Everyone always says I ask the best–and a lot–of questions. I ask questions most people won’t ask, and go places most people won’t. So, I think I’d be like your best friend who is a drag fairy godmother, asking you questions that most people think about but won’t ask, with a little bit of a twist. You know, a fun kiki moment.
I want to watch that show right now. Dame Empress Jasmine, thank you so much!
Jasmine Rice LaBeija co-hosts Skinny Brunch at Hardware with Brita Filter on Sundays (3pm), and Rush Hour at Pieces with Blackie O on Thursdays (10pm). She periodically works and performs at Lips Restaurant, and every other Wednesday she performs with Tina Burner for Gurlesque at Barracuda (11pm). Jasmine can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.