This pretty, flashy showgirl with an edge was drag-born in P-Town, made a name for herself as a contestant in Season 3 of “So You Think You Can Drag,” and ultimately celebrated as the hostess of the beloved show “#GYPSIES” at the much missed XES. Now she has a new weekly gig, several other guest spots lined up and an interesting new passion project in the works. Get on board, and On Point, with Chelsea Piers!
Thotyssey: Hi Chelsea, how’s it going today?
Chelsea Piers: Hi! I’m fabulous. Just had acupuncture, reading my Patti LuPone memoir, and definitely basking in the beautiful fall weather.
Are you a warm or cooler weather queen?
I’m a queen for all seasons. My makeup is pretty much bulletproof, so as long as there’s a stage and check, I’ll endure the weather!
How is Patti’s memoir so far? Please tell me it’s juicy.
It’s one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever laid eyes on. Can’t put it down. If you’re not reading Patti LuPone, you’re not doing drag.
You heard it here first, queens! Back to the season: it always amuses me how “over it” many drag queens are about Halloween because every day is Halloween for them. Are you in that mindset?
As a kid, I was obsessed with Halloween. I would usually buy a costume in July and then change my mind at least three times before October. My poor mother. Now, I play dress up for a living, so it has lost a bit of its luster over the years.
Do you offer your makeup services to amateurs for their Halloween drag looks?
I make part of my living as a makeup artist, so I’m always happy to paint the newbies…for a price.
Make that coin!
So, I understand that you’re a Hawaii native?
Wow, you certainly do your research! Yes, I was born in Honolulu.
Do you have any memories from there? I know you left when you were quite young, right?
Yes, my dad walked out when I was about five, at which point we moved to New Jersey, where I had a lot of family. I do, however, have some very fond, yet vague memories of those first few years. I went to a very prestigious, beautiful private school called Punahou, from which Barack Obama graduated. I remember being encouraged by a teacher to take my first dance class there.
Donald Trump would like you to show him your birth certificate.
Donald Trump can suck a bag of dicks, because he ain’t getting anywhere near my shit, or my pussy for that matter.
Ha! So, has growing up a Jersey Girl shaped your drag in any way, do you think?
Early on in NJ, I started performing in the theatre, and there are a wealth of great opportunities for young artists there. As an actress and a theatre queen, I owe much of what I am now to those formative years. Once I got into a performing arts school in Hell’s Kitchen and moved to NYC, things really started to take shape.
What were your early aspirations for performing?
I was a textbook, die hard musical theatre boy. I wanted to be on Broadway. Groundbreaking, right?
Your mom sounds like she’s fierce and fabulous; was she supportive of your Broadway dreams, or was she like “Get a job that pays the bills?”
Fierce and fabulous doesn’t even begin to describe this woman. She has always been impossibly and unconditionally supportive. She has been through the wringer, and I owe everyone ounce of strength, compassion, and talent I have to her. She is always proud and I am always grateful.
So, how did your drag career begin?
After college, I spent the summer working in Provincetown. For two seasons, I was a backup dancer in a popular, top selling celebrity impersonation drag revue there. The drag community in Provincetown is awe-inspiring, and the caliber of theatricality you find there is off the charts. Surrounded by drag legends like Varla Jean Merman, I always secretly dreamed of stepping into a pair of heels and into the spotlight.
Before the summer of 2012, I got a call from the producers of my show asking if I was interested in returning for a third season. At the time, I was close to giving up on my career as a performer, and pretty lost in general, so I hesitated. When they told me that they wanted me to star in the show, I almost threw up, but then I agreed to what I knew was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Before I knew it, I was headlining nine performances a week in Provincetown as Celine, Gaga, Madonna, Britney, Christina and Katy.
Awesome! Of that group of divas, who did you pull off the best, do you think?
Celine, hands down. At the press shoot for the show, before the Celine number existed, the costume designer put me in drag, stepped back, and said, “Oh my god, it’s Celine”. As he would change me from one diva to the next, he’d go, “Whatever I put on you, it’s Celine”. We added the number that day, and it was arguably the highlight of the show that season.
I can see that! Were you called Chelsea Piers then?
I didn’t even have a drag name at the time. It was “Justin Nako in ICONS.” I got back to NYC that fall, and people started asking my name, so I gave them one that my friend Kelly and I had come up with years ago in P-town, Trannie Oakley. Thankfully, it didn’t stick.
Oh, the shit you would’ve gotten today! So when you changed your name to Chelsea Piers, there was another queen with the same name. I’m not sure which one of you came first, but you co-existed for awhile and you even performed together! Was that challenging, as far as bookings were concerned? Also, what happened to Other Chelsea?
It was a little awkward at first, but once we actually met, we got along famously. It never presented much a problem, and performing together was a blast. Landen is incredibly talented, but as far I know he’s taken a break from drag to focus on other endeavors. I still adore him.
So, what was your first gig in NYC as Chelsea?
That’s your drag matriarch Paige Turner’s long-running show. And this was before you entered the seminal “So You Think You Can Drag?” competition, which Paige also hosts?
Indeed. Right before, actually. It lit the fire under my ass to go for it, so to speak.
You were in the third season.
Yes, sir. Season 3. I feel old.
Time flies! How did you enjoy that experience? It’s pretty demanding!
It was fantastic. It’s where I met many of the girls I remain close to today. It’s such a unique platform for emerging queens to showcase creativity, play to a packed, receptive crowd, and work closely with off-Broadway theatre professionals. It really pushes you in the best possible ways.
Lots of great talent comes from that show every season! You returned there frequently over the years to perform and to guest judge. What do you think of the current Season 7 crop of girls, and have you noticed if the caliber or style of the contestants has changed in any overall way over time?
This season’s girls are stellar. They demonstrate such sincere passion, heart, and dedication. With every passing year, as drag gains more popularity and new queens are born by the minute, it takes a great deal to cement your place in the community because it’s so saturated with talent.
I think the girls are hungrier than ever, and not in a negative way, because they know how hard they need to work to make an impact. That sense of drive has really elevated what they’re bringing to the table, and it’s really inspiring to watch them shine as a result.
GYPSIES was my first weekly show in NYC. Nomi and I had a very special chemistry on stage, and we had a very clear idea of what we wanted from the start. Bob & Frostie had really paved the way for us, so it was a blast from the beginning.
The challenging thing about XES is that it wasn’t necessarily set up to house a show as rehearsed as ours, so it took time to relax into the interactive, lounge-like atmosphere. Ultimately, we just had fun performing material we loved, and the audience went along for the ride.
We ran it for a year together, Nomi MOVED OOOOOOON (inside joke), and I continued on my own bringing in guests including my sisters Alexis Michelle, Jackie Cox, Marti Cummings, Schwa De Vivre, and Crystal Demure, to name a few, until the bar closed this year. It was both Sutton Lee Seymour and Judy Darling’s first gig in NYC! The owners, managers, and staff were very good to me and I’m very fortunate to have had three awesome years there.
I’m thinking of how abruptly This-n-That closed in Brooklyn this past week, and how you guys in XES knew for awhile that the property was sold and was going to shut down. Was it still very hard to see it go in the end, though?
XES had a very special appeal and was widely beloved in the nightlife community. It was certainly bittersweet. We were lucky to have several months together to celebrate and go out with a bang.
The Last Party was quite the kiki.
On closing night, Bob came back to host a stop on her “Charity For The People Tour”. There was a line down the block, Frostie came out of retirement, we raised a fuck ton of money, and somehow managed to drink most of what booze was still leftover. Kiki is an understatement. I think I’m still recovering.
The first place I ever saw you perform in was a slightly less memorable venue: the now-defunct STAIRS, which used to be deep in the East Village! Do you have any, um, fond memories?
Oh. My. God. One night only! I got the gig through DJ Natazu and I was like, “What is this gay bomb shelter you’ve booked me at?” From what I can remember, it was actually pretty fun and they overpaid me because they liked the show so much. ::tongue pop::
It was a good show. So, when did you give birth to your drag daughter Holly Box-Springs, and how pleased are you with her progress?
Holly is my pride and joy. I am in constant awe of her growth, spirit, and dedication. We had been friends for several years before Holly was even an embryo. She competed in season five of SYTYCD, for which I was the mentor to the girls, and it just clicked. I can’t even recall when or how it became official because it was so organic.
She is one the smartest queens I know, so willing to learn, and cracks me the fuck up. She keeps me sane and inspires me. We have this joke that even though she’s teeny tiny, she somehow manages to be the fattest drag queen in the business because she wears so many damn layers of clothing on top of one another to accomplish the reveals. She won the GLAM Award for Breakthrough Artist this past year, and I cried. That award has been in my family for three generations now. I won in 2013, followed by Sutton in 2014, and then Holly tied with Miz Cracker in 2015.
Awww family traditions! Let me ask you a little about your aesthetic: you definitely have the classy showgirl thing going, do you design and construct your costumes at all?
Bless you for calling me classy. I don’t currently construct my costumes, but I recently started learning. One can never be too prepared.
Your septum ring gives you an edge to your look though! How long have you had that?
I got it done in June of 2015 while I was headlining at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown. I had a few rum punches at tea dance, my friend Adam left to get a tattoo, Nomi found a gentlemen caller, so my natural response was to go get my nose pierced. Now, I can’t imagine myself without it. It adds a punk rock flair to my polished, glamorous side.
And has Chelsea always been blond?
For the most part. I feel most empowered and genuinely beautiful as a platinum blonde.
It suits you! So, the Drag Race All-Stars second season finale just happened. Thoughts?
Agreed. Okay, so I think I saw from a status of yours that you were recently sitting at home minding your own beez when got a call from Frostie, who’s now bartending at a certain venue.
A few weeks ago, after an insanely busy few days, I was sitting on my couch eating Chinese food recovering from my friend’s wedding the night before when I got the message from Frostie. I have never shifted gears so quickly in my life. Within two hours, I was downtown, in full high whore drag singing “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. I was slated to perform from 8-10pm and ended up going until midnight. The next afternoon, I stopped by the Drag Tag Sale, the owner pulled me aside, and BAM, I’m your newest Boots girl.
Congratulations! You’ll be taking over Rooster Saturdays, which is the gogo boy night there. You’ll be hosting, and I assume doing numbers?
You got it. I will be hosting and performing, surrounded by gorgeous half naked men. I don’t know what more a girl could possibly want. I’ve really arrived.
Every girl’s dream job! Anything else coming up?
Once a month on Friday night, I’m downstairs at The Stonewall Inn for DIVA, where I sing entirely live…
All while writing my one woman show (working title: Lend Me A Baritone) that I plan to take on the road! Lots to look forward to. I’m very fortunate to be a working queen in NYC.
Sounds like you’re booked and busy this season and beyond, good for you! Okay, last question: if you go to your next gig and see Donald Trump in the audience, what would you do?
Reach directly into his wallet, take all the cash, plant a big, wet one his fat orange cheek, and have him escorted out by security.
90% classy and 10% hood! Thanks Chelsea!
Chelsea Piers will host “Rooster Saturdays” at Boots & Saddle beginning October 15th (10pm). She performs every two weeks with Tina Burner at Barracuda for “Gurlesque” (11:30pm) and monthly Fridays in Stonewall’s solo, all-singing “Diva” showcase (11pm). On October 23rd she’ll guest co-host Vivacious’ show “Keep It Movin’”(8pm) and will perform in the “Distorted Halloween” showcase at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on October 28th (10pm). Chelsea can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.