Freelance writer and event promoter Isaiah Cruz has only been a drag queen for a very short while, but already has a weekly brunch, several guest spots and a near win at Miss West End on his/her resume. Now she’s killing it on the runway and in the weekly challenges of the seminal “So You Think You Can Drag?” competition at the New World Stages. Behold the beauty and brains of Bella Noche!
Thotyssey: Hi Bella! Thanks for talking to us!
Bella Noche: Thanks for having me!
I’m actually gonna start with a political question, cuz Tiz the Season: How scared are you of the possibility of a President Trump?
I think I’m more scared of how far he’s gotten as a “political” candidate more than anything else. It just shows the level of intelligence, or lack thereof, and sheer anger and hatred present in a huge sect of voting citizens in this country, for them to be able to adamantly support such a vile and bigoted person with no previous political experience to take the highest political office in the U.S. I’m decently confident he won’t get elected, but if by some crazy twist he does, I’m taking a 4-year vacation to the Caribbean.
Sounds like a plan! I was just reading his ridiculously grumpy Tweet responding to how he was portrayed on SNL this past weekend. As a performer who’s job is gauge what the audience finds funny and make them laugh, don’t you think having no sense of humor about oneself equates to a lack of character (or intelligence)?
I think that if you’re going to put yourself in the public eye, whether you’re an actor or a singer or a politician or a drag queen, you have to have a sense of humor. Someone is always going to have something to say, whether it’s true, an exaggeration or even if you just have an off- night, and I think the best way to handle it is to laugh it off and make it funny.
So yes, I do think the ability to not appreciate a joke for being a joke is a lack of both character and intelligence. If you can’t laugh at yourself, how the hell are you going to laugh at anyone else?
Okay, on to you! First of all, where’s your hometown?
New York City, actually! Born and raised.
Indeed! And I love unicorns!
I was technically born in Manhattan because my mom’s water broke during a work dinner downtown, but I was raised on the border of Long Island City and Astoria in Queens.
What were your earliest creative pursuits?
My earliest creative pursuit was drawing! I used to spend hours drawing and coloring. I even won a city-wide drawing contest in 6th grade that Newsday held for NYC grade schools.
Were you a happy kid?
Yes. Mostly because I was super-sheltered though, and didn’t know any better [laughs].
A sheltered childhood is always a happy one! Did it ill-prepare you for the assholes of adulthood, though?
Absolutely. I was raised in a Pentecostal family, and anyone who knows what that is can tell you that it does anything but prepare you for the real world. You either loved and served Jesus and the Bible, or you were going to Hell. When I finally experienced the “secular” world for the first time when I went to high school, it was essentially culture shock. And it just got more interesting from there.
How old were you when you felt like you found your groove and were comfortable in your own fabulous skin? Or is that still a work in progress?
I think we’re always working to grow into a new self, or at least should be, much like a snake. (c’mon, Slytherin). If we don’t shed our old skin every now and then to expand our repertoire and explore even further who we are as individuals, I think you miss out on some really awesome and life-changing potential. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. It’s actually one of the main reasons I applied to be in “So You Think You Can Drag.”
When did drag first call to you?
Honestly, it started watching Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Drag.” I always secretly wanted to be a performer, but I was discouraged from that path when I was younger by my parents and told to pursue a more “respectable” and solid career. Watching the queens at New World rekindled fire in me to be a performer. I sat on it for a while, nervous as hell to even think I could compete with the caliber of queens in this city, but eventually took the plunge last fall at Sutton Lee Seymour’s First Timers show at Barracuda.
How did you come up with Bella’s name, and what her asthetic would be?
As a writer, Bella’s name was actually one of the hardest titles I’ve ever had to come up with, and I honestly suck at making titles. I wanted something layered that meant more then just a straight-out name, but also something subtle that resonated on its own.
My favorite thing that came out of Bella’s name was right after I coined it, that YouTube video of Hazel London talking about the nightclub Bella Noche came out. If you don’t know it, search it. One out of every five people I meet quote that line to me after I introduce myself. It’s hysterical.
As far as aesthetic, I’ve always been infatuated with Disney–The Little Mermaid being my favorite–so initially I wanted to go for mermaid princess. But Bella has a dark and sultry side, hence her name. So I’d say her aesthetic became half Ariel and half Jessica Rabbit, both fiery and headstrong women that have the confidence and drive to go after what they want. (Plus they both happen to be redheads with purple accessories. I love color coordination.)
Another writer connection actually! Kind of. I first met Justin two years ago at a mutual friend’s brunch in Hell’s Kitchen (shout out to my friend Jason Coursen and his monkey bread) and I had no idea who he was. We started talking about literature and writing and we initially became friends through that. Then he invited me to his Penthaus party at Copacabana, where I learned that he was also NYC’s premiere gay nightlife promoter, and I dove in head-first.
Through that is where I got all of my nightlife exposure and began co-promoting parties with him, our first being a Karaoke night at Pieces with Marti Cummings and Kareem McJagger, and then up at The West End with Uptown Thursdays with Alexis Michelle and Holly Box-Springs.
The West End quickly became my favorite NYC gay bar to go to, and I do consider it to be Bella’s home bar. I love John and the whole West End crew and family up there.
You were actually co-hosting a brunch as Bella with Mimi Carey out there this summer!
I was! We had an absolute blast. It was my first-ever recurring show as a headliner. I even got to do a special Disney-themed brunch for my birthday in July with some of my favorite queens guesting.
That must’ve been quite a challenge for you, co-hosting a drag show that early in your career…how early, exactly?
It wasn’t easy. Going to sleep at a decent time on Saturday night to get up at 8am on a Sunday to be at the bar in full face and ready for sound check at 11:30 isn’t for the faint-hearted, or the uncommitted. Not to mention we had an entirely new show each week, and I had at least two costume changes each brunch. But we did it!
Though I did my first night in drag last fall, I didn’t officially start seriously pursuing drag until mid-December at The West End, guesting at Brita Filter and Terra Hyman’s C’mon Wednesdays. So it was about 7 months into my drag career.
Before drag, did you have any experience in the performing arts?
I did dance and theater in high school as electives because my parents wouldn’t pay for professional performance training. Before drag, my last time being on stage was in high school.
Was it like riding a bike?
Yes, until you factor in the variable that now you’re doing it in 5-inch heels.
Yikes, that is an important variable.
It is, but that’s what practice is for! And it was definitely great prep for SYTYCD.
What made you decide that you were ready to try out for season 7 of SYTYCD?
I felt like I was at a level in my drag where in order to improve and grow to where I wanted to be, I needed to do something outside of my normal sphere. So I actually first thought that applying would be a bit of a long shot, especially with how new of a queen I still am, but lo and behold I made the cut!
It’s been such an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’ve learned a ton and have been pushed to do things way outside of my normal aesthetic and comfort zone, and have grown all the more because of it. And not just in skill, but confidence as well.
And you’ve done fabulously, placing in some of the runways and challenges, and surviving the first cut.
What’s been your favorite and least favorite part of the competition so far?
My favorite part actually is the runway. Even before I started drag, I loved putting outfits and costumes together, accenting colors and accessories to make an outfit pop or getting ready for a themed party. It also gives you a chance to be extra-creative and colorful with a theme, two things I value highly in my drag aesthetic.
My least favorite part is, honestly, that the competition is not cheap. At least if you want to do it well. Putting together new looks for both runways and numbers each week, not to mention all the makeup, lashes and nails you go through… it takes a toll on the bank account. But every cent I’ve spent on SYTYCD is beyond worth it to me.
Good outlook! I’ve been watching videos of your interviews backstage with Strawberry Fields, and I see your look getting more refined and polished each week. Are you, like, shocked by how much you’re learning in such a relatively short bit of time?
Thank you so much! I am shocked at how I’ve been growing over the weeks! I knew I was going to learn a lot, but I had no idea the extent of how much.
One of my other favorite things about the competition are the judges’ critiques. It’s my first time performing in front of judges and then being reviewed. Some would find it daunting, but I actually love it because I want to grow and improve to be the best queen I can be. What’s better than getting feedback from people who not only know what they’re talking about, but want you to be the best you can be too?
Absolutely. So, I’ve asked this of all the other girls in the competition: you all seem to be getting along so well and that’s wonderful, but it is weird to compete among people you like?
I wouldn’t use the term “weird.” It’s funny because when they started calling us and offering us a spot in the competition, the texts instantly started coming in like, “Did you get your call yet?”, to which I often responded, “OMG you’re in it too? Yaaaasss!!”
I would actually rather compete with girls I considered sisters and friends than total strangers. The camaraderie backstage is more often than not so loving and supportive. Plus, there’s almost no hesitation to ask a girl, “Hey, do you have nail glue?” or “Can you zip this back up for me?” I’ve gotten to get to know a few fabulous and amazing girls who I now consider friends and have gotten even closer with the ones who I knew and had worked with before the competition started. So I kind of love it.
In the middle of the competition, I was shocked to see you competing on the side in Miss West End! Now that must’ve been a lot for you.
[Laughs] Well I did it because I love The West End, and if I were to compete to be Miss (Enter Bar Name Here) of anywhere, it would be there. Plus it was a fairytale themed pageant, which is right up my alley, and I actually got to redo my number from Disney night at SYTYCD, so that was fun too. That Stepmother mix is one of my favorite numbers I’ve ever done.
At the end of the night, I came in as the runner up. The score was so close that the judges added an impromptu Lip Sync For Your Life at the end to determine who would win, and they just happened to pick a song I didn’t know 60% the lyrics to [laughs].
But [the winner] Svetlana Stoli is a fabulous and fierce queen, so I was really proud to come in where I did, especially given that it was my first pageant ever. I’ll definitely be going back to get that crown next year.
Okay I’ll get back to drag in a bit, but I wanna talk about your writing now. How long have you been writing in general, and when did you start putting your stuff out there?
I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid. It was my creative outlet. I would write short fantasy stories or episodes of my favorite cartoon shows. When I got to college, I actually started as a chemistry major. Fun fact: I love science, but I hate math. So you can imagine how that went. After a piece of advice from an English professor, I changed my major from Forensic Science to Creative Writing with a minor in Journalism and it was the best academic decision I ever made.
After I graduated, I worked for a boutique PR firm on the Upper West Side as an Editorial Coordinator and began getting my first bylines there in Hamptons-based publications. My first two-page feature was actually on Bianca Del Rio for Resident Magazine right before her season of Drag Race aired, in which I predicted she would win her season, and then she did.
Right now, the site I freelance write the most for is SpoiledNYC.
I read your listcle there of the 7 Best NYC Bars Serving Up Spooky Halloween Cocktails. Is it interesting/educational for you to go out there and explore the city outside of our little gayborhoods? Sometimes I forget about the World at Large, and the city has a lot to offer.
One of the great things about being born and raised in NYC is that I appreciate all the boroughs and neighborhoods that make it up. I’ve always said that my favorite place to go is somewhere I’ve never been, and this city is never short of those.
So writing these listicles where I get to highlight my staple places to go out, as well as venture out to new venues and spots to try on on a whim or recommendation and fall in love with, is not only a great experience, but it’s also a ton of fun.
Do you have any big writing projects in the works?
Well, I’m working on my first novel right now. It started off as a final project for my senior year in college and ended up becoming a first chapter to something bigger. So that’s been my big writing project outside of freelance articles of late. I’m hoping to have it done before the end of next year.
Congratulations! I won’t ask you about it cuz I know how torturous those questions can be in the early stages.
So okay, back to SYTYCD… what’s this week’s theme?
This upcoming week is Broadway, Baby! I’m no uber theater queen, but I’m pulling out one from the Great White Way vault this week that I hope the true Broadway addicts will appreciate.
Should be fab, good luck!
Required Drag Race All-Stars questioning: Are you okay with who won?
You know what, I am okay with Alaska winning. She’s a brilliant, creative, hysterical and committed artist and, despite her little bratty meltdown, she deserved to win that title.
Will you be offering anyone $10,000 to remain in SYTYCD if things take a turn?
If I had $10,000 to pay someone to remain in the competition, I’d use that money to invest in bigger and more fabulous costumes and wigs than Vicky Boofont has rather than maxing out my credit cards [laughs]!
What else is coming up for you?
Not to mention I have an Invasion up at The West End in the works, date TBD, so stay tuned, chicas!
Booked and busy, good for you!
Busy is good in this business!
Okay, in closing: What is one thing the world may not know about Bella Noche, but should?
One thing to know about Bella Noche… underneath the glam, high-heeled nerd princess exterior is someone who genuinely wants to help not only further LGBT, minority and women’s rights, is actually a pretty politically involved and opinionated person at the end of the day. I just rather use the SNL route and use comedy and irony to promote discussion rather than a scathing status or anger-fueled post to get my point across.
As I alluded to before, if you have a sense of humor as well as the stance that everything is free range to make fun of or nothing is, you’d be surprised the progress you can make with someone who takes a differing ideological stance than you do. It’s not about your opinion; it’s about your execution of said opinion.
Thank you, Bella!
Bella Noche is a contestant for “So You Think You Can Drag?” which is held Thursdays (11pm) at the New World Stages through November 3rd. She will guest perform for Nedra Belle’s show at the West End on October 26th (11pm) and guest host GLOW Saturday at G Lounge on November 5th (10pm). Her alter ego Isaiah Cruz is a freelance writer who is often published in SpoiledNYC. Bella/Isaiah can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.