One of New York City’s most celebrated and long-lasting queens who is still very much active on the scene today, the Jamaican-born Shequida began as a classically trained opera singer before she started hosting in drag at the Roxy. With high profile turns on “One Life to Live” and “America’s Got Talent” and high profile fans like Wanda Sykes, her gigs have become required viewing for nightlifers (and day trippers) all over the world. Come bask in the starlight of Shequida!
Thotyssey: Hi Shequida! Thanks for talking to us. I wanna get right into talking about this Voss Events’ Queen of the Ride booze bus weekly Saturday event that you’re involved in, because I think it’s interesting. You host on one of the two buses that departs from Rise in HK, stops at Hardware and ends at Pieces. What’s the night like for you?
Shequida: The Bus Is super fun, and a different way to enjoy friends, some drinks and amazing performances on a Saturday night.
And there other other queens performing on the street for the bus passengers, like Ebonee Excell and Brita Filter? I’m trying to picture it. Where does the music come from, and do the bypassing people on the street get involved?
The music comes from the bus, and the performers can hear from either the speakers outside the bus or in ear monitors. Some performers interact with the crowd.
I think I’m into it! Anything new in nightlife is probably a good thing!
Okay, so I know you’re from Jamaica, but you’ve been a New Yorker since you were pretty young. Do you remember much about Jamaica? And have you been back?
Of course I do, and I have been back once. My life is here now, as I mostly grew up in NYC.
You’re famous for your amazing operatic singing, which you honed at Julliard. What drew you to opera?
I loved the drama of it and the amazing production values. It is an amazing art form.
What was your experience at Julliard like? Was it all cutthroat bitches, or did you make a lot of good friends?
Well, I was way too young, but I didn’t really feel it was cutthroat. I had good friends, but mostly in the dance department.
Do you have a favorite opera?
No favorites as many amazing operas have some parts I love.
Do you worry that it may become a lost art for future generations?
No, the art for will never die out!
So, you got your drag start hosting at the Roxy after showing up in fierce looks with your friends! What were those big club days like for you? What was a crazy/amazing thing you saw there that you would never see in a bar today?
I was super young so it was all new to me. I just remember the huge weekly budget we would have to decorate the Roxy.
I know you were doing club drag for awhile before you actually took a drag name. What inspired “Shequida?”
Growing up with a classical background, I wanted to have a “black name” and walk out and sing opera.
[Laughs] Well, I meet Lady Bunny first at Mars. Sherry I met later on, and then Pep came on the scene a bit later.
Did you have any encounters with RuPaul in the Roxy years?
Yes of course. We even worked and traveled together.
Lots of queens come and go, but you’ve lasted for more than a quarter of a century and are still going strong! Besides talent, what do you think the key is to longevity in drag careers?
Constantly growing and changing with the times. Embracing the new while learning from the past.
I’m glancing at some resume items on your Wikipedia page (PS: how awesome is it that you have a Wikipedia page?). What does it mean that you were “The USA Network’s spokesperson for Latin America?”
I would travel with them to Latin American cities and do promo work for them, i.e. shows and ads, etc.
And in 1997-98 you played Wendi Mercury, a transgender bartender on One Life to Live. That’s really groundbreaking, I’m surprised the show did not get more credit for that. What was acting on a TV show for a year like, and were you able to process the fame you must’ve obtained from being on the show?
Well I had never acted before. I was terrible. I was also not aware of how big the show was, so I just showed up to work every day. I got tons of fan mail, and surprisingly all positive back then. I was most proud that I got a full article in TV Guide (which had the biggest distribution back then). “TVS must see TV!”
And you had another huge TV moment when you performed on the third season of Americas Got Talent. You did a really fun disco opera number and the judges weren’t having it… it annoyed me to see the judges disrespect the amazing Shequida like that! How do you rank that experience now… and more importantly, was David Hasselhoff drunk that day?
[Laughs] So there is a lot I can’t really say about that, as I may get sued. But let’s just say, that performance was not what we had rehearsed or planned. In the end, I got what I wanted: to get the hell off that show! And actually, all the judges were super sweet to me.
You did get a lot of national attention from that appearance though, and a fan in Wanda Sykes, who hilariously crashed your show two weeks in a row while you were smack-talking her. Do you still expect her to maybe bust in at any moment while you’re onstage?
[Laughs] That was so funny. It was then kinda frightening the second time it happened! As she said, “you don’t learn bitch. I am always around.”
You’ve had a lot of experience working with opera and theater production, from a starring role in the opera Vera of Las Vegas in 2003 to an off-Broadway show you produced in several languages, Opera for Dummies. For awhile you were even the showrunner of the drag revue Queen at Industry, pre-Dallas Dubois. Do you ever want to get back into large scale production like that?
Oh, I am sure I will again. Just waiting for the right project. I love a good production.
There’s obviously been a drag explosion in the past decade thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race, moving it from the fringe to almost the mainstream. Has this done more good or harm to the genre, do you think?
Well it brings the art form the the mainstream, but of course there are ups and downs to that. Performance is not really as celebrated anymore as much as fame is.
Besides yourself of course, who do you think is/was the greatest drag performer, past or present?
OMG, so many amazing ones. Of course I am sure there are some I don’t know as there are great performers all over the world. Divine, Lady Bunny, Lina, Lypsinka…
Has drag helped or harmed your love life, do you think? Or neither?
Well, its not the most “normal” job, but I am lucky that I don’t live my life as a performer but a person first. So guys meet me and not the performer.
Let’s talk a little about your current weekly shows. First, there’s The Shequida Show at Hardware, which is you and a guest-of-the-week slaying on Thursday nights with DJ OhRicky. At this point in your career, can you pretty much pull any queen out of thin air and just make the chemistry work with her onstage?
[Laughs] Well, I actually like to pick guests that I know my audience will like. It’s a balancing act to keep it fresh and fierce weekly.
Then there’s Drag Wars, which has been through a few different venues and is now Monday nights at Pieces. That’s a weekly drag competition you host, with a big cash prize that draws big crowds. Have competitors in these contests upped their game since you started hosting shows like this?
Well the reason I do this competition is to give new queens a platform (literally and figuratively) to show themselves and get their names out there. I am always gagging at how some of these new girls are miles ahead of me when I started. I didn’t have YouTube tutorials then!
The largest and arguably most successful weekly drag show in the city now is not in gay nightlife… it’s the Voss Events’ Sunday drag brunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, hosted by you and featuring Ebonee and a cast of heavy hitters and high profile guest stars. Did you ever think before that you’d be doing weekly day drag at such a famous venue for a not-necessarily-gay audience, and that it would be so successful?
Well, I am proud to host this amazing show and cast of performers. And since drag is so popular, it was sort of a no-brainer that it would be a hit.
You have to give it up to straight audiences: they are blown away by every move a queen makes and respond with huge enthusiasm, unlike sometimes the jaded gays who have seen it all. That must be a nice change of pace, right?
Well yeah, that’s true. The gays see us weekly turning it out, usually for free, so they get jaded and want even more. The straight audiences are blown away by the creativity, fierceness and boldness of the queens.
You’ve been a popular and beloved presence at Fire Island for many summers now, and people were very shocked and dismayed when your Ice Palace show ended early this past season. There seemed to be a lot of shady business going on on the Island this year, as far as the drag shows. Do you think you’ll be back this summer?
Well, I will never call out people for doing shady things. That’s on them, and I simply move on. As for the future, if the right opportunity comes up of course I would love to be back out there, turning it out for the gays, lesbian and random day trippers.
So you’ve performed in every possible space now: small bars, big clubs, boats, buses… If there was an airline with performing drag stewardesses, would you give that a shot?
[Laughs] I have actually performed on a plane before. I think the next thing for me is underwater and outer space!
I see you’ve recorded some opera tracks. Do you have any desire to do some larger scale recording?
If the right idea come up I will do it, but I am not really sitting around waiting for it.
So, not to bring the room down, but do you have a survival plan for these next four years of Trump’s America?
What do you think a drag queen’s role is during tough times?
To make people laugh or gag, and forget the problems for a small while.
Bringing the room back up: Congrats on your nominations this year for Best Vocalist & Best Hostess at the GLAMS! You must have been nominated a billion times by now for these, is it still gratifying for you?
Of course it is gratifying. I am always honored when I am acknowledged for the hard work I do.
Do you have any other gigs or projects coming up to discuss?
I always have private events all around the city, and I will be going to sing for Art Basel in Miami soon.
Okay, last question: What is the best thing, and the worst thing, about drag?
Best thing is getting to be creative. Worst things is, your feet hurt!
Shequida hosts the Voss Events Drag Brunch at the Hard Rock Cafe on Sundays (noon), The Shequida Show at Hardware on Thursdays (11pm) and Drag Wars at Pieces on Mondays (10pm). On Saturdays, she hosts one of two Queen of the Ride party buses that depart from Rise Bar at 11:30pm. Shequida can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.
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