One of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s most undeniably gorgeous breakthrough stars, this Season Six runner-up proved to the world that she wasn’t just “resting on pretty” with her dynamic singing and razor-sharp wit. Thotyssey talks Trump’s America, Australian Idol, Drag Race All-Stars Season 3 (?), Christmas at the Beechman and the most glorious pair of drag wings ever with the marvelous Courtney Act!
Thotyssey: Hi Courtney! Thanks so much for chatting! How are you?
Courtney Act: Jim! Good morning. I am sitting here eating some Vegemite on toast, basically too Australian to function. (I am not really eating Vegemite on toast, I just liked the visual.)
I can picture it! And not taste it, thank God! So, you performed in Syracuse last night… how did it go?
The show in Syracuse was so much fun! It’s my drag race alum, Darienne Lake’s, home bar and it was her birthday last night. Also Jiggly was celebrating her birthday. And Mrs. Kasha Davis was there, and Aggy Dune and Wednesday Westwood. It’s always nice to hang out with a group of friends backstage and then perform for an amazing audience on stage.
Sounds like a great night! You are obviously on the road quite often, and constantly performing. Do you ever have trouble keeping track of where you are in the world?
Every morning I wake up and have that brief moment of “Where am I? How did I get here?” And then it hits me… “Fuck! Donald Trump is President Elect!!!”
Oh girl, tell me about it! We’re all doing that. You made some waves recently when you went to a Trump rally pre-Election and mixed it up with some of his supporters. You mentioned afterwards how amazingly uninformed they were. So, are you shocked now that the uninformed won the day?
It actually all makes perfect sense when you think about it. We are living in a post-Kardashian world. They are the other first family or America (like it or not). We are weened on reality TV these days, and Donald Trump is a big reality star. What is reality TV? Sensationalist, irrational, erratic – Donald Trump. Reality TV is every thing BUT reality… but somehow we reached a tipping point and now it has become our reality. A reality TV star has become the leader of the free world.
It has to be weird for you on some level, to have come up professionally through reality TV competitions, and to now be basically living in this new, terrible reality TV show that is Trump’s America.
There is a difference between being on reality TV, and being on reality TV and being President of these United States! I learnt a lot about the current world being on Drag Race. I went on as a Hillary Clinton, but learnt how to be a Donald Trump. You have to be a Donald Trump if you want to participate in the pop culture world in 2016. You don’t have to be a racists, Islamaphobic, misogynist, homophobic bigot. But you do have to know how to cut through, be loud and simplify your message.
How long have you been living in the US?
I moved to the US in 2010, in an almost pre-Drag Race world.
My friend, Tim and I were throwing parties in Sydney and flying out Amanda Lepore and Brent Corrigan to perform, ‘cause Drag Race girls were not a thing yet. Now they have reached saturation point.
Then when I moved here, I was watching Drag Race on TV. Season 4 was on; I thought, “I want to do that.” I looked at Willam, and I picked up the phone and I called the laser hair removal clinic and booked in to have my facial hair removed.
Did I read correctly that your first gig as Courtney was selling candy?
Yeah, I had this business idea to go around nightclubs with a neck tray selling gum and lollipops, and other clubbing essentials. It was my startup business idea that would take over the world and make millions. Unfortunately, it never took over the world and made millions. But it did get me into drag, which led me to the world and probably made me millions that I spent already [laughs]!
There’s still time for that candy queen business to grow! So, when I initially caught a glimpse of the cover of Magnus Hastings’ photography book Why Drag? my first thought was “Why is Naomi Watts shaving? Oh shit, that’s Courtney Act!” And I’ve confused you two in pictures maybe a dozen times since. When you were creating your drag look, did you know that it was going to be as, well, perfect as it is today?
Certainly not [laughs]l. I looked busted for a long time. It’s amazing what you can do with makeup and wigs…bad makeup and bad wigs! But then my big sister Vanity guided me onto the path, and slowly over time hair, makeup and styling started to make sense (I’m still a work in progress).
You did make TV history as a drag contestant in Australian Idol; I imagine that must have been a first for Australian TV and one of the firsts for reality TV in general. Apparently, you were rejected when you competed as your boy self Shane, but went through when you returned as Courtney. What do you think happened there, and how did you enjoy that experience?
Idol was epic. I don’t think I realized what it meant back then. But what an amazing time it was. It was the first season, and it was the first of it’s kind. I was the first openly gay person, let alone the first person in drag, on a reality TV show like that. I went along the first day as Shane, get knocked back and went back the next day as Courtney. That was really where it all began for me. I am so grateful for that moment in time.
And what a great education it must’ve been for Drag Race. Did you notice any commonalities between the two shows as far as how they were being made, or are they two completely different animals?
They were two completely different animals. Idol wasn’t really “reality TV” like it is today. It was in it’s infancy. It was closer to docu-series. Drag Race is a brilliant piece of reality in the modern sense. Like drag – nothing is real. But it is fucking entertaining to watch. They do such a good job of creating this show from the casting to the filming, the editing. I was hooked on All-Stars 2.
I’m gonna ask you about All-Stars in a bit, because I’d love to know your opinions on it. But let me ask one more quick thing about Australia–I spoke to another queen recently from Sydney, Glace Chase, who told me that the city now has horrible, antiquated drinking restrictions that endanger the city’s nightlife. Have you noticed that happening?
Glace is wild! And the whole world is going mad. It’s not just Donald. Brexit. In Australia, you can’t buy a bottle of wine past 10pm. It’s crazy. The laws are not really any more strict than LA… but we used to be able to party 24/7. It has ruined the nightlife culture in Sydney, and it is sad to go back and not have anything to do on a Saturday night.
[Speaking of Australia] I was just watching the ARIA’s (Australia’s music industry awards) the other night, and feeling very homesick. There is something special about living in a country of 23 million people. It’s so small, but still has such an original entertainment industry. It was so amazing watching so many of my peers up there on stage, being amazing. It is inspiring.
There is so much amazing talent that’s come out of Australia, that’s for sure.
Let’s talk about your run on Drag Race! You ended Season 6 in the Top 3 and were never in the bottom two for any of the challenges. An incredible and very memorable run! When you watch the aired moments from the competition, what stands out as a moment you are the most proud of, that the world got to see?
Season 6 was life-changing. It’s always fun in these sorts of instances to stop, reflect and pinch myself. The whole thing was amazing.
People always comment on the wings. I loved the Rusical. I loved the runway… I loved it all. I actually have to sit down and watch it from top to bottom. I only watched it once when it was on TV. I have tried to go back and watch it but never made it past the first episode. It’s back on air on Logo at the moment, so maybe now is that time?
You should! And yeah, I gotta say I loved the wings. I watched that episode in a bar and everybody lost it in a fit of snapping when those wings came out. Was that a costume you wore before that episode?
It was from a show from 2005? It was an X-Men themed show, and they were worn by one of the male dancers. I had never worn them until the runway. When I auditioned for Drag Race, I made a list of everything fabulous I had ever seen and those wings were at the top of the list. They were made by Australian designer Grant Margetts. They were his pride and joy; he made so many of my costumes and he was always so amazing to work with.
I utilized the international network of gay flight attendants to get them from Australia to LA. I was at the airport one morning at 6am, cussing, wondering why on earth I was trying to squeeze these giant wings into my little car. I’m glad I did.
It was glorious! And well worth the effort. As you said, you also got to showcase your singing in the Rusical–much to the envy of your fellow contestants–and after the show you recorded the album Kaleidoscope. Do you think you would’ve pursued singing or musical theatre if you never did drag?
That is what I did before I did drag. I grew up as a singer/dancer/actor. When I started drag I thought my professional career was all over. Turns out I was wrong, and I am glad.
Is there a “Shane” way of singing/recording for you versus a “Courtney” way?
When I am a boy I sing in a much more natural key [laughs]! I never want to sound masculine as a girl; sometimes I have been guilty of singing songs too high. I am finding the balance more these days!
I loved your Sia medley. Have you gotten any feedback from her?
I haven’t. I was secretly hoping for a cheeky tweet. I love Sia! She is an Aussie musical goddess.
Okay, let’s get to All-Stars 2! Alaska won, Adore dropped out, Katya was the fan favorite and it was great television. Thoughts?
It was great television. I think we got to cut to the chase so much quicker cause we didn’t have to meet anyone. We knew and loved them all for different reasons. The world already knew the characters, and as such it got really good really quick. No chit chat, no small talk, straight to first base. Those girls walked in the door pre-lubed!
That’s true, it was All-Stars in the truest sense. Would you be interested in joining Season 3 down the road?
No. I loved watching it, but was so glad i wasn’t there. I’m happy to leave well-enough alone.
I don’t blame you, especially after watching what went down with poor Phi Phi.
So, Christmas is nearly upon us! You’re touring with a Christmas themed show,
Dashing Through the Divas, and you’ll be bringing it to the Laurie Beechman Theatre here in NYC on December 1-4. Are you a genuine Christmas lover, or do you have to carry through the season?
I have never thought about whether I love Christmas… I just assumed I did. It’s a great time of the year. Everyone coming together, and as much as it’s a consumerist event, there is also so much family and connection. That is what is important.
Definitely, especially nowadays. Tell me about this show! What inspired you, and how’s it going so far?
The last few years, I have worn the same holiday dresses from 2004, 2006 and 2010… so I decided to upgrade. That was the first big step! Dallas Coulter in San Fran made everything, and then Bianca added some finesse to my opening look.
The show itself I worked on with NYC’s LA transplant Brad Loekle. He suggested a bunch of songs I had never heard, and some have become my favs. I love Joni Mitchell, and somehow had never heard “River!“ I can’t wait to sing that on Thursday night when the show opens. I am also taking it to London, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I’d love to hear your take on that! It must be such a pleasure to be a drag queen at Christmastime and not have to do “All I Want For Christmas Is You” 10 times a week.
Oh, I do. It’s my finale [laughs]. But I only sing it 10 times a week for 3 weeks a year. Eventually, I will learn all the words!
Well you sing it live so that’s okay! Okay, last question… what’s the top item on your Christmas wishlist?
I think that must be pretty obvious? For Donald Trump to never get inaugurated, or Pence or Bannon or any of the alt-right (read: white supremacists) to ever get into power. But I fear they might be the wake-up call the world needs to shock them out of apathy and self-indulgent Facebook statuses. You can’t save the world from your arm chair, people.
Actually my Christmas wish is for a progressive leader to emerge and tell us all what the fuck we should do. Give us a list of actions we can take. I vote for Michael Moore.
But in all honesty though–and I am an atheist–God bless America.
We need all the blessing we can get, from gods real and fake! Thanks again, Courtney!
Courtney Act’s stage show “Dashing Through the Divas” runs at the Laurie Beechman Theatre December 1st-4th. She can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube, and has a website.