This candid and delightfully articulate Maine-born queen has survived the trappings of Reality TV fame and the loss of all her possessions in a housefire to become one of NYC’s most exciting nightlife stars. While she sings and paints her way into our hearts, we happily take a big sip of Cherry Lemonade!
Thotyssey: Hi Cherry, thanks for talking to us! So Valentine’s Day is right around the corner already! Are you a fan or is this a bullshit holiday?
Cherry Lemonade: The more I think about it, I think big pharmacy is behind Valentine’s Day. Hear me out: If you don’t have a date, it can amplify negative feelings, spark up depression and lead to people seeking professional solutions. Otherwise known as “uppers.” Those who are in a relationship, the pressure is on to make sure Valentine’s Day isn’t a bust in the eyes of their partner, and all of a sudden, your anxiety is through the roof! Better go see Dr. Feelgood and get some mood equalizers! Thanks Trump.
OMG you’re right! Drugs are always the answer! So, it’s been a hell of a 2016, but you rang in the New Year singing at what looked like a pretty fun 20′s speakeasy flapper party at the West End… how did that go?
It was electric! The West End was at capacity, and everybody was there to party. I got to work with some really awesome queens, and I finally got to get up on stage with a band backing me up. In my hometown of Portland, ME, a large amount of my nightlife work was done fronting bands, both in and out of drag, so I was happy to ring in the new year doing something that I love. I even got to kiss the bassist at midnight. Escandalo.
So is Portland your hometown?
If we want to get really technical, I’m from South Portland. I only bring up the difference because it’s actually a large city, too, and it often gets eclipsed by its big sister. It was an incredible place to grow up, and I miss it dearly. But I knew I needed to be a part of something bigger.
You’re certainly well-known for your musical pipes. How long have you been a singer?
I didn’t sing a single note until I was a junior in high school. I needed an elective, and I figured it would be an easy A, so I took what my school called “mixed chorus,” which means that anybody is able to be in it.
I quickly ended up leading the tenor section, and was welcomed to spend my study halls sitting in on the “chamber singers”, which was advanced/ competition choir. I crash-coursed the art of reading sheet music, and graduated an all-state singer, went off to Hartford to study musical theater with a heavy jazz/pop concentration, and eventually ended up in Hollywood on American Idol’s fourteenth season. All because I needed to balance out my GPA.
You were already doing drag when you appeared on Idol. When did that start for you?
Cherry turns seven on February 10th!
Happy birthday! What inspired you to create Cherry?
I was broke! My home bar’s gang of house queens was running a competition for amateur drag performers. The winner would receive $100, and a paid booking in their next show. So I slapped on a crappy wig, borrowed a party dress from my 5’3″ cousin, and painted my face with the finest makeup from Claire’s. I ended up winning, and the gigs just kinda never stopped. I was welcomed into their group, and when they parted ways and moved to different parts of North America, I held down the fort and kept up with the shows I had been working on.
Have you ever actually drank cherry lemonade before, by the way?
Oh, all the time. People think they’re being cute with their cherry lime rickeys, but it’s all about the lem-lems, baby.
Okay, so, how was the American Idol experience for you? Did that level of fame from being on the show change your life in any way?
It was both amazing and awful in so many ways. In hindsight, it totally inflated my head when it was all happening. I thought, “I’m so fuckin’ clever, doing drag and singing all at once, and that’s why I’m gonna take over the country” and blah blah blah. If you let the ego monster raise its voice, you can end up losing sight of the important things, like staying humble and respecting the craft.
I got arrogant for a bit, and the universe spoke to that pretty exquisitely. When I was eliminated from the show, my house burned down a couple of days later. Press showed up and it was all over the TV and papers: “Local Idol Contestant Eliminated, Displaced by Fire.”
I had to rebuild everything I thought I had set up for myself, but it was a great learning experience. I also met some of my closest friends out in Los Angeles while I was on the show, and made some really great professional contacts. It wasn’t a total bust by any means, and I have a lot of people who look up to me in my community, so it’s forced me to take a look at what’s really important and focus on the growth of my brand from a positive standpoint.
That’s intense. I’m glad that you got through that.
So today, what’s your favorite thing about drag?
Makeuuuuuuuup. I’m such a geek when it comes to cosmetics. I want to have every color of every product of every company that is producing makeup, facial treatments, prosthetics, the works. It’s my zen time. People pull you in every which direction when you’re at the gig, and it can get pretty hectic. Having that time to just relax and paint is the nicest thing. One of my short-term goals is to get myself to a place where I’m able to support myself through makeup school and begin work in film and television. It truly makes me happy.
Wonderful! Okay, in the subject of TV, I’m gonna put you on the spot because of a certain announcement that was just made today: Who is going to win Season 9 of Drag Race???
Oh man, that’s so hard to call right out of the gate! I’m acquainted with Aja and Alexis, and I really live for what they served for the promo videos… Alexis especially. That iridescent yellow diamond look with the purple eyebrows was everything.
I love a body queen, so I’m excited to see what Valentina shows on the runway. I’ve seen some of Nina’s makeup looks and I like her work, but that “Meet the Queens” mess was a pretty big hiccup for her. The prosthetics weren’t symmetrical, the jewels looks forced, and it was entirely too much. Shea is amazing, too! Sheesh! I’m already stumped!
But I will say that I’ve called every single winner based on their walk-in look. The second the first message from RuPaul sounds, I call my winner and haven’t been wrong once.
So we’ll have to check in on you after the premiere!
Regarding big time drag competitions, you’ve been competing in The Ultimate Drag Pageant at the West End for several weeks now, and the pageant is coming to its conclusion soon. How are you enjoying this experience, and how has it been informing your drag?
Darling, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I was eliminated from the competition last night! I’m more than okay with it; I had the best time meeting the girls and stretching myself to come up with new looks, and I owe [hosts] Marti and Nedra a huge thank you for letting me try things and experiment with different ideas.
Moving forward, I’ve got a lot of really exciting stuff coming up in February and March that I’m ready to dive into. The girls in the competition are all trying to make their mark and get noticed in New York, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of great girls on my side when I first moved to the City who helped me get my foot in a few doors.
I’ve got my one-woman show opening on February 16th at the West End, and I’m running for Mr(s) BK this month, as well as planning my 3rd-annual Amy Winehouse tribute show back home for my 30th birthday. I’m looking forward to spending some time with myself, and really focusing my creative energy on the shows to come. I wish the best of luck to my sisters still competing! I’ll be there every week to see who comes out on top!
Let’s talk a bit about your monthly show coming up there: how psyched are you for that, and what can we expect?
I’m obsessed with sounds. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been recreating and repurposing things that I hear in both pop culture and all around me in everyday life. I can remember entire movies, start-to-finish, based on the score and sound effects that bridge the gap between dialogue moments. So I decided that I want to try to play with sound effects and harmony and dissonance as much as possible while keeping it funny and relatable, and even somewhat on the fly. There will be scripted moments as well as improvisational comedy, and much more.
It’s a fresh approach to how I’ve done my previous shows, so I decided to call it “Fresh Squeezed,” and it opens after the semifinals of So You Think You Can Belt (in which I am also competing).
It all stars starts on February 16th at 8pm. I can’t wait for people to see what I’ve been working on!
Congrats and good luck! And do you have your Mr(s) BK package prepared yet?
It’s in the works. I’ve got a few ideas on the stove, and am trying to decide which direction I want to go. I’m making my Brooklyn debut that night, so I’m not entirely sure what to expect! I think I want to take an edgier approach, because BK seems like the place to exorcise some demons and really leave it on the stage. Whatever I end up doing, it’ll be one of my ace performances. I’ve gotta leave them saying, “who was THAT?! She was amazing!”
Werk! Okay, anything else you wanna discuss?
Actually, yes. If you don’t like the state of our country at the moment, stop bitching on your Facebook wall, call your senators and voice your opinions. They work for us. You’re the one who can make change come about, and it’s not going to be through trolling people on the internet.
Yaz Trolls, get involved! Okay, lastly: what is one thing that the world may not know about Cherry Lemonade, but should?
I have the strangest memory ever. I remember phone numbers of friends from first grade, but if you tell me your name, I will have forgotten it by the time I tell you mine. It’s remarkable, too, ‘cause as a bartender I can remember your drink order, where you sat, and what you were wearing when you came in once ten months ago. My brain is like an old computer, because I need to delete something to add something new, and it always happens to be names. After a while, it’ll stick and then you’ll be in there forever, though, so be patient and know that I still think you’re neat, you ol’ so-and-so.
You’ve got that Nightlife Brain, which will take you far in this town! Thanks Cherry, and good luck with everything!
Cherry Lemonade’s monthly show “Fresh Squeezed” opens at the West ENd on Thursday, February 16th (11pm), right after her presentation during the “So You Think You Can Belt” semifinals (8pm). Click here for a full list of upcoming appearances. Follow Cherry on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.