While certainly well-known for being one of “RuPaul’s Drag Race’s” very first contestants, this dynamic performer also happens to be a highly-demanded international DJ today. Denver (by way of Puerto Rico)’s own Nina Flowers chats with Thotyssey about the changing landscape of nightlife, the “Drag Race” experience, the truth about being Miss Congeniality, the evolution from DJ to drag queen and back, a NYC gig this weekend, and all else that lies ahead!
Thotyssey: Hey Nina, thanks so much for talking to us–it’s an honor!
Nina Flowers: Thank you for having me, and for giving me this opportunity to let you know what I’ve been up to.
You’re always DJing and performing all over the place; where are you right now?
Lucky for me I’m home for the week, which I find extremely to my benefit. The next couple of months will be really heavy with DJing events in New York, Mexico, Boston, Bangkok, DC, Puerto Rico, Palm Springs and Las Vegas. And this is all before Pride events during the summer, so this week off couldn’t come at a better time for me.
As someone who has to be frequently traveling, have you had any crappy experiences with the recent “travel ban,” or whatever it’s being called now, at the airports?
Thank God I haven’t had any issues with that ridiculous travel ban.
And you’re still based out of Denver right now?
Yes, I have been in Denver for nine years now.
As a DJ, what are your favorite tracks / mixes to play right now?
I try not to get attached to any given songs. If that happens, it’s very easy for me to forget they’re getting old–not cute for any DJ. I want to try to keep it fresh and new at all times, but I certainly always enjoy productions by Ralphi Rosario, Rosabel, Alexander, Cajjmere Wray, Alex Acosta, Oscar Velasquez, Twisted Dee, Eddie Martinez, Paulo, Isaac Escalante, Alain Jackinsky – just to name a few.
Revisiting RuPaul’s Drag Race for a moment: You were on the show’s very first season! Eleven seasons later (including All-Stars), it’s become an absolute staple in drag culture–and for many, a drag quality standard. For hundreds of queens, it’s an ultimate career goal. But coming into the very first season, expectations were very different, I imagine! What did you feel the experience was going to be like, and what did you think it would do for your career?
You know, we were the pioneers and true originals. It was nerve-racking for everyone. There wasn’t anyone going into that set knowing what to expect–not even the production team. We didn’t have a previous season to look up as a reference. It was all so new–so fresh. It certainly did wonders for my career, putting my name out there, and letting people know what I’m about. Amazing publicity!
What was the production value like in that season? I imagine everybody was learning on the job, and trying to work with that tiny budget!
I mean, if you compare it to what it is today, it was totally low budget. You can see it on by the quality of the set, the winning prizes and celebrity judges. It has grown tremendously.
You made a mark in that season for many reasons, including your androgynous looks. That may have been the first time many people across the country were exposed to that type of drag. How did your drag looks evolve up to that point: what inspired them?
I grew up in the 80’s, and this decade was defined by the music and the androgynous looks of many great artists like Annie Lennox, Pete Burns, Boy George, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Grace Jones and many others who were a part of that New Wave Era. It was a great time to be around, and I’m still inspired by it.
Other things you’re known for from your time on the show include being the first queen voted into the competition by an online fan vote, the first queen who never went to the Bottom Two, and the only ever Miss Congeniality who was also a finalist!
As Miss Congeniality, did being so nice to everybody in that strange situation of being filmed come natural to you, or were you also very conscious of the chance of looking bad in the final product?
It came natural for me. I always treat people with respect and kindness. I like to make everyone feel comfortable around me. That’s part of who I am as a person. Anyone who knows me on a personal level know that’s my way.
You also appeared in the first season of Drag Race All-Stars and a spin-off, Drag U. Would you do an, um, All-Stars of the All-Stars season if they had one?
No I wouldn’t. I had my time, my opportunity, and I had a lot fun doing it, but I have other priorities now. I’m on another chapter in my life and I’m moving on to new challenges, and other things I want accomplish.
Do you still keep in touch with any of your castmates from Season 1, or All-Stars 1?
Not really, because I haven’t been so active in the drag circuit, so I don’t get to see them as much anymore. Every now and then, Bebe and I will call each other to catch up and get some good laughs. I love that bitch. The other one that I’m pretty close to is Ongina. We also text each other randomly. Those two are among my favorites.
Drag has obviously evolved a lot in the many years since Drag Race’s first season, thanks in large part to the show’s influence. Are you pleased with everything that has happened in the industry as a result of the show’s continued success, or do you see some negative trends?
I think the show has been amazing for the art form of drag in general. It has brought drag into the mainstream, creating a lot more job opportunities for drag performers across the globe. It also has made things very competitive, but that’s always good for everyone. It keeps you on point.
Major announcements about this upcoming season were just released, and they’ve gotten mixed reviews from the show’s fans. The show’s moving to VH1 from Logo, and its now getting a Friday primetime slot. So, gone are the Monday night viewing parties that have become such a vital tradition in the queer community (and a great boom for weekday bar business). But on the other hand. it’s now much more accessible to the mainstream, and will further raise drag’s profile. Where do you stand with the time and network change, yay or nay?
I think it’s fantastic, the show moving to a bigger network and to a more competitive schedule. It proves things are going really great. For me it’s a total YAY!
Since Drag Race, your focus has shifted a lot more towards DJing than performing. Did this just kinda work out that way, or did you make a conscious decision to focus more on DJing?
[Laughs] no love, my focus has never shifted. I was a DJ way before I was drag performer. At the age of 12, I had my first set of MK2 turntables, at 14 I was doing all the parties in the neighborhood and in my high school, and at 16 (1990) I was already a resident DJ at major club in San Juan (Puerto Rico) called Krash. For me it has always been about the music, and it always will be.
When I first moved into this country, my major goal was to focus on my music. In my mind, I was already moving on from drag, but things weren’t happening for me when I moved to Denver. I couldn’t find a job, and I didn’t dominate the English language. That first year was tough! I was constantly feeling defeated by the fact that I was away from everything I ever knew. But I never gave up.
Though, that year was also when things took an interesting twist for me. I was cast for the first season of RPDR. Just when I thought I was moving on from drag, drag found me for a second time and gave me a great opportunity to step into the spotlight and showcase my art. I used it to my advantage.
My drag persona has done incredible things for me. It has opened many doors, and I will forever be grateful for that. Though, as I stated, now I’m delving into my true passion: music. As you can see I’m currently focusing on my career as a DJ and music producer.
The year 2015 was my last year touring as a drag performer, and during 2016 I’ve only been performing at one of the biggest drag production shows in Denver called Drag Nation. I’ve been the headliner and host of that show for eight years, but this is officially my last year with the cast. I’m ready for new goals and new experiences.
What are some of your favorite floors in the country (or beyond) to spin?
In the country NYC, Miami, Chicago, Boston, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas. Internationally, Mexico and my all time favorite: Brazil. I’m dying to get to Spain! Hopefully one day!
I DJ’ed for about five minutes, and I found that people who bothered me just with requests or whatever while I was working was the most annoying thing imaginable. You must get this a lot more, being a famous TV personality, right? How do you handle it?
Song requests! Totally ridiculous, disrespectful and annoying. Most people don’t understand that a true DJ is an artist, creating a story through his set, and taking the crowd into a journey. I use to have that problem when I DJ’ed at local bars, and I had little tolerance for it. I always told people I’m sorry I don’t take requests.
But now I get booked for events were people expect to hear new music, so the dynamic it’s different. In other words, no requests. Leave that for the weddings, the birthday parties and/or corporate events.
We’re apparently losing one more of our last big dance venues here in NYC, Space Ibiza. Most large venue owners here struggle with insane rents, and rarely now will nightlifers pay door covers; many of them would just rather stay home and Grindr. Have you noticed this trend happening elsewhere in the country, and does it worry you?
Unfortunately that’s a problem we’re facing everywhere, and everyone who makes a living out of the nightlife is scared and nervous. Back in the day, it was all about going out to the clubs to hear your favorite DJs play the hottest tunes you couldn’t hear anywhere else; and while at it, perhaps find a fierce hookup. Ironically thanks to technology, now people can do both from home.
In the meantime, we keep doing our best to educate a new generation–to have them continue supporting the traditions of celebrating life through music. That’s really what house music is about! As long as there’s people out there who believe in–and get life from–that approach, we’ll always find a way to get together and celebrate.
We do still have at least one hot party and venue here, though: Brian Rafferty’s TRADE at Cielo in the Meatpacking District! You’ll be back there spinning on Saturday, March 11th. What’s cool about this particular party for you?
TRADE is a great party! The venue is perfect. The sound system is fierce. The crowd and the energy are always amazing. I love playing for this event! The combination of qualities blends together and creates the perfect atmosphere. Kudos to Brian on such a great job. I’m really happy to be a part of the team.
Do you mostly DJ out of drag?
My approach to both [DJing and drag] have always been completely different. The only thing they have in common is the “Nina Flowers” name, and a little bit of makeup. [Laughs] okay, a lot of makeup. Though, I never do full drag when I’m DJ’ng. When I DJ, my responsibility is delivering good music, and it’s not about the way I look. Let’s face it, the boys don’t really care if I’m on heels or if I’m wearing a piñata on my head, they just want to dance.
When I perform, that’s when I provide a full illusion. This approach has proven to be great for my business, and it has also been very good for me on a personal level – keeping things fresh for me.
You’ve made a lot of recordings that are available on iTunes, and you’ve collaborated with a lot of people on their tracks as well.
Yes, all those collaborations have been amazing experiences, and wonderful opportunities to expand my network.
And I love your appearance in Fior’s video for “Backstabber!” was that particular one fun to do?
It was a super fun and enriching experience. Everyone was so hungry to deliver a great performance. I really enjoyed that one. It was really fresh!
Anything else coming up that we should get ready for?
This year is pretty jam-packed with events I’m really excited about. In the lineup, I got SongKran 11 in Thailand, Cherry Weekend in DC, Hydro Caribbean Festival in Puerto Rico, Matinee Las Vegas, Matinee San Diego, ReLoad in Palm Springs, ReLoad in LA, Saga Saturdays in Boston, and many more that are in the works and I can’t talk about yet.
As far as music goes: about a year ago I teamed up with a good friend of mine and a music mentor, William Umana, to produce several songs. Together we’re the Umana Flowers’ Project. Umana and I are currently working on a few new projects that are sounding really good. You guys can find our work on beatport.com.
And finally: what’s the best piece of advice you can give a baby nightlifer just starting out now?
The best piece of advice I can give, not just to the baby drag queens, but to anyone out there who wants to improve themselves and take their craft to the next level: learn your craft, learn the history behind it, learn from the ones who came before you. Additionally: be original, respect your peers, and most importantly, always believe in yourself.
And never let anyone tell you it’s not possible to achieve your dreams. Live your dreams with love and light.