Defying convention with her performing style and career trajectory, this queen has made her mark in a unique and major way. With eclectic bi-coastal performances that range from old school punk rock to kindergarten-friendly, she has now made waves with a memorable spot: the energetic bearded lady among the ensemble of NYC queens backing Katy Perry live on the “SNL” season finale. Let’s get filthy with Lil Miss Hot Mess!
Thotyssey: Hi Lil Miss! Actually, let me ask… what do drag sisters and friends call you for short wen you’re out? Lil?
Lil Miss Hot Mess: Friends call me all kinds of variations of Lil Miss Hot Mess: Lil Miss, Hot Mess, Mess, and LMHM. I only get annoyed when people forget one of the words, like Lil Miss Mess or Lil Hot Mess; I know it’s a mouthful, but the Miss and especially Hot are important!
Of course! So, where are you right now? It seems you’ve been based in NYC and San Francisco, periodically.
These days I’m mostly in NYC–I moved here for grad school–but I got my start in SF, and still feel a bit like I left my heart there. I’m headed back that way for the summer, so I like to say I’m bi-coastal-curious! Plus, I’m flirting with LA more and more…
You’re just everywhere! Where is your native land?
I was born and raised near Albany, NY – but I definitely grew up and came up in SF.
What drew you to drag, and your unique performing style?
I was a kid who liked dress-up and girly things. My best friend and I would play My Little Ponies and wear her ballet tutus. So I guess I always had it in me.
In high school I did some theater, and one time we did Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they tried to give me a bigger part, but all I wanted was the drag part of Thisbe in the play-within-a-play. And in college, I’d often dress in drag for Halloween or other parties but never performed.
When I moved to San Francisco, I was blown away by the drag scene there, especially around the legendary club Trannyshack, which was so much more than just being pretty. It was political, punk, glamorous, irreverent, grotesque, campy, filthy, and beyond beyond beyond. At some point, I decided I wanted to get on stage and talked to a queen about how to do that, and she told me to “just ask” and I’ve been performing ever since.
As far as style, I don’t really have a character or persona, I just perform different sides of myself. I do tend to be a little more on the camp side, but for me true camp is always a blend of satire and sincerity, so there is a genuine quality in how I approach things.
I sometimes joke that I’m basically an awkward 13 year-old girl performing at a talent show – I may not be pretty or talented, but I’m going to smile and give it my all!
I saw a short documentary about you, where you perform this very exotic number.
“Quizas, Quizas, Quizas!” In some ways, that performance is more of an outlier for me; it was a song that had been stuck in my head for a while, and I had this gorgeous Mr. David Couture gown that I wanted to wear. Plus I think the theme for the show that night was supposed to be all non-English songs.
I think that doc also shows me performing a Sleater-Kinney song with a kind of critique of white suburban femininity – that’s more of my style.
The first time I saw you was a actually a gorgeous shot from Magnus Hastings’ book last year. How did you like that experience, and were you hands-on at all with the concept?
I absolutely loved working with Magnus; he’s such a sweetheart, and a talented photographer. It all happened very quickly: he showed up and we decided that the bathroom would make a good location. It was before a show, and I must have been planning a Bette Midler number because that’s the look I’m giving; Bette Midler is a huge inspiration for me, and something about her aesthetic and my aesthetic and giving that kind of glam-but-not-glam-but-glam bathroom scene all felt right.
Though, when I saw some of the other photos in the published book, I almost wished that we had done something more elaborate; but I’m hoping there’s more to come on that front.
I love the shot! It’s so expressive.
So, as far as your NYC shows go, what have been some career highlights for you?
Well, when I first moved to New York, I decided to take a little break, so I actually haven’t been performing a ton here. I’ve done a handful of shows, and had a great time at Bushwig this past year. But mainly recently I’ve been doing these Drag Queen Story Hour events at public libraries, and they’re so much fun! It’s sort of funny to think that my career has taken that turn, but I think it’s really just an expansion to new audiences.
You can tell from that recent Global Reality TV clip that you are so natural with those kids. I wish you were my kindergarten teacher! Were you surprised that you had it in you to connect with children so well?
I’ve worked with kids a bit before out of drag, but it was still a bit surprising how natural it all felt. I just tried to channel my inner librarian! But I think there are a lot of similarities between hosting a show and working with kids. In fact, I often joke that emceeing is basically like being a camp counselor where you just kind of hype everything up, whether it’s “who wants to see a talent show?!?” or “whose ready for another queen?!?”
I will add that I had a lot of fun making up that new version of “The Wheels on the Bus,” which included things like the shoes, hips, hands, sequins, and lips on the drag queen. I think the kids really had fun with it and it gives them a real taste of what it means to be a drag queen – a little sassy, a little edgy, and taking things just a tad too far.
Teach the children well! Of course, there are always narrow-minded people who don’t want their children “exposed” to drag in a setting like that.
There’s been some push-back on “DQSH,” not surprisingly, but it’s pretty much from the haters who are always going to hate and need to have some more fun in their lives.
The program really seems to be catching on in a huge way, haters be damned!
One of the things that’s so exciting about “DQSH” is that so many people want to see it happen in their own cities and towns; and many of them are stepping up and making it happen! It’s great that it’s happening in places like NYC, SF, and LA, but I really do hope that kids everywhere–especially queer and trans kids–have the opportunity to feel fabulous every now and then and to learn that they can defy norms, challenge authority, and look great doing it!
So, I wanna hear all about this very exciting performance we saw on Saturday Night Live this past Saturday! Many of our city’s great queens performed live with Katy Perry onstage, including yourself… you even had a featured move! How did you find out about that gig, and what was the audition process like?
Well, I can’t spill it all, but I heard from a dancer friend that his agent was looking for drag queens for an SNL gig. It all happened this past week, so I literally finished my last term paper of the semester, then raced to the audition.
I thought we didn’t have to come in a full look, so I still had stubble and threw together like a 5-minute face and the audition was basically walking a runway, which isn’t really my strength. All the other girls there were much more fierce and put together, so I didn’t really think I had a shot. But I think they liked that what I do is a little different–they even wanted me to keep the beard, which I don’t normally do, but I figured I’d rep my SF roots.
We rehearsed for the rest of the week, including one really really long day, and everyone was really nice. To Katy Perry’s credit, she really seemed genuine about giving as many of us a chance to shine as possible; she even added more people to the runway than originally got to walk, and offered to stand on the side to make more room. Plus, for me, as a relative newcomer to NYC, it was a great way to meet some of the city’s most talented and hard-working queens! It was definitely the most high-profile thing I’ve ever done, and really was such a surreal experience, from seeing behind-the-scenes at SNL to getting in to the after party!
What was it like being on that stage with her and all the other queens, looking out at that live audience, knowing that millions of people were watching you at home? Like, are there even words?
There really aren’t words! I mean, I’ve met celebs before, and usually keep my cool, but I’ve never done anything like this where I was performing next to them on live TV! The great thing is that we got to rehearse a bunch of times in the space and with her, so in the end, I just tried to forget about the cameras and be in the moment (and there aren’t actually that many people in the audience!).
And then it was over! There’s always a bit of a post-partum feeling after any performance – especially because even without rehearsals, just getting ready takes hours for even a three minute song – but the aftershocks of this one have definitely been extra.
So, most queens on the set are saying that there’s no truth at all to the rumors that Katy’s collaborators, the rap group Migos, wanted queens removed from their segment. Do you agree with them?
Yeah, I’ve heard the same rumors as everyone else, and all I can say is that it’s showbiz. Decisions get made last-minute for all sorts of reasons, and I think it’s too easy (i.e. racist) to come after a black hip-hop group for allegedly being homophobic without any proof. Plus, Brita Filter was in the number, and the table was all queer and trans people of color!
Exactly. Have friends and family been bombarding you with messages since the show?
Yes, I basically haven’t put down my phone since! Today I realized my wrist hurt, and I think it’s post-SNL carpal tunnel. Also, my mom and I haven’t really talked much about my drag, but I told her about this and she got excited. So, baby steps!
Well, no doubt it was a great moment for NYC drag and queer folks in general… congratulations on a job well done!
So, last question… and I’m still reeling over Valentina and MaskGate on Drag Race… if you had to lip sync for your life and you didn’t know what song was coming, would song would you really hope would play that you would totally slay?
Oy vey, I’m such a control queen that it’s hard for me to even imagine having to improv like that! I’m more of a show queen than anything else, so I’d probably pick “Rose’s Turn”: it’s something I’ve done a billion times, it has a wonderful build up and can be applied to so many situations. It would just feel like home to me.
And now it’s “Hot Mess’ Turn!” Thanks so much for talking to us!