Both a fierce entertainer in her own right and a true champion for queer education, Aaliyah Martinez is a force to be reckoned with on and off the pageant stage. Thotyssey meets this amazing queen on the eve of her co-hosting this year’s Liberty Continental pageant extravaganza.
Thotyssey: Aaliyah, hello! Thanks for chatting today! So, recently you performed with the QUEEN gals at Industry, how did it go?
Aaliyah Martinez: It was amazing! I have always wanted to perform at QUEEN, and am so grateful that I had the chance to share my passion for drag that night. The entire cast was wonderful and showed true sisterhood!
What did you do?
Because last night was my Industry debut, I only performed a guest solo number. I pulled out some 90’s drag and did Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” remix.
Would you describe yourself as a dancing queen?
Not really. Brenda Dharling is a dancing queen, Pattaya Hart is a dancing queen. I move around the stage decently, but I would say it’s more about the performance and connecting with the song, and making sure the audience feels like you are singing it to them. Emotion is key in a great performance.
How long have you been doing drag now?
I started Drag on Halloween in 2005, so 12+ years now.
Amazing! And where is your hometown?
Aaliyah was born in Michigan. I started performing at a Lansing bar called Spiral.
Was Aaliyah the famous singer a favorite performer of yours?
I liked her and appreciated her for her talents. She was an incredible dancer! She also went to grade school in Detroit, Michigan. But I honestly cannot remember if she was the inspiration for my drag name or not.
Did you always have an interest in being a performer of some kind before you started drag?
Absolutely! I earned my bachelors degree in Fine Arts from Michigan State with a focus on Opera Performance. After college I toured China and Italy, and when I came back to the US I was in a few professional Broadway traveling companies.
I’ve heard you sing, your voice is incredible!
THANK YOU!!! I really appreciate that!
Is live singing something you include regularly in your drag today?
I try to at least perform one number that’s live vocals in each of my shows. I host a monthly benefit show for Our Youth Diversity Scholarship at Therapy, and always open my show with a live sing.
How did you become associated with Our Youth?
I met the founder of Our Youth at the Liberty Continental pageant two years ago. He was looking for a hostess for his show, and was holding kind of an “audition show” a few months later… and he thought of me to come try it out. I’ve been the hostess since then, and am on the board of the organization now.
It’s really important that we help the youth in today’s world reach their maximum potential, especially LGBT+ people of color! We need them to get into voting booths, and be educated enough to run for office themselves. By supporting this organization, I’m hoping that I can impact them to impact our country!
A lack of education is what primarily contributed to us getting the president we got.
Absolutely! I feel like part of that problem is lack of access to education.
“Sunday Funday” is the monthly showcase you host at Therapy that benefits Our Youth. When’s the next one?
We have a show on Sunday, March 18th!
So, what is your history with drag pageants?
I’ve been competing in pageants steady since 2006. I compete, dress, advise, and coach. My first title was Miss Club Spiral, and next Friday I’ll be competing for my prelim in NJ to return to Miss Gay United States Nationals.
What do you look for when you choose which pageants to enter?
I had been competing for local and bar titles for a few years. I wanted to dip my toe back in the National circuit two years ago, and decided to try Miss Gay United States. I fell in love with the sisterhood, and the fact that there’s room to grow the system. Generally, I look for a system that will give me a platform to be a louder, positive voice for our community.
And of course besides Gay United States, Continental is another major drag pageant system in this country. You’re co-hosting the 5th Annual Liberty Continental Pageant prelim with Harmonica Sunbeam at the Cutting Room this Sunday!
I CANNOT WAIT!!!!! I will be entertaining beside one of the biggest and most influential queens, Tommie Ross! She is a LEGEND!
Pattaya will be stepping down that night… she’s a great pageant queen as well, isn’t she?
She is! Pattaya walked on to that Continental stage as a newcomer, and made those girls that had been competing for years shake in their boots!
Werk! Well I’m sure the new winner will also be fierce.
Let’s discuss the penultimate Drag Race All-Stars episode for a sec. Do you feel that the show is kinda artificially building Trixie up to be the ultimate winner, as some fans speculate?
I don’t know…I personally would be happy if Trixie won, but I think that there’s an artificial aspect to all of them being on the show.
It’s true. I guess that’s always the case, but it seems more forced this time around. I see today that some people thought Shangela was fat shaming when she performed in that fat suit. I’m from a generation that think it’s ridiculous to be offended by anything a drag queen does during a performance, but granted these are sensitive times. What do you think about the whole “irreverence of drag v. peoples’ hurt feelings” debate?
I think that we were very much brought up in the same generation. I do understand that some of our social norms cannot carry on the same way that they did before, but people are VERY sensitive about so much! Where was the backlash when Thorgy did it?
Some random person suddenly decides to be offended, and social media turns it into a Movement.
So, what else is on your agenda?
Other than the pageant coming up, and regular show I’ll be full on pageant prepping! Nationals will be in Asbury Park at The Empress Hotel/Club Paradise on May 17 & 18 (shameless plug), I hope to see you there!
Okay, so in closing: what’s your best advice for a queen considering entering a national pageant like Gay US or Continental?
Remember, it takes a VILLAGE to win! You cannot do it alone, and bounce ideas off of sisters! Pageantry can never fully be about going to win. In the end, only one girl walks away with the crown, and your scored based on people’s opinions. Just HAVE FUN, and be yourself on stage!
Thanks for all you do, Aaliyah, and good luck with everything!
Aaliyah Martinez hosts the “Sunday Funday” benefit showcase for Our Youth monthly at Therapy on third Sundays (7pm). Check Thotyssey’s calendar for her full scheduled appearances, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.