Previously unknown to many in NYC nightlife, the bearded beauty Rhiannon Nichelle came out of “nowhere,” slayed each of the three weeks of this year’s run of the lauded Miss Barracuda pageant, and in the end took home the crown. But the truth is this Arizona native has actually been doing drag for most of her life, is part of a few drag families and even has a well-known drag mom right here in NYC… and by the way, the beard is very recent! Thotyssey gets to know the radiant Miss Rhiannon exclusively!
Thotyssey: Rhiannon, hello! Thanks for talking to us today, and I hope you’re enjoying your new Miss Barracuda crown! Where at home are you displaying it?
Rhiannon Nichelle: Honestly, it’s on the bedside dresser right next to me… I haven’t decided where she should live yet, lol!
That’s as good a place as any! It’s the first thing you see when you wake up and the last thing you see when / if you sleep! By the way, you performed with pageant sister Sucia at Vodka Soda Bottoms Up the other night… how did that go?
I did! It was amazing! We’re so stupid and fun together! She and I became fast friends, and are almost inseparable now! She is the true meaning of Sister!
That’s lovely! You’re win was kind of an upset: not because you didn’t deserve it–clearly all the pieces of your package slayed–but because not many queens were familiar with you prior to the pageant. How long had you been you planning on competing in Miss Barracuda?
Oh? I actually didn’t plan on doing it until I saw [pageant host and creator] Tina Burner’s post about how they were taking applicants. And I asked Sherry Pie, last years winner, if she thought I should try it, and she told me to do it–so I did!
Everything in your presentation was so perfectly executed! And that number you performed for the final talent portion was just classic pageant magic: costume reveals, cute backup dancers and choreo, a funny mix and live vocals! Well done!
OMG, thank you!
How long have you been a drag performer now?
I’ve been doing drag since I was 12, actually. I started out mostly doing Lady Gaga for parties and stuff. But when I was 17, I did Miss Junior Phoenix Gay Pride and won! That’s really when my drag changed and I started doing different stuff!
Phoenix as in Arizona?
Yes! Born and raised.
That could not have been an easy place to grow up Fabulous.
It was actually amazing. The gay community in Phoenix is very large. And I’ve been doing theatre since I was two, so I was always surrounded by the LGBT community. It’s always been my normal! My mom is actually bi, so I was very lucky growing up.
Oh, that’s so wonderful to hear! So have theater and the performing arts always been a part of your life growing up?
Yeah! My mom is an actress, so I was always with her at rehearsals, and just decided “yeah this is fun. I want to do it too!” Haven’t stopped since!
So when did the drag queen officially named “Rhiannon” come into being?
That was my name from the first performance! It’s the name my mom would have given me if I was born a girl.
Was she a Stevie Nicks fan?
Well who isn’t!? I actually forgot why she chose those names, but it’s a nice name, so I’m not mad!
So your full actual drag name is “Rhiannon Nichelle.” I’ve heard and seen a variety of last names: Imperius, Broadway…
Yes! I’m part of a couple drag families. My Arizona family is the Broadway family, and then recently Sherry Vine took me in as her drag daughter. So, technically I have those last names as well, but I prefer to just go by Rhiannon Nichelle for simplicity.
Oh wow… so when did you come to NYC, and at what point did Sherry adopt you?
I came to NYC for my last three semesters of college. That was the summer of 2015? Sherry has been a mentor of mine for a few years now. We actually met in Arizona when we were both performing at Bisbee Pride. But she didn’t adopt me till about a month ago. It was funny. I was thanking her for helping me with pageant stuff and she kept saying things like “That’s what a drag mother is for.” So of course I’m just shocked because a legendary queen just referred to herself as my mother. And when I asked if she was seriously my drag mom, she responded “Duh!” And the rest is herstory!
I see that being a bearded queen is a relatively new development for you. What made you decide to werk the fur?
Hahaha, yeah! I was doing Man of La Mancha at the Arizona Broadway Theatre a few months ago, and they wanted me to keep my beard for it. But then I was also asked to do a drag show on Halloween. Of course I wanted to do a show in my hometown, but in order to do it and respect my contract with the theatre, she had to remain fuzzy. Now it’s great, because it’s something a little different… and I can still go to the Eagle and be a cute little cub!
Woof! So, are you designing and constructing your own lewks?
All of my looks from the pageant were actually done by Angel Ayala! I love to design lewks, but I just don’t know how to sew my own stuff yet. I’m also very content with dropping some cash for someone else to make me stuff. I think it’s important to have those connections and support a designers passion, ya know?
Absolutely! I was there for the pageant’s first week, with the kid’s breakfast-inspired swimsuit challenge… you were Pebbles Flintstone! Cute! And you weren’t Fruit Loops, so bonus! Angel did a great job.
Yeah, he always turns it out! Especially that gown! I’m obsessed with it! I’ve seen other stuff of his during my fittings, and I’m always in awe of his work.
I loved the Rogue gown. That was a play on her classic 90s X-Men cartoon look… gorgeous! Was Rogue a favorite character of yours growing up?
Aw, thank you! Oh, of course she was! The women of X-Men always were my favorites! Especially Rogue, Storm, and Jean Grey! Jean Grey is my ultimate favorite, though!
She’s an icon!
The Miss Barracuda pre-recorded video challenge that contestants were asked to produce was supposed to be a kid’s toy commercial. What did you do for hat?
It’s the ultimate children’s beauty styling head! Kim Kardashian Makeup Head! The script was written by the hilarious Tony Tripoli and myself! It’s so messed up, I’m very proud of it! My friend Chris filmed, directed, and edited it at his studio XS Studios.
So aside from Sucia, were you able to bond with the other contestants in the pageant, or was it all too competitive for that?
Adriana Trenta and I got pretty close, because the three of us would just chill in the back of the bar together before and after we’d go up. Holly Box-Springs and I got a bit closer as well! But most of the girls were pretty sweet all around, and I’m sure now that I’m putting myself more out in the NYC drag scene, we’ll get to know each other better!!
Well congratulations on your victory! I see that while Miss Barracuda was happening, you were hosting karaoke at The Crooked Knife.
I actually have been going to Rainbow Night for over a year, when it was hosted by Jacklynn Hyde! When she left, I took over, but it was only for three more weeks. Which was sad, but my liver probably appreciates it! Haha, it was such a fun time! It’s mostly regulars, so it’s like a little family. We will be bringing it back very soon! So I’m excited for that!
Gurl! Aquaria is stunning. And Monet’s fake out?! Are you kidding me??? ICONIC.
Yazzzz! A great moment! Since Ru seems to have something against casting bearded queens, would you shave to get cast on the show?
Competitions are tricky… you have to do what’s necessary for the competition. So I’d probably have both bearded and non-beard in my video just to show them both, but who knows? I might walk into the workroom with a beard.
Keep us posted! Anything else coming up for you?
Sucia and I are working on a web series together, so that’s pretty exciting! As for performances, nothing set yet. But I’m definitely going to fix that!
Okay, last question: what is the world’s greatest trivia fact about Rhiannon Nichelle?
Out of the wight competitions I’ve done, I’ve only lost one so far… knocks on wood!
And the slayage continues! Thank you Rhiannon, and congrats again!