Known for her dry wit, rich baritone, all-out camp presentation and sheer towering size (she’s arguably the city’s tallest queen at 6′9′’), this veteran lady of Lips Drag Restaurant serves you much more than just dinner and brunch. Get your whole life from this fancy Chandilier!
Thotyssey: Chandi, greetings! Thanks for talking to us! So we must start off with a very serious current events issue…. how good could the Cher album of ABBA songs possibly be?
Chandilier: I’m definitely more excited for an entire album of Cher singing ABBA songs than I am for new music from ABBA themselves! I really hope that there are some music videos that go with the album! Imagine the costumes!
It will be something! As for ABBA themselves, the word is that the group doesn’t want to actually take part in their own upcoming tour, and they’re just going to be hologrammed into the venues. Is this what most performers will do now? Would a hologram of, like, Britney in her prime be better than the the Current Reality of Britney?
I personally think a cardboard cutout of Britney would be better than the current thing, but I don’t wanna be chased with pitchforks and torches for saying so!
Lol! Nah, her fans are too easily distracted to get a Frankenstein mob going.
Now let’s talk about Chandi! How long have you been a working drag queen at this point?
Hmmm… carry the one and divide by Pi... it’ll be 12 years this September!
Amazing! Over time, what has gotten easier and what has gotten harder in the business?
Through the years, one of the things that has gotten easier for me is learning to trust my instincts when it comes to experimenting with makeup, costumes and numbers. It’s also gotten easier to say “no” every once in a while.
One of the things that has gotten harder over time is standing out in a crowd of a thousand new drag queens that all seem to do the same thing. When I started doing drag, it wasn’t something that was cool or “in” at the time, and there weren’t that many of us. Nowadays, it seems like everyone does drag!
That may very well be the case! So, where is your hometown… and do you have a musical background?
I’m originally from Bellefontaine, Ohio. I moved here 12 years ago to study opera (like so many queens)!
Oh werk! What school?
I went to Manhattan School of Music.
How did you discover drag?
My first experiences in the drag world were in Sandusky, Ohio, when I was working at a Johnny Rockets at Cedar Point Amusement Park. I went to the local 18-and-over club and saw their drags shows. I was TERRIFIED of the girls!
Then I moved to New York City, and a girlfriend took me to Lips in the West Village for my 19 birthday. As we were watching Mimi Imfurst jump around the dining room, my friend leaned over to me and said, “You could do this!” By the time I walked out of the restaurant, I had a drag name, an audition date and was on my way to start shopping. Thankfully, I already had a pair of heels! Then throughout my undergrad, I was working at Lips for extra money.
How did you come up with “Chandilier,” with that spelling?
Melinda Tanqueray Thomas came up with that! We were sitting around the table and she said, “Girrrrlll, with heels and hair you’re going to hit the chandeliers in here. THAT’S your name!” As for the spelling, I wanted to be Chan-dih-lier and not Chan-duh-lier. I also wanted only people that actually know me to call me “Chandi” as a nickname, instead of being Chandi Lier, which sounds too perky for me. I also HATE being called Chanda or Shonda. It’s far too classy.
You’ve always been quite a drag presence with your already considerable height, plus your giant heels and huge wigs, singing live in this powerful baritone… it makes for an amazing show. But it seems like all the baby queens are all about trying to be “fish.” Did you ever feel that you had to approach drag that way?
I never identified with the idea of “fish.” What I loved about what I saw in the NYC drag scene at the time was how BIG and over the top everything was! That’s what would make me feel pretty. I figured out early on that I was never going to be “fishy.” I’m 6’9” without heels. The jig is up.
Have you ever met a drag queen taller than you?
Only one! Miss Inanna in Portland! She made me feel like a dainty WOMAN.
I just saw Gusty Winds, your Lips sister, post about how she’s one of the few remaining original queens there. But in general, it seems that queens have long careers at Lips. What do you think is the great appeal of being a Lips queen?
The great appeal of being a Lips queen comes down to two things… the first being, it’s an amazing opportunity to perform for a crowd that wants to see you! The guests at Lips are all there to have a good time, and most of the time are fantastic audiences to perform in front of. It’s much different than performing in bars where you have to prove yourself to a sea of judgy gays.
The second great appeal of being a Lips girl is money. Drag is not cheap, but working at Lips definitely makes things seem less expensive! After college, I was able to remain in the city based on what I’ve earned from doing drag alone. That’s something I’m very proud of (and so are my parents)!
Congratulations! But do you ever find the Bachelorette Party contingent that frequent Lips to be, um, challenging to deal with?
Absolutely. Everyone wants the bride to have fun. But at Lips, that’s MY job… to make sure everyone has fun. Most of the time it’s the maid of honor or whomever is in charge of the reservation that can be the biggest pain. They come in thinking we don’t know what we’re doing, and want to tell us how to make her bride feel special. Sometimes, I have to take a breath and remember that they just want their bride to feel loved, and I want them to tip me 20% at the end of the night.
What days of the week can we usually find you at Lips?
I’m behind the bar on Sundays for Broadway Brunch with Ginger Snapt, and again for Dragalicious Karaoke with Blackie O on Tuesday nights. I’m serving on the floor on Wednesday night for Twisted Broadway with Ginger Snapt, and on alternating Saturday nights for the Glitz and Glam with Ariel Sinclair.
So aside from Lips, you’ve been hosting “Shut Up, Chandi” at the Duplex Mondays nights at 11 for two years now! That evolved out of a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party there, back when it was on Mondays (the glory years). Nowadays it’s the best place to get the Full Chandi. How would you describe the show to those who’ve never been?
I can’t believe I’ve bamboozled that bar into paying me to drink and dance around like an asshole for two years! I like doing a mix of live singing and fierce and emotive lip syncs. I sing a lot of Elvis, 90s music, and Celine Dion.. four octaves lower! When it comes to lip syncing, I do a mix of Top 40, some throwbacks, musical theatre, and emotional ballads (or “Chair Numbers” as I call them).
I love talking to the audiences, since it’s such an intimate space at the Duplex. I’ll find out where they’re from or what they do, and I’ll probably have something snarky to say about it. It’s a pretty honest show. No bells or whistles. No death drops. Just me, a mic, a playlist and the majority of the bar’s Fireball supply!
That’s the formula for the best drag! The other Duplex queens are also all Lips girls: Ruby Roo, Lauren Ordair and Heidi Haux. Oh, and Vita Summers did some stuff at Lips, and was also the Duplex Tuesday night queen… but she just upped and left NYC! Are we better off?
The streets are safe again, boys!
Lol! Just kidding, we love her!
This past endless Drag Race season, you were hosting the viewing party at the Townhouse… how did that go?
OMG it literally was a DRAG race, over FIVE MONTHS! I was behind the downstairs bar at Townhouse every Thursday for the whole thing! I ended up getting a lot of regulars that liked the change from the other crowded and loud viewing parties in the city. It was like a fun weekly club, meeting with familiar friendly faces every week. I love a job that pays me to watch TV.
That’s heaven! This Sunday, an amazing NYC drag expatriate named Sabel Scities is back in town hosting a Sunday Stonewall Invasion, guest starring yourself and some other Lips queens, plus Honey Davenport! When was the last time you were on the stage with Sabel?
The last time I performed with Sabel was this past December in Portland, Oregon! I’ve also gone down to Austin, Texas to guest her shows a couple times. Her Invasions at Stonewall have seemed to become a yearly event that I always look forward to! Sabel, Lauren Ordair and I were very close before Sabel abandoned us, so it’s a little bittersweet every time.
Lips and The Duplex keep you pretty busy during the year… are there any other projects or gigs when can find you involved in in the near future?
There’s nothing new on the horizon as of now, but I’m always down for new and exciting opportunities as they come in! There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a buck!
The hustle is real. Okay, final question: what will the title of your tell-all autobiography be? And who will play you in the movie version?
The title would have to be Lights Out: the Chandilier Story, and unfortunately Bea Arthur is dead, so… obviously Meryl. Playing Bea Arthur. Playing Chandilier.
You’re gonna get that bitch another Oscar! Thanks, Chandi!
Chandilier hosts “Shut Up, ChandiI” Monday nights at the Duplex (11pm), and appears at Lips throughout the week. Check Thotyssey’s calendar for her scheduled gigs, and follow Chandilier on Facebook and Instagram.