Dusty Ray Bottoms’ drag daughter has an interesting pedigree and a unique approach to the craft of drag, which makes her a force to be reckoned with in all the boroughs and beyond. Get your fill of Fool’isha as she prepares to partake in one of the city’s most important and high profile drag competitions: the Look Queen finale!
Thotyssey: Greetings, Fool’isha! You must be mad busy getting ready for Sunday’s big showdown.
Fool’isha: Yes! Very busy and excited in these final days leading up to the finale.
I won the December prelim. The theme was “Once Upon A Time,” and I went as Beauty And the Beast. Half of my body was Beast, and half was Belle. I performed a mashup of Meatloaf’s “I Would do anything for Love” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me.”
We’ll get back to Look Queen in a bit because that finale is gonna be so epic, but first let’s get to know you… where’s you’re hometown?
I was actually born here in NYC, and raised here til I was 9. Then, my Mom decided that NYC was no place to raise a child, so she moved us to the Gulf coast of Florida. I stayed there til I was done with high school, and then I came back to NYC. So, I’m half New Yorker, half Floridian.
My memories of NYC were cute and carefree. I went to a private Catholic school. In Florida, things got slower and weirder. I gained weight, got insecure, played lots of video games. It wasn’t until high school that things got better. I came out when I was 14, started doing musical theater, and started my wild journey as a performer.
What were / are some of your favorite musicals?
Back then, I loved most anything Sondheim like Assassins, Sunday in Park With George, Into the Woods. My favorite musical of all time is still The Fantasticks. I love it’s simplicity–how effectively it sparks your imagination, but there’s very little on stage–just the actors, a piano and some props. That show had a huge influence on me. I played Matt in my senior year of high school. I’m not much into musical theater anymore, but it informed a lot of what I do today.
Modern musical theater is kinda… uninspired these days, isn’t it?
I think it’s just become too reliant on spectacle; big moving sets, acrobatics… elaborate, over-the-top costumes. It feels less like theater and more like a circus. At least Broadway, anyway.
Where were you when you discovered drag?
In Portland, Oregon. I watched Drag Race and was a huge fan, but I’d never been to an actual drag show until Portland. I was in a particularly low place in my life. A friend had taken me in after a traumatic turn of events while driving cross country from NYC to OR. The place where I stayed was like a queer halfway house. Three drag queens were living there, and the night I arrived my friend said “we’re going to a drag show!” That night I was seduced by the drag demon, and I said “I have to do this.”
Fascinating! When did Fool’isha first appear?
So after that first fateful night in OR, I became obsessed. I started researching my favorite queens, and while watching videos of Bob the Drag Queen I learned about Look Queen. There was just something about it that seemed so special, so innovative and unique. And I realized that so many of the queens I admired came from there. So, eventually I decided to move back to NYC and do drag. For six months, I just went to Look Queen and watched. During that time, I met someone who helped me start learning drag makeup. I practiced for about three months, and then on July 9th of 2017, Fool’isha was born. I did Look Queen and performed “Countdown” by Beyoncé. It was absolutely cathartic.
Drag Race Season 10 alum Dusty Ray Bottoms at some point became your drag mom.
Yes! About 6 months in, she approached me and asked if I’d like to be in her Haus. I was, of course, completely gagged and not expecting that at all, but I ended up saying “Yas.” And it’s been really wonderful having that influence on my development.
Dusty sashayed out of her season of Drag Race way too soon!
Yeah, it was definitely a strange elimination. I thought they were all roughly at the same level, but somehow she got the short end of the drag stick. I know she would have really slayed some of those challenges on the later episodes.
Is “Neva Lavd Yah” forever stuck in your head?
It was definitely stuck in my head for a while. I was actually in the video, but you can’t really see me!
That must’ve been fun to do. Where was that filmed, by the way?
At Arlene’s Grocery. It was super fun. Very professional, and I couldn’t believe how quickly it was put together and released.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing you perform several times in guest spots and competitions, but I’d be hard pressed to describe the Fool’isha Experience to the uninitiated… how would you describe you’re performing style and aesthetic?
I’d say it’s kind of a twisted theatrical journey through my mind. I try to perform a song the way I hear it. I’ll hear a song in such a way that it makes me begin to create a character and a story. It’s kind of like the song becomes text for a very short play, and I create a look and act it out. Sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s dark. Most of the time it’s foolish. And sometimes I go deep, but I always try to meet the audience halfway but not spoon feed them. I think they should have to work a little, which is kind of the opposite of what most queens do. I think most drag is viewed as a form of escapism, while my drag is more of a struggle. It wrestles with you and fucks with you a little bit. My mission is to show how foolish everyone is by making a fool of myself.
I hear that. I’m not sure if I agree with it though. It probably requires a much longer conversation than we have time for, lol! I will admit that starting off in Manhattan and then coming to Brooklyn later has been so helpful, because Manhattan audiences forced me to be more specific, get better at makeup / looks and become a better dancer. Also, performing with Manhattan queens gave me a competitive edge.
Now, when I perform in Brooklyn it feels so freeing and validating. The BK audiences really listen and take in what I’m doing. Whereas, I had to become better at the superficial aspects of drag to get noticed and listened to in Manhattan. Some might argue that the superficial aspects of drag are really what drag is about, though. I feel like there’s some heavy art dialectics that can be had about drag.
Also [regarding the Rosemont], I just want to say that Crystal Mesh, West Dakota, Harajuku, the OOPS party, crew and its attendants are quite possibly the coolest, bestest, most wonderful people in NYC. They’re all absolute gems. I love performing there. The vibe is priceless, and I can’t wait to get back in there.
That experience was kind of a double-edged sword. I felt very out of place and often misunderstood. It’s a very niche crowd, lots of musical theater enthusiasts. And I’m not sure how I feel about competitions based on drink votes. I think they have a place and a purpose, but for introverts like me it can be tricky. [Host] Marti kept urging me to audition for Dragula, which I think was a compliment… but much as I enjoy being creepy, it’s not really what I do all the time. Overall, I felt really out of place there… even more so than other pageants / competitions I’ve done.
Also, in many ways I’m still figuring out how to tell my stories. I’ve been performing my whole life, but drag is an interesting new challenge and requires a different approach and set of skills.
I enjoyed your presentations during the Miss Barracuda pageant! I think your cereal bowl look in the first week won its category… and if it didn’t it should have!
Thanks so much! That was a competition that I kind of regretted saying yes to because I was so unemployed and so broke, but it was a very valuable experience. And Yes, I won that week!
And that brings us back to Sunday’s Look Queen finale. I think this might be the most epic finale yet! Dusty and Bob are hosting. Last year’s winner Shuga Cain is stepping down. The judges panel features Tina Burner, Phi Phi O’Hara, Jiggly Caliente, The Vixen and Dragula’s Abhora! And including yourself, there are 12 fierce competitors. It’s gonna be a fucking rock show, and Look Queen finales get attention the world over. You must be, like, euphoric and petrified all at once anticipating this!
I am an absolute psycho right now. It’s all I think about. I’m sure I’ll crash hard after it’s all done. The anticipation of what the other queens are bringing is probably the worst, but I know I just need to focus on me and go full-force Fool’isha. I just want to represent my drag, my art and my brand as honestly and fully as I can, and sear myself into those judges minds! I’m so appreciative of how high they are setting the bar this year, with a stellar panel of judges and triple the cash prize. More than anything, though, I’m so honored to be part of this legacy and the Look Queen family. It has been pivotal in my development, and I am eternally grateful to Bob, Mitch, and Dusty.
Good luck! The very next night, you’ll be performing at a benefit for The Trevor Project, courtesy of Leg Up on Life. Tell us a bit about Night of Life at the Hudson Terrace on Monday, which has a great cast and a great cause.
I met Daniel Gold, the creator of Night of Life, while performing at the Pridestage for NYC Pride. He’s an extremely talented guy with an infectious personality, and obviously a big heart. He contacted me shortly after Pride, and asked me if I’d like to join the cast… so of course, I said yes. I think it’s so important to “use one’s powers for good,” so to speak! And what better force for good than The Trevor Project? I’ll be doing an encore of my Look Queen finale performance. I wanted to bring a good number with high production value, so what better to bring than what I’ve been obsessing over for the past month?
Anything else coming up for you?
Well, I’ll be working the door at Pinwheel’s Playhouse. A new, zany kind of drag show at Macri Park on Thursday September 6th. [Host Ellipsis Queen’s] WEPA Wednesday in Williamsburg’s La Esquina is starting back up again on September 5th. Aaaannd expect some wild new numbers and exciting looks, cuz I’ve been bottling them all up while this pageant has been brewing.
Finally: what’s a song you always wanted to perform to, but haven’t yet?
There’s a few, but the one that sticks out the most is “A Deeper Love,” the C & C Music Factory cover. It’s such a cliché drag song, but I think it’s so important and extremely powerful… and for that reason I probably won’t do it ‘til I have a few years under my belt.
Thanks for chatting! Bye, Fool’isha!