Drag artist, dancer and photographer–the Connecticut-born and self-described “Orange Oompa-Loompa” Jax brings a unique and refreshing perspective to the Astoria scene. and to New York City nightlife.
Jax: A kiki at Icon is always a fun time! It was such a fun and supportive crowd last night.
There seems to be a true family vibe happening with the nightlife scene in Astoria.
Very much so. We are small, but mighty. Locals love locals, and the queens of Queens are all here to uplift and support one another.
And you’ve become quite a key figure in the scene… not only are you a great performer, but you are turning these gurls out with your stellar photoshoots!
Ah, thank you!
Are you surprised to find yourself in a place where you are doing both things–drag and photography–on the regular?
To be quite honest, I don’t think there is a single drag queen in the world that is not surprised that they are doing this as a job. I fully started doing drag makeup for a project for myself in portrait class two years ago, and it just escalated into something I never could have anticipated. I became friends with Poppy around that time, and they quickly became my muse for practicing glamour and studio photography–which in turn became a great segue into creating a portfolio of photographs of queens. Now I am, thankfully, balancing both photography and drag as a freelancer.
That’s an interesting way to begin drag! Where are you from, by the way… and have you always been taking pictures?
I was raised in the very, very Caucasian suburbs of Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was always a little bit of a black sheep. I began photographing early on in high school. My mom was a graphic designer, so I always loved fooling around in Photoshop with stock images–so picking up photography and taking my own images to fool around with on the computer felt like the right next step to take.
Your photos are so uniquely staged, with surreal set pieces and bright colors. Do you get your inspiration there from anything or anyone specific?
Primarily just my upbringing in Connecticut, quite honestly. I keep an intensive diary, and I tend to write a lot about the conversations I overhear, along with my personal experiences as a queer person of color growing up in an all-white community, adopted by white parents. So, it’s a bit of satire. But also, drag helps me express.
Yes, this seems insane… but this is very real. My thesis project for college was a self-portrait series of myself in drag alongside my family and closest friends, where I used the mask (that is, my painted face in drag) and placed it onto these individuals to both visually and physically put them into my shoes and experience. I find a lot of art tries to explain trauma, rather than explaining the trauma I’m more interested in: the idea that the face I paint when I become my heightened self in drag is the accumulation of my trauma and experiences. And by making someone where that mask, I am having them live my experience.
That’s intense! Have you studied dance as well?
Never, actually! I never thought I could dance until I started drag. My Puerto Rican kicked in the second I put a wig on. I was always an athlete–a junior Olympic competitive diver–until 15, where I left and began competitive cheerleading… which is what I associate more of my stage presence with.
I saw you do an exciting number at Night of Life benefit at Sony Hall, featuring some of the city’s best dancers and choreographers. What a great night that was! As a performer, I’m guessing that must’ve been an all-time highlight for you.
Oh yeah, that night was so much fun! And it helped me become a lot closer with a lot of the other girls who participated, such as Lagoona Bloo, Coco Taylor, and Selma Nilla. I was terribly stressed that night though, since I was technically not allowed to perform still due to an injury. So I had to scrap my original number, and create a new one a few days prior. Happily, doing the new number was well-received by the audience! And I couldn’t have done it without the help of my best friend Essence.
How exactly did you first find yourself performing as a queen in NYC?
It was actually Gilda Wabbit’s last Wabbit Hole Wednesday at Icon! We had been talking about setting up a photoshoot for her before she moved to Kentucky, and she invited me to show up to her open stage. So I bit the bullet and stepped on that stage, and did “My Way” by Noah Cyrus… and the rest is herstory, lol!
By the way, why “Jax?” I mean obviously it’s an abbreviation of your actual name (Jackson) and it’s certainly short and sweet and memorable… I guess I just answered my own question!
Haha, very much that! But also: my parents always called me “Apple Jax” growing up, I like to say I look like Jax from Mortal Kombat, and being a total narcissist calling myself a “Jax of All Trades.” The list goes on, so I like to think it works.
Right now, you are participating in the third season of Iconic, the harrowing long-form drag competition Sunday nights at Icon Bar for the next several weeks.
Yes, vvveeeeerrrryyyy lloooonnngggg. haha… but I am having a fun time thus far. I felt myself getting stagnant with my drag, where I am thankful to be hired as a dancey queen for events. But doing a competition like this has given me the opportunity to show off why I started drag, which lies in the visual and the production. So, it’s fun surprising people with what I plan on doing each week! I’m definitely allowing myself to become more comfortable giving into my more camp and comedic sensibilities and satire, like I do in my photographic work! But the most important part of a competition, I’m learning, is no matter what the theme is, make sure you do yourself doing the challenge, and not the other way around. Last weekend’s theme was “teams,” and Essence and I put together a fun Weather Girls number we plan on bringing to many more venues!
And what’s this weekend’s theme?
Disney! Which should be a fun time… definitely a week to be silly!
And on Thursday, October 24, you’ll be taking part in an entirely different, one-night-only competition at 3 Dollar Bill: Nicky Ottav and Blake Deadly’s “Read My Lips!” This is specifically a lip sync battle, and the lineup of competitors is ferocious.
Oh, I’m extremely excited! I had the opportunity to compete in the first RML in January to Lady Gaga and made it into the top 3, which I was not anticipating. I just went to have a good time! But this time the [themed artist of the night] is Rhianna, which is far more up my alley; therefore, I’m taking no survivors. I’ve now had the opportunity to perform at 3DB many times, and I am a very different queen and performer than I was in January, so hopefully this time I walk away $1000 richer and with a title.
Yes, I am now part of the Lucky Chengs family, which I am extremely grateful for. I started with brunch, but have been hopping around performing and doing their dinner shows lately.
I was super surprised to see that brunch close after a few weeks, given how successful it was. But now on Sunday, October 27, it will be back: still care of Chengs, but now at a new venue, Secret Room NYC!
Yes, brunch is on its way back! And no real tea about the hiatus, they just felt that a different location was more suited for a brunch crowd since it was becoming extremely popular quickly. We wanted to assure that we could get proper seating times and space. Brunch shows are very different than dinner shows and crowds!
That’s true indeed… have a great re-launch!
Nothing I am contractually allowed to share yet! But you will definitely be seeing some new shows popping up in the near future. For now, I am going around the boroughs doing some fun guest spots, Lucky Chengs and Iconic… so the children can feel free to follow me on Instagram where I’m best at sharing where they can find me twirling. Because lets be honest, I’m a drag queen… half the time I don’t know what show I have tonight until I look at my calendar on my desk!
Fair enough! Okay, final question: what does the world need to know right now about Jax?
Shes single and ready to mingle, boys. So if you’re fine with sleeping next to a bookshelf home to 30 orange wigs, slide through into my DMs! Oh, and my Venmo is Tipjax! As the saying goes, there is never a wrong time to tip a drag queen… or shamelessly promote your Venmo! But in all seriousness, all the world needs to know about Jax right now is that I’m just an orange oompa loompa who loves drag, art, drag art, and turning the party.
Keep it turning, gurl! Thank you!