Much like her fellow Michigan native and namesake inspiration Dita Von Teese, drag queen DiDa Ritz takes the art of stagecraft very seriously… even when she’s making us laugh. A star of the Chicago scene, DiDa joined “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in its fourth season and provided one of the most memorable lip sync performances in that show’s history. And with the rise of digital drag resulting from the pandemic lockdown of global nightlife, DiDa is serving it on screen once again. [Cover photo: Guys & Queens]
Thotyssey: DiDa, hello! Thanks so much for talking to us today! So these are weird times we’re all in… how are you handling all this craziness and uncertainty?
DiDa Ritz: I’m doing a lot of different things to stay busy–mostly work, so I can make enough income to keep my place and self above water. It is very scary right now, but when you work in entertainment you’re used to ups and downs that can shake your world. But, I am going on a road trip just to get out of the city in a few days.
Meanwhile, are you binge watching anything?
It’s funny, when it come to watching TV, I watch a little bit of everything right now… including re-watching Orange is the New Black. It’s such a good show, I had to watch again.
How is Chicago handling social distancing? Are all the bars and clubs still closed?
Chicago, like every other city, is trying to figure it out. But from what I last heard, our numbers are okay, and we’re being watched. But it’s mostly mandatory for masks to be worn, and the hospital workers are working tirelessly to help people with Covid. The beaches are closed and the bars are closed mostly, or have moved to patio / brunch shows. It’s definitely taking time to get used to this large change, but we’ll get through it.
One of several unfortunate happenings regarding this past Season 12 of Drag Race is that the girls didn’t get to enjoy that in-person fan love and those big international gigs right after the season aired. When you think about what a great experience that likely was for you, doesn’t it seem so crappy that they were deprived of that?
Yeah, that sucks… but that’s show business, kids! I have to be honest… I’ve never been invited to have any of those opportunities that a lot of the Drag Race queens received. I’ve always had to book my own shows / traveling gigs. So I guess I’m lucky that I’m good at networking and communication.
In happier news, how glorious is it that your Chicago sis Shea Couleé is the newest Drag Race All-Star?
I was extremely happy to see Shea win an All-Star crown, [especially] because I was still in celebration over Jaida’s [Season 12] win. So I felt like a true, proud sister. The one thing I’m learning as I get older is to pray for the next generation of queens to never feel like I did when I was their age, as a brown faced baby queen. To see someone like Shea–who I’ve watched grow so much, and use their platform to inspire and help bring change to the community and the world–I was filled with a lot proud emotions that day. Definitely tears of joy!
Is it hard to watch Drag Race just as a casual fan, when you can probably see all the gears turning and have a good understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes?
Oh yeah… I try not to judge any new queens off their season. I wait ’til I meet them in person to make my own personal judgements. But reality TV is literally a machine, so it’s all for entertainment. I just laugh and gag with the rest.
Every time one Googles “DiDa Ritz,” the first several things that come up involve your Season 4 lip sync against The Princess, in front of guest judge Natalie Cole! Six seasons later, that’s still regarded as one of the show’s greatest ever moments. It has to be a good feeling that you had that major contribution to the show’s legacy.
Oh, for sure! At the end of the day, I’m a performer. I love the stage. I love watching other people perform on stage. When I went to Drag Race, all I ever wanted was to make sure that the fans and people involved in the show production would know one thing: I’m a queen who performs. And I appreciate how much people still sit with that moment, because that was me giving my all to how I’ve been raised in this industry. No games, no gimmicks… just performing. I love how happy it makes people still feel!
I just tried to watch the Republican convention for a bit, and of course everyone there is talking about how the country isn’t racist or prejudiced. But meanwhile another unarmed black man was shot by police in Wisconsin, and some trans women were just viciously attacked in Los Angeles. Obviously much needs to be done, but how important is it that everyone turns out and votes in November?
It’s important because, even the question of you asking about people being attacked and shot… and there’s still no justice. That question enough is why people need to vote in November. We can’t sit through four more years of this… we’ve already lost so many people because of an irresponsible president. I want people to understand that your vote counts now more the ever.
Besides the lockdown, the Black Lives Matter protests across the world have affected every industry, including nightlife. Black queens have made it clear that they’ve had enough of being short changed and mistreated by bar owners and staffers, other queens and audiences. In Chicago–where queens of color have always been fierce–there was actually an online town hall where grievances about racism and inequality in drag were aired and discussed. A long time Chi queen T-Rex was removed by two bars as a show director after some very alarming allegations about her behavior. Do you feel like all of this will finally make a positive difference when (if!) all the bars come back?
Well, I’ve been doing drag for fifteen years and I learned this very quick: black queens, we are “it” and we’ve been “it.” I feel like the industry of drag is just now waking up to that idea for some reason! It’s like, “took you long enough!” But there is still so much more that needs to be done. For some, it might take longer for them to realize. Right now, I think a lot of the bars are having meetings and trainings to hopefully build a more open and welcoming space by next summer. The Chicago drag scene is amazing, but we know how much needs to be repaired in order to move forward.
Your Chicago sis The Vixen didn’t have the best experience on Drag Race, but she’s since become a sort of folk hero and is a true leader of the Queer Black Lives Matter movement! What is something about The Vixen that the world really needs to understand?
I like to keep my friendships with fellow queens private, but I will say on the record: she’s one of the smartest queens I know in this industry. It wasn’t until meeting her that I finally had someone I could discuss with about the treatment of Black Queen / POC Queens that I’ve felt. I’m very proud of her for always staying true to who she is and how far she’s come.
OMG, that was so much fun! I though that was cool she asked me to be a part of it, because I don’t really dip into the music lane. But I’ve always said I would do a song… it’s just all about timing when it comes to that.
I met you a handful of times, and you always radiate so much kindness and warmth. You’ve talked about how you are naturally a quiet person… is it hard to click into that social vibe sometimes?
Aw, thanks! Yeah, it can be hard because I don’t like being rude or coming off as if I don’t wanna be here. So I sometimes have to push hard to remain polite, well-mannered and graceful. I also say a lot of it is owed to my parents; they always taught me that kindness and respect towards people will get you far in life.
You quit the scene for awhile following your Drag Race season, when your drag mother Lady Tajma Hall passed away. At that point you actually came here to stay in NYC for a spell, and then eventually you did perform here a bunch of times, especially in Brooklyn. Who would you say are your New York girls?
While I was there I got to work with a few of the dolls: Ruby Roo, Miz Jade, Shequida Hall, Alexis Michelle, Aja… so many. Scarlet Envy interviewed me during my stay there when she used to host a show at the old TNT called “Truth or Bare.” Thorgy before she was on the Race used to have a show there called “Mondays on Mondays” that I used to perform with her a lot… she was so good to me, too!
I met so many amazing queens during my stay in NYC. That was such a dark time for me… I felt alone and scared to be open about any hurt. The community of New York really helped me see the magic that is DiDa Ritz, and I thank them for welcoming me in to their scene during that time. I love any chance I can be in New York… that city is so inspiring!
You’re known for being an incredible live performer who takes the art of entertainment very seriously, especially as a dancer. Has it been really challenging to adapt to digital drag during lockdown?
Not really, because I’ve always enjoyed the art of music videos. So now it’s almost like a fresh start on drag. I feel like I’m learning drag all over again, and having fun with it.
Let’s talk about some digital shows coming up for you, starting with… “Detailz, The Drag Show” (Thursday, August 27th on Twitch)! You’re hosting that showcase, which has The Vixen and Lucy Stoole joining NYC’s own Shequida, Dragula’s Biqtch Puddin’ and several other great queens from across the land.
Yeah, I’m very happy about it! I’ve been working all week to makes sure things are all in order. The idea really came from me sending out some texts to entertainers, and they all said yes. It’s kinda of based on the show I’ve created with IMHO on YouTube called “Detailz” where I’m able to give people a real view of my silly, goofy humor, and some of that will be shown on the 27th. I just feel happy that I’m able to create something that entertainers want to be a part of.
Yes, this is also going to be great!
What else is coming up for you?
I’ll continue to work on my shows online, staying focused and not letting anything get in my way. I’m doing a lot of work with the black drag councils here in Chicago, and I just wanna say I appreciate the support I’ve been getting. This industry has been shook to it core, and I just appreciate the love my “DiDdles” are giving me.
I loved Chi Chi a lot. We would communicate through text or IG messages mostly. She was a cool queen never rude and always had a smile on her face. She could make you cut up with her… so loud! The last time I saw her was in Chicago for “Black Girl Magic.” She wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, but as soon as she saw those lights and her fans something clicked… and I knew exactly what that was. She was like me: “performer.”
And finally… we’ve had a lot of new music come out this summer. What’s a song from the past few months that you can’t wait to perform in front of a live audience?
I mean, those Beyoncé joints were pretty amazing!
Thank you, DiDa!