A Jersey Girl born and raised, this young architect of her dreams, Broadway Barbie and bona fide Drag Ambassador finds herself “going places” even while the whole of nightlife stands still… thanks to some socially distanced gigs, a few virtual kikis and a very gagworthy Instagram. Introducing Ms. Vanity Ray! [Cover Photo: Thomas Evans]
Thotyssey: Hello, Vanity! Soooo… one event I wanted to plug with you today was your guest spot for Boudoir LeFleur and Kimmi Moore’s brunch this weekend at Six26 in Jersey City… but sadly (and prudently), that venue just decided to put a hold on that very popular show until Jersey’s Covid numbers go down. 2020 nightlife is a struggle!
Vanity Ray: Ugh, such a struggle! I was so excited to work with Boudoir and Kimmi at their brunch. It’s been a real struggle all around… but I’ve been trying to stay positive, and still push my drag as much as possible. If it’s not performing, it’s sewing or working on makeup techniques!
And taking gorgeous photos. Your Insta is stellar! You must put a lot of work into just maintaining that alone.
Thank you! I really appreciate it! I’ve been taking Instagram a lot more seriously starting in June, with Covid happening. I started editing the photos more using Photoshop and apps on my phone–not editing myself that much, just the background. I never want someone to look at me and go, “oof, she looks better on Instagram.” I think my social media is a fair representation of what you get in person! And I am definitely trying to consistently produce quality content as well. I am still building a following–so although it’s tiring, I feel like I am always thinking about my next look I want to create.
I also liked your patriotic virtual performance of RuPaul’s “American.” That looked fun to shoot. And it worked–Biden won!
Haha, yes! That was so much fun to do. I was a Drag Ambassador for Drag Out The Vote, and I wanted to do something to promote the election and getting people out to vote. So I thought, what better way than a digital drag number? I made the outfit myself, and my roommate helped me film around Jersey City. We got a lot of honks and clapping. A few people even pulled over to get pictures! It was a lot of fun, and honestly showed me how welcoming people are to drag queens. You always hear stories of the worst case scenario, but it was great to see positive reactions as well!
Tell us your origin story: where are you from originally, and what were your earliest creative interests?
I’ve lived in New Jersey all my life. [I first] lived in Monmouth county, then went to school in Newark, and now reside in Jersey City! In terms of a creative outlet: I’ve been doing theatre since grade school, so being in front of an audience has always come naturally to me. However, that was always a hobby. I went to school for architecture, so that’s my primary career. I was always interested in art and math in school, so I thought architecture was a nice blend of the two. It’s very hands on, which I love. I like to think of drag as my very expensive hobby–although I’m unemployed now, so drag is how I’m currently making all my money. Go figure!
In a way, your makeup and garment construction must be somewhat informed by architecture.
I agree! I always loved model making in school, and this process is very similar. Both processes are very relaxing to me, and I pride myself on my craft. Although I’m new to sewing, I make sure all my edges are hemmed and that the finished product is presentable to an audience–similar to presenting models in school! I would never present something I am not proud of. So if I post on my Instagram story that I’m working on a project, and you never see the finished product… assume it went downhill quickly.
How did the drag bug bite you, exactly?
Like most queens, I started watching Drag Race Season 8. I wasn’t so impressed with the female illusion aspect, but rather the idea that makeup, a corset, and padding can change your entire appearance. So basically, I was most captivated by the art of drag as opposed to how “unclockable” people were. Then as I turned 21, I started going to drag shows and thought to myself, “I feel like I could do this, but better.” So it was an idea I was sitting on for a while. Then I somewhat recruited a drag mom, Rhedd Rhumm, and she helped me lay down a foundation. Then the rest is herstory!
I imagine Jersey drag is challenging even without Covid, with its scattered queer venues and limited slots for drag. Is that difficult to navigate?
Yes, I find that to be very true. Bars who do drag shows are few and far in between in NJ. Not only do we have to compete for spots within our NJ drag community, but bars around here like to also hire NY queens–making the opportunity even smaller. But that just goes to show you how dedicated and driven you have to be to drag in order to do it! Miz Cracker said something along the lines of, “when you are going to sleep, just remember there is another drag queen staying awake and working.” I definitely butchered that, but you get the idea. So especially being unemployed, I’m trying to dedicate as much time to drag as possible… so that when we do get back to normal, I’m ready to show the best of Vanity.
For a spell, you were hosting a weekly Broadway night at Six26! That’s unusual programming for Jersey venues.
It was so fun! Short lived, but it gave me a little taste of hosting a show. I love being surrounded by people who love showtunes as much as I do. Being the Broadway Barbie of NJ, I like to throw in some showtunes to my mixes during regular performances at clubs. Hearing people’s reactions when it starts playing is priceless; theatre people lose their minds when a showtune starts playing in public. Hopefully there are other show opportunities for me once this is all over, Broadway themed or not!
Your Six26 sis Kimmy Sumony was crowned Miss Gay New York United States earlier this year! Have you tried any pageants yourself yet? It’s a Jersey drag tradition!
Yes! I actually did Miss Paradise back in February. I was a lovely third alternate. I don’t see myself doing any national pageants. But Paradise was the first club I ever went to, so I would love to be a reigning queen there! I wouldn’t really categorize myself as a “pageant queen.”
You and Mancie Mandell are actually gonna show up to Paradise this Saturday evening as special guests in Jolina Jasmine and Jasmine Kennedie’s Drag Showcase! Those are two great gals.
Oh, for sure! They’re incredible.
During quarantine you’ve been hosting Zoom bingo, care of Art House Productions.
This drag bingo has been such a blast to host. Art House Productions is a great local business, and brings in a warm audience that joins us for bingo every week. We play four rounds of bingo, and I perform a couple of numbers! Prizes include gift certificates for other local businesses, and a cash prize! The audience is made up of predominantly local Jersey City residents. We see a lot of familiar faces every week so that always brings a warm, casual energy. The perfect way to end a work week, and a great way to kick off the weekend!
And this week, bingo will be on Wednesday for a special a Thanksgiving Eve Edition!
Looking ahead, I see you’ll be part of a digital holiday revue on December 17th: Luxx Noir London’s “Drop Dead Gorg,” which also features such beauties as The Vixen, BibleGirl, Saint, Laurel Charleston, Ruby Fox, Tina Twirler, Bambi Banks Coulee and more.
Yes! Oh my gosh, I’m so excited! When I got added to the group chat, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw who else was performing. I also really like the idea of sending in a video and having the host stitch all of them together to make a show. The production value is usually better, making for a great show. It’s going to be a sickening show, for sure! I’m so thankful for these opportunities online. I feel like the drag queens have been the most resourceful during this pandemic. Nothing can keep a queen down.
Anything else to discuss?
Nothing specific! If y’all want to stay up to date with where I’m performing and other projects I’m working on, feel free to follow me on Instagram! I post most often there.
Done! And finally: what do you want for Christmas?
Realistically, I want everything to open back up again for good! That way, I can make money working, and buy myself gifts all year round. But thinking materialistically… I could always use more wigs! So, I’d probably want more wigs for Christmas!
Get on it, Santa! And Happy Holidays, Vanity!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Vanity Ray’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.