The legendary pre-“Race” drag hostess and Cable TV star Cherry Jubilee is best known today as the founder and producer of the Glam Awards, which has been celebrating the best of NYC nightlife for 22 years. In a Thotyssey exclusive, Cherry shares the joys and challenges of pulling off this show every year, remembers some of the icons who made the Glam Awards what it is, and discusses whether or not digital drag categories are here to stay. [Cover photo: Francis Legge]
Thotyssey: Cherry, hello! Thanks for chatting with us today! So obviously, this past year has been the biggest shit show for all of us in decades. How have you been getting through it?
Cherry Jubilee: Yes, it’s been one hot mess of a year. I think we’ve all been in the same sinking ship, just trying to stay afloat. I’ve been out of work since March, so it’s been rough. I haven’t minded the quarantining as much as most people probably, as I like to spend time by myself. But not having any options of things to do when everything was shut down was the hardest for me. I masked up and took a lot of walks when the weather was nice. Getting exercise and fresh air helped a lot–and of course, binging on Netflix and every other streaming service on Earth.
Digital drag has become the best way to see our great local queens, aside from the few who’ve made it on Drag Race this season! You haven’t appeared much as Cherry outside of the Glams these past few years, but would you ever be interested in performing one of these digital shows? You don’t even have to get out of bed!
I was never really a stage performing queen. I worked in clubs as a hostess, actually interacting with human beings! Remember those days? But it’s funny that you ask me about possibly doing digital shows, and that I wouldn’t even have to get out of bed. Back in the 1990’s, I actually did a cable access television show in bed, interviewing hot guys–porn stars, models, dancers, etc. This was before the internet as it exists today. It was called Go There TV, and ran for at least six or seven years. It was very popular, and a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve been wanting to resurrect it on the internet–so once we are able to get intimate again, I just may do that!
Let’s chat a bit about your origin story: you’re from Connecticut, and describe yourself as being shy out of drag.
Well, one of the great things about being a drag queen is that it gives you license to be more outgoing. For me, it’s a way that helps me get over the shyness and express myself more freely. Cherry Jubilee is an alter ego–a persona or a character that I created to be more fearless. It’s like an actor playing a part. The wig, makeup and costumes are like armor.
What were the circumstances that led you to being a queen, and what was the world of NYC drag like when you started?
The first time I did drag was the first year I moved to NYC, to attend the School Of Visual Arts. In one of our classes, the project was to pick another classmate and present him or her in any medium you wanted. So I picked my friend Debbie, who was this very pretty goth girl. I did the pale white makeup, lots of black eyeliner, dark red lips, long black hair, etc. Once in my goth girl drag, I stomped into the room in combat boots carrying a boombox. I pressed play and blasted some dark loud music, and proceeded to paint myself (Debbie) on a large canvas. It was aggressive and messy and fabulous. When I finished, turned off the music and turned to the class–they all jumped to their feet and gave me a standing ovation! I was shocked and thrilled… and hooked. Getting that reaction was incredible!
The world of drag back then was very different; there was no Drag Race, and wouldn’t be for many years. It wasn’t mainstream. There were no rules. Definitely more punk rock. There weren’t so many damn labels and hangups. We mostly did it for the love of it, for the fun of it. That’s what I find is sadly missing now.
You have a close bond with the queens at Lips.
I love the ladies of Lips! I’ve worked there several years, as well as Lucky Chengs. I’ve worked in the offices at both places, so I was never a waitress. But the stories I could tell you! There should definitely be a reality show set in a drag restaurant. The drama!
Every drag queen’s favorite question: are you pleased with all the evolution and recognition of drag that RuPaul’s Drag Race has wrought, or has the show’s mainstream popularity had a largely negative impact on the art form?
I consider RuPaul’s Drag Race entertainment. I do not take it seriously. And the problem is, many people do take it too seriously. It’s not a talent show like American Idol–It’s more like Survivor. The great thing about it is that it gives the queens a platform and exposure, and it allows them to travel and make some good money. But there are drawbacks. I think it presents to mainstream audiences a very narrow aspect of drag. It creates a production-line aesthetic. Learn to appreciate the vast and edgy art form of drag by supporting your local drag queens as well!
You’re great legacy, of course, is the Glam Awards, which will have it’s 22nd annual edition this month. Last year’s show at Sony Hall was such a big deal, and it’s great that we were able to enjoy that as a live, in-person event! There were so many iconic, memorable moments.
It’s crazy to think that I’ve been doing Glam Awards for over two decades now! It’s hard to keep anything alive for that many years in NYC Nightlife. I’m so proud of how big it’s become. And so happy how much it means to the community. Every year I worry that it might not be as good as the previous year, but it keeps getting bigger and better every year. My favorite part of the night, besides the amazing energy in the room, has to be the top-notch performances. There have been so many truly spectacular productions! But I couldn’t pick just one. Everyone brings their A game!
The Glams wasn’t the first ever nightlife awards show, but it was the first that were decided by voters in the business and not by magazine editors and advertisers. It’s all your creation, and I understand you were still a fairly new queen when you started it. What was really driving you to create it, and did you ever suspect the Glams would have such an enduring legacy?
When I was a baby drag queen, I would go out and be amazed by the extraordinary talent of legends like Joey Arias, Raven O, Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine, Jackie Beat, Mona Foot, Candis Cayne, Kevin Aviance and so many more. Then I realized there wasn’t any recognition given to them by anyone other than editors and advertisers in the gay magazines. No one took them that seriously, especially the entertainers. Many of them were never nominated [in the magazine-sponsored awards shows]. So I met with all those legends, and asked them what they thought if I produced an awards show that would be voted on by their peers in the NYC nightlife community, like the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys are. I got their complete and overwhelming support! So it started. And here we are, 22 years later! It’s pretty incredible!
It’s still so interesting to me that the Grammy Awards bosses came after you with legal action when your awards night was originally (and for many, many years) called the “Glammys.” Was that, like, completely shocking to you?
It was stunning… also, idiotic. Really? You think people are going to get confused and show up to my show expecting to see Beyonce and Taylor Swift performing? It made no sense. I think there was an element of homophobia. But they came for me with a mob of lawyers and cease-and-desist orders. And since I did not have a team of lawyers or any money to fight it out for years, I agreed to change the name.
You must’ve rarely gotten to really take in many of the best moments of the show over the years, given that you are always so busy running around the venue with your producer’s hat on!
I have so many great memories–most of them are when I can take a moment to breathe and look out over the audience, which is packed with all the best of NYC Nightlife looking so gorgeous and happy. It really is a night where everyone leaves their egos at the door and celebrates each other’s accomplishments. There’s a magical feeling in the air… an incredible sense of community. I’m sure I’ve missed a few moments because I’ve been running around. But as the years pass, the show gets tighter and tighter, and I have more time to sit back and enjoy more.
Every year there are people who accuse the Glams of being rigged or unfair, and of course declare that they’re irrelevant or something negative like that. Do these accusations get to you, or is it just part of the gig?
It happens. The year they are nominated or win, they love the Glam Awards! When they aren’t nominated or don’t win, it’s rigged! I don’t take it personally. I don’t choose the nominees or winners; hundreds of people who work in NYC nightlife do. I’ve worked hard over many years to keep the integrity of the show intact. I don’t engage in any online attacks; I can’t change how someone behaves. If they want to be adults about it and have a constructive conversation, they can always contact me. But sometimes I think what they are really looking for is for people to just feel sorry for them. Personally, I never think that’s a good look. But the overwhelming majority of people support Glam Awards, and I’m grateful for that!
I always loved watching the Glams even before I was in the biz, and later my own Glam wins for Thotyssey have been highlights of my life. Is it that positive energy and reception from winners and the just-happy-to-be-here crowd a force that keeps you doing this?
Yes! That is the most amazing feeling! That makes all the other nonsense worth it.
In 2020, there obviously wasn’t a lot of actual nightlife happening thanks to the Covid lockdown. Did you consider, even for a moment, just skipping the awards?
Initially, I did have doubts about how I could go about presenting a Glam Awards under these unfortunate circumstances. Would it make sense? Can I afford to even invest the money? But I did have plenty of time on my hands, and people encouraged me and offered to help. Special thanks to Jeff Eason, and Daniel Nardicio and his production company.
This year’s 22nd Annual Glam Awards virtual presentation (Monday, January 25th at 8pm) will be honoring the digital content that queens and other performers put out in 2020, including virtual series, one-off livestreamed or pre-recorded shows, music videos and podcasts, as well as best overall virtual hosts. You selected the nominees based on people’s social media feedback and a committee of advisors. This is all very new and exciting! What are your thoughts and feelings about this new direction regarding what this Glam Awards night will be honoring, and what were the challenges about doing it differently this year?
Clearly this year had to be approached differently under the circumstances. There were so many really talented NYC Nightlife folks that produced some clever and creative digital online content, so I figured their efforts deserved recognition. How great it is to bring some light and celebration to an otherwise dark and depressing year! And every year we honor a Living Legend, but there were so many more that I’ve wanted to honor. So this year was a perfect year to induct not just one but five NYC nightlife icons [artsy party queen and fashionista Susanne Bartsch, club DJ Johnny Dynell, Drag Race alum Peppermint, iconic hostess Amanda Lepore and gogo boy-turned-writer Mark Allen]!
The main challenge was producing all the different segments digitally, and putting it all together into a cohesive and exciting online show. But I am so pleased how it’s come together, and really happy with the results! We’ve all had to learn how to attempt new ways to produce work, and I’ve learned a lot by doing it differently this year.
Also, voting is usually limited only to professional nightlifers who are given voting codes, but this year it’s is open to everyone! What made you want to do it that way?
I figured since NYC nightlife folks’ efforts this year are in digital form and reach so many people outside of NYC Nightlife, so why not give everyone the opportunity to vote?
We will also be honoring three beloved legends we lost this year: hilarious comedy queen Sugga Pie Koko, iconic door goddess Roze Black and recording artist / DJ Nashom, once known as queen Mona Foot. You must have a lot of great memories and experiences with these folks.
Sugga Pie Koko was one of the sweetest people I’ve met in NYC nightlife. Her performances were always insane, and brought me so much joy every time I was lucky to witness them. I remember when she won her first Glam Award for her performance at Wigstock; she was so truly appreciative, and that really touched me.
Roze Black was so much fun! She worked some of the most fun and legendary parties I ever experienced, and she was such a huge part of the great energy she brought to those nights. I will never forget all the laughs and good times.
Mona was, in fact, our first Glam Awards host. When I approached all of the top NYC nightlife entertainers at that time and asked who I should have to host the show, it was unanimous: Mona Foot! I remember approaching Mona’s intimidating alter ego, Nashom, who was working at Patricia Field’s at the time. I asked him if Mona would host. He said, “yes, as long as Mona wins Best Dressed.” I said yes, but ultimately Mona did not get the most votes; Girlina took that honor. But Mona did win Best Host for her amazing “Star Search” reign at Barracuda, and she wasn’t angry. She went on to win more Glam awards, including Living Legend! We had remained good friends ever since. Anytime I saw Nashom, he would make me laugh so hard with his razor-sharp reads. I last saw him at the year before last Glam Awards, when he presented the Entertainer of the Year Award.
Current Drag Race star Tina Burner will be our virtual awards show hostess at Club Cumming, which is now effectively a mini-TV studio. We’ll have appearances from Laverne Cox, Sharon Needles, Sherry Vine, The Carry Nation, Harmonica Sunbeam, DJ Relentless, Matthew Camp, Frankie Sharp, Cazwell, Jackie Cox, Michael Musto, Mila Jam and more, plus performances from Boudoir LeFleur, Honey Davenport, Jasmine Rice LaBeija and Olivia Lux! Are we ready for all this star power?
I think this is exactly what we need to forget the fiasco that was 2020. So much talent! It will be epic!
Do you think some of these new categories might be here to stay, by the way?
I do think some of these categories could remain. I’ll leave it up to NYC nightlife to decide.
Finally: any closing words for the children?
As much as I loved putting together this virtual edition of Glam Awards, I hope to see everybody out and about very soon, and in person at the next Glam Awards! I have a feeling NYC nightlife is going to come back to life in a big way. Vive La Renaissance!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Cherry Jubilee’s upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Visit the Glam Awards site for info and voting.