“A rising star in drag” doesn’t quite begin to describe what Pixel the Drag Jester is; “a human three ring circus” is maybe a bit closer. Now with a recent TV appearance watched by millions, a successful and unique weekly brunch and an upcoming high profile stage show with one of drag’s biggest stars on one of the city’s most vital stages, Pixel is reprogramming our whole lives!
Thotyssey: Hello Pixel! Happy Pride Month! How has it been treating you?
Pixel the Drag Jester: Hi Jim! Happy Pride Month! Pride Month is wild! It’s insane (and kind of magical) that the month that New York City decided to start opening back up and allowing events to happen, just so happens to also be Pride month. Everyone is ready to get out! So I’m booked, blessed, and highly stressed! And thankful.
Without further ado, I must ask about your recently aired America’s Got Talent moment, that saw you as a backup dancer for a performer called The Misfit Mime! First of all, congratulations! How did you come to know that performer?
Oh boy! Yes, this is a big moment for me. The Misfit Mime (Aneya Marie) was looking for drag queens to go out and busk with her in Central Park in June of last year. This was when regulations were letting up, and people were allowed to congregate outside. Aneya would create balloon art and sell it to park goers, and for an extra fee you could get a special drag performance while she made your balloons. I love to mix different performance mediums with drag (e.g. aerial acrobatics, hula hoops, burlesque, fire, etc.) and on this particular day I brought hula hoops with me. I boots the house down slayed Central Park with a high energy hula hoop performance, and Aneya was inspired by me as a dancer. Later in the year, she asked me to come on as dancer / choreographer for her AGT performance.
What ultimately was the process like that got you all on that stage?
The process was incredible! I think every queen / performer dreams to be on a big stage in front of big names. Aneya sent in her audition video before I had been brought on to the project (the initial audition process was virtual last year due to Covid). Once I was brought on to the project, she sent the audition tape to me and I said… the dancing needs work. And she agreed, lol! Aneya and her team of cheerleaders worked on the stunting, and then I came in and added the dancing. It was all very exciting. We were flown in Los Angeles, and we performed our routine in front of the illustrious AGT judges.
Those judges focused on her vocals–which from what we at home saw and heard were indeed a bit shaky–when they delivered their four condemning X’s. But I think any queer audience member could see that your act was about the lewks and especially the choreo. If that same routine was at House of Yes or 3 Dollar Bill–or really any venue in NYC–it would’ve slayed!
The Misfit Mime has been received positively by audiences in New York City–and you are right, that audience gets it. But it’s a harder sell to a more generalized, Middle American, or small town audience. Despite this, my overall experience was positive. I think my choreography (and costuming ideas) came through, and I am proud for Aneya for putting herself out there again and leveling up her art. She was on AGT a few years ago and she didn’t even get to finish her act, so the fact that they let her finish and gave her some sound feedback (instead of just mocking her) is a positive step!
In general though, AGT doesn’t have the best track record in portraying and judging even the most legendary acts from New York queer nightlife. Cases in point include Shequida, Kayvon Zand and Stephanie’s Child.
Simon Cowell specifically has a track record of misunderstanding queer art and drag. He just doesn’t get it! And I don’t expect him to, because he’s a successful, straight, white man in America. He hasn’t had to change his perspective to fit in. But I do see hope in judges like Sophia Vergara and Howie Mandel, and I think over time with more queer exposure, Simon will understand too. He’ll have to… since next season, I am planning my own audition.
So where are you from originally, and what were the beginnings of your artistic and performing interests?
I grew up in upstate New York, in the Catskills: Sullivan County, two and a half hours northwest of the city, not too far from Pennsylvania. My upbringing was very rural, and I was raised an only child by a single mother (shoutout to April). Because I was in the country with no siblings to play with, I spent a lot of time with myself and my imagination. I was also diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, which I think lent me a tendency towards finding excitement wherever I could. I would go out into the woods with a stick and pretend I was a shaman casting magic spells to battle monsters, lol!
When I was about three or four years old, my mother got me a Super Nintendo, and I got super hooked to video games (hence the name Pixel). I loved being able to escape to these fantastical worlds and hear stories of triumphant heroes. I wanted to be that hero.
Later in life, My mom put me into a lot of different activities: gymnastics, soccer, and some arts-oriented after school programs. I learned very young the value and joy that could be found in the arts. From there, I performed in all the middle school and high school musicals, and eventually I was a four year varsity cheerleader. I felt like through performing arts, I could get a taste of what it’s like to be these fantastical heroes–to tell amazing stories.
Around that time, I discovered dance, and the rest is pretty much history. I went to SUNY Purchase (where fellow queens Thorgy Thor, FiFi DuBois, and Miz Jade were also “born”), where I discovered circus arts and drag and I became obsessed with the hero’s journey–but the queer one. Now I spend every waking moment figuring out how I can make giant, show-stopping, queer art.
Before you were Pixel the Drag Jester, you were called Pixel Witch!
I’ve been searching for years for a name that resonated with me. Some queens find their name very quickly, but I’ve been through several names over the years: Scarlet L’Roe, Trixie Magnique, Trixie Pop, Hadley Fantastic, Pixel Witch, and lastly, Pixel the Drag Jester. I would’ve settled on the name Trixie, but then Trixie Mattel got on Drag Race and I didn’t want to have the same name as another queen who went mainstream. I want to have a name as unique as I am.
I was telling my friend about how I loved that digital toy that was like a Barbie gigapet, “Pixel Chix,” and they said that would be a good name… and I ran with it. I changed from Pixel Witch to Pixel the Drag Jester because ever since Bianca Del Rio proclaimed on Drag Race that drag queens are clowns, that resonated with me. At first I didn’t understand it, but over time I was like… we paint to entertain, we really are just clowns (even if we’re sometimes “glamorous”), and I wanted a name that expressed that. I also feel like most of my work, even if it’s “sexy” or “fierce,” is rooted in humor. Additionally… a “queen” implies a hierarchy. I’m not better than anyone else. I’m here for the jokes. A “jester” is an entertainer.
We love us a fierce clown! I see that you kind of go your own way and occasionally choose “unconventional” performing spaces that suit what you do, instead of taking the more well-traveled path of competition shows and bar show guest spots to get your name out there. Was that a conscious choice, or did it just kind of happen that way?
It was a conscious choice–mostly because I really wanted to make a career out of this gig, and I knew doing guest spots for drink tickets and $50 wasn’t going to cut it. But more so, it was about creating amazing art that I knew was good, and finding the people who respected what I was doing. I specifically wanted to combine drag with all these unique skills (e.g. aerial, hoops, etc.) I felt like if I just made that, that someone eventually would come along and understand what I was doing. That I didn’t need to do a competition to convince people I was worth something. That there was an inherent worth with my art. That I didn’t need a “name” or “title” to prove that.
Plus, some of those competitions are just popularity contests, and I don’t operate like that. I believe a person’s talent and artistic integrity are more important. Also, taking the road more traveled is much harder. I’m not gonna beat people at their own game, but I can certainly create my own!
You’re an understudy for a fun stage production currently happening at Actors Temple Theatre called The Housewives of Secaucus-What a Drag. How’s that going, and have you officially been on stage there yet?
It’s been going great! It’s an honor to make my off-Broadway debut! A girl rolled her ankle, so I got to be in the show in May… and I’ll be in the show Pride Weekend (on the 25th and 26th) and the first weekend of July (the 2nd and the 3rd). Pride weekend is going to best the best time to see the show; I’m doing my favorite role!
You also recently started hosting your own Sunday brunch show called “Dream Queen,” at the Brooklyn eatery on Starr St., appropriately named Queen! Your co-host there is Nikita Sins (aka pole champion Blaine Petrovia). Tell us more!
It’s a small venue right in the heart of Bushwick, with a really cute outdoor area and Mediterranean fare. Their signature Cesar salad and Moroccan burger are my favorite. They also have good cocktails (I highly recommend the gin lemonade). Though they are not queer, they love drag so much and are really accommodating to our brunch event.
The brunch is wild! We stop cars, twerk in the street, and use street signs as stripper poles. Nikita and I like to pretend we are classy girls, but we are really raunchy girls who get down in the hood. It’s super fun. We also book a unique guest performer every week, and it can be a burlesque performer, juggler, live singer… who knows! We really like to keep it fresh. Every single show is completely different.
You can get drag brunch tickets here–July tickets were just released! We’ll likely be going until August, and then we’ll be looking for an indoor venue. So venue people, hit us up!
And this is really cool: you’re going to be part of Sasha Velour’s benefit show for, and at, La MaMa. That venue is a true theater, dance and performance art hub in NYC! You’ll be joined by Jasmine Rice LaBeija, Justin Vivian Bond, The Illustrious Pearl, Sweaty Eddie and Untitled Queen. Tell us a bit about how you got involved in this show, and what we can expect from “La MaMa Love” on June 22!
Shelton Lindsey recommended me to one of their staff, and another person on their staff had seen me at House of Yes! That was how I got involved. Honestly, I was terrified when I was invited to do the benefit. All of those performers are iconic. It took a lot of pep talks from friends to feel ready to step on that stage (I look up to Sash and Untitled a lot!) But now that we’re getting closer to showtime, I’m feeling super excited to share my work. Expect the unexpected! I’ll be performing one of my signature performances, but with a lot (moo)re surprises!
Okay, obligatory final question for all drag darlings: All Stars 6! Whose team are you on?
Fuck capitalism and fuck Paramount Plus! I’m team #whathappenedtobasiccable, lol! I don’t know who’s going to win. This group of girls seems equally matched. But I’m rooting for Pandora, Yara, Ginger, and Scarlet. Some of those girls have been messsyyyyyy in the past, so it’s hard for me to say who will make it to the end. If I had to put my finger on it: Scarlet, Ginger, and A’keria might be top. Or Trinity. Serena is also good. See? I have no idea. Lol!
Thank you, Pixel!