As she prepares for both the Lady Liberty season finale and a co-headlining stage show, ‘NYC’s Disabled Queen” Stella Rise proves to all just what an unstoppable force she is.
Thotyssey: Hello, Stella! We’re in Strange Weather Times, with a warm Saturday and a snowy Sunday! How are you holding up?
Stella Rise: I’m doing amazing! I am currently dogsitting for the incredible Marti Cummings, and enjoying staying in NYC compared to [my home] New Jersey!
Is the dog cute?
Oh, totally! They have two doggos, and I’m currently cuddling with them as we speak!
Meanwhile, are you as underwhelmed by this year’s Super Bowl halftime show performers as I am? At least Mary J. will be there!
I’m very underwhelmed, but honestly I’m not sure how you can get any better than Beyonce or Gaga… I mean it only goes downhill after that!
Now let’s discuss the Woman of the Hour! Where is your hometown… and were music, performance and fabulosity always a part of your life growing up?
So my hometown is actually a yeehaw town called Newton, NJ. Not very chic! I was lucky enough to move to Montclair, NJ and am so blessed to be so close to NYC.
I always grew up singing. I have a VCR tape of me at the age of four singing with a karaoke machine. I picked up piano, drums, and guitar along the way, and always knew performing was my calling. Also, being fabulous was just a natural thing to me!
We love it when you sing! You are self-described as “NYC’s Disabled Queen.” Can you tell us a bit about your disability, and how it affects you?
Of course! So I was born with a rare syndrome called Moebius Syndrome. It is where the sixth and seventh cranial nerves are underdeveloped, causing me to have facial paralysis and other things. I can’t move my eyes laterally, and couldn’t eat regularly as a baby. I had to have a feeding tube that went directly to my stomach. The doctors said I would never be able to eat like others, but I proved them wrong at the age of three –starting my journey of proving others wrong of my power and worth. Just like other disabilities, there is a spectrum of how significant it affects the individual… and for me it is more on the mild side.
I’m so proud to really be a vocal disabled queen, who’s talking about the struggles of being disabled in a very abled drag community. There’s no one doing mixes about disabilities in NYC, and I’m proud to be a trailblazer in that regard.
You’re a true mix queen! When did you decide that drag was your calling… and do you think you have to approach the art form in a unique way due to the fact that your facial features and voice work so differently then other queens’?
I actually never thought I would be doing drag outside of my apartment, but it makes so much sense now that I’m doing the damn thing. I love makeup and always have, I’ve been performing either in bands or my own songs I’ve written out of drag, and love fashion and having amazing outfits. So, it fits all the puzzle pieces together.
I think I try to make the mixes as powerful as possible to compensate for the lack of expression through my face… also just amplifying the other forms of expression. That’s why I love singing, because my emotions through my voice are undeniable. It’s so crazy to think that Stella isn’t even a year old. My first time out in drag was April 22nd!
You already seem to have quite a huge drag sisterhood for such a new queen.
It is insane to me how I really didn’t know anyone in NYC a year ago, to walking into any gay bar now and at least knowing a handful of people. It’s truly a blessing.
Did you mostly meet everyone as a young queen in competitions?
Competitions helped a ton with gaining traction and meeting the queens I know. I really have been so grateful to have such supportive queens, but a huge inspiration has been Chelsea Piers. I did my first competition with her hosting [“Open Call” at The Ritz], and her warmth and huge heart made me feel so welcomed and encouraged. Also with Lady Liberty [at The Q], I’ve been so inspired and loved really getting to talk to [host] Brita Filter. Both incredible human beings!
You’ve been serving big production realness at Lady Liberty! Have you had a favorite number or moment from that competition?
Lady Liberty has been so validating as a queen, because the first time I was Top 4, then Top 2, and then winning the semifinals. My number at the semifinals was so stupid and funny, with having the amazing Maxi Padding playing an ableist boyfriend who dumps me on stage. Another truly amazing moment is having another disabled queen come up to me and said that I was the first ever queen they’ve seen talking about disabilities, and they’ve never felt more seen. That’s why I do what I do: to normalize and represent a community that’s so underrepresented.
That’s wonderful! The LL season finale is coming up in March… do you have any spoilers regarding your final package?
I would tell you…but it’s better if you’re gagged when it’s happening.
I can tell you that this show is going to be full of talent, stupidity… and lots of vocals, mama! I really do feel like we are the new wave of modern drag, and I’m ready for us to take over NYC.
Very exciting! Anything else coming up for you?
The finale of Lady Liberty is a huge part of my energy right now! And just trying to find home bars to have weekly shows… I’m manifesting lots of weekly shows and brunches in my future.
Can’t wait to see you out there! Finally: if Stella gets cast in Drag Race S15, what will her workroom entrance tagline be?
It would of course be, “My name is Stella Rise, and I am a disabled queen and bitch still I rise!”