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Drag queens compete for crown during student-run drag race at the IMU


Merle poses on stage during "Life's a Drag(race)" show on Feb. 8 at Alumni Hall. The performers danced and lip-synced their way to winning. Emily Putman Buy Photos

Audience members threw dollar bills as drag queens performed Friday in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Alumni Hall during the third annual Life’s a Drag(race).

The student-organized drag competition was a contest where drag queens performed one by one, trying to out-compete each other by lip syncing, dancing and interacting with the audience. Twelve members of the audience were randomly selected by the hostess to judge the competition.

The night’s three finalists were drag queens named Merle, Norah Borealis and Juniper Peron. The finalists danced and lip synched to “Beautiful Trauma” by Pink, dressed in silver, gold and multicolored sequin-clad outfits. In the end, Norah Borealis, the drag persona of senior Noah Bousum, was declared the winner.

This year, junior Rylan Deer worked together with Late Nite, which is run by the Union Board, to organize the event. Deer’s drag persona, Gaia Ciccone, was the event’s main hostess.

“Gaia is a heightened version of myself,” Deer said. “She is a little bit more aggressive which is a lot of fun.”

Deer said months of planning goes into organizing the show.

"Life's a Drag(race)" took place Feb. 8 in Alumni Hall. Here's an inside look.

Once the show ends in the spring, Deer only has one month off before he starts planning his costume for the next year. After his costume is planned, Deer said he starts planning the show in August. 

“By October, I have the room booked, I have a budget, I have the photographer, I have a DJ and I have all of our queens lined up,” Deer said. “Then I work with the queens as needed.” 

In January there is one final rehearsal before the show. Deer refers to this as the shoes rehearsal, because queens are only required to wear their performance shoes, not the entire costume.

Deer said this is the first time he has teamed up with Late Nite for Life’s A Drag(race).

“I’m hoping it will bring in more people,” Deer said. “Usually when you pair a drag queen up with anybody you get a large turnout, but Late Nite has such a large grouping already. I’m really hoping it’ll help those numbers tonight.”

Audience members were lined up at the doors as early as 9:00 p.m. When the doors opened at 9:45 p.m., all of the chairs were quickly filled. Some audience members had to watch the show standing until it ended at 1 a.m. Saturday. 

Kade Padgett won last year’s show performing as Ima Wreck, the so-called campy trash queen of Bloomington. Wreck has been part of the show since the beginning. This year, she co-hosted the event alongside fellow queen Avasa Ryder, the drag persona of Mark D'Costa, and Ciccone.

Wreck wore an outfit made from plastic bags and a handmade white patterned dress as she hosted and performed throughout the night. Her co-hostess Ryder was dressed in 10-inch heels and a Calvin Klein thong and crop top while Ciccone wore a large red wig and a black and white sequined dress.

“To perform in front of a crowd of 400-500 people your very first time is extremely nerve-wracking,” Padgett said. “I was terrified my first time. Once you start having fun is when it becomes easier.”

For Padgett, drag is an expression of gender and allows her to express things she might not feel comfortable with.

“It allows me to explore myself artistically as well as explore myself within, truly,” Padgett said.

Queens often approached audience members as part of their performance, with attendees throwing dollar bills and screaming at the performers. 

Kiah Myers, whose drag persona is Lola Lorie, dressed in black, wearing a black wig and red beret. She said she is the first cisgender woman to perform in the event.

“I’m really proud to be here and really happy that people and all the queens have been so accepting and so nice to me,” Myers said.

Myers said she hopes to see more diversity in terms of race and gender identity in drag, and that the community is welcoming and open.

“It’s literally for anyone,” Myers said. “We need more diversity in drag, especially in the IU drag scene.”

Myers said it seems really difficult at first because you have to have a range of talents and interests, but drag is actually quite easy to get into.

“Everyone can learn to be a bitch in front of people, and put on a wig and have a good time,” Myers said. “That’s what it’s about, having a good time.”

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