by Bambi Weavil
We recently had a chance to have an amazing interview with the very diverse and multi-talented Jade Elektra. Jade has been seen in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, Party Girl, and Jane Doe and now she tells us about her latest efforts in finding “America’s Next Showgirl” in Showgirl 101.
BW: What influenced your decision to start performing drag? Do you credit a specific person or entertainer for your performance decisions? If so, who and why?
JE: Actually, I had no intentions of doing drag at all. Back in Tampa, Florida where I was born and raised, I started doing a talent show in bar called “Rene’s”. Only drag queens won, but all talents were welcomed. Back then I fancied myself as a Michael Jackson & Prince impersonator. Come to think of it…I was just a step away from drag with those two characters.
Well, one night at the contest, I was competing and I will never forget…Donna White won. She was this really rough around the edges type. Not particularly pretty. And she made a make-shift dress on the dressing room floor out of some material and needle and thread. She threw some glitter on and with some spray adhesive and won the contest. I was furious and thought to myself, ‘I can’t look any worse than her.’ So, the next week, I tried it. Of course, because I knew nothing about make up and had no female clothing, the audience laughed and I didn’t win. But the hostess of the show, Toni Rose, saw potential in me and took me under her wing. She gave me my first Millie Jackson album and a star was born. I probably wouldn’t have went back if it weren’t for her guidance.
BW: Would you say that the latest style/fashion trends play a part in your song and costume choices? If so, what trends have you executed on stage?
JE: I tailored Jade after Ginger on “Gilligan’s Island”. She was the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe. So, I have always kept that old Hollywood Glamour to my look. You could say that I have stuck to the more traditional drag. I’m not a Dolce & Gabana kinda gyrl.
BW: Do you perform for non-profit causes? If so, what organizations have you been affliated with?
JE: I haven’t really performed for any non-profit causes…except for the occasional gyrlfriend who was not well due to complications with HIV/AIDS. But as my alter-ego, DJ Relentless, I have done benefits for the Hetrick Martin Institute, The Latex Ball, GMHC and Katrina Relief.
BW: What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had performing?
JE: The best moment for me as a performer was being stage with Beyonce and Harmonica Sunbeam at the Roxy on December 12th, 2003 at the Roxy. I can’t even begin to express the rush of energy of seeing all those people and actually being a part of the “Crazy In Love” number. Amazing!
BW: If you could give advice to aspiring drag performers what would it be?
JE: Be a performer. I think, unfortunately, because of MTV and American Idol, there are a lot of kids out there who think that they are performers and singers and they are not. We are at the height of mediocrity in the entertainment field. And I am watching a lot of the young queens coming out on stage in designer clothes and no talent. Their looks and clothes are selling the number and that’s not talent. That’s “Gypsy”, not Rose. Our gay culture and history is being lost to Hip Hop and Pop Culture Icons like Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. I would express to them to study the classics: Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Divine & Sylvester. These were people who did drag!
BW: Would you share your coming out story with us?
JE: Well, it’s not much to tell. From a young child, I was always the one who would play in my Grandmother’s wigs and jewelry. So, it wasn’t a big surprise that I was gay. My mom asked me when I was about 11 years old because she noticed that I had a crush on my best friend, Wesley. I didn’t even realize it until she brought it up. But of course, because of the stigmatism of being black and gay, I denied it at that time. I was actually hurt that she asked. I thought the one place I was safe from being called gay or a sissy was at home. And here was my mom asking if I was “funny.” She told me…”Well, I just want you know that you can talk to me about anything. And when you are ready to talk about this, I’m here.” I often think how different my life would have been if I had come out at that moment. If I had talked with her about what was going on in my head about Wesley and boys. The next time we actually addressed this subject, was years later when she and my little brother decided to make a surprise visit to see me on the 4th of July in 1987. I was living with my boyfriend Jeff, and he came walking out of our bedroom. She introduced herself and they hit it off immediately. I think he was more of the son that she never knew.
BW: Where do you regularly perform?
JE: I haven’t performed very much lately. I have made quite a name for myself as a DJ, and have mainly been supporting myself from my residencies around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I wrote an idea for drag competition reality show called “Showgirl 101″ to bring Jade back into the spotlight as the host and also promote my ideas of preserving the art form of female impersonation. But as far as where I have performed in the past, I had a weekly show at Stonewall, Posh and Xes.
BW: Have you won any titles? When? What songs did you perform?
JE: The last title I won was back in 2001. It was Ms. Bermuda. And as a matter of fact, I think I am still the current reigning Ms. Bermuda because they haven’t had another pageant since. And I think I did a medley of Eartha Kitt numbers from her Live At The Plaza album. But I am not really a pageant queen. I would rather just perform. I love connecting with an audience.
BW: Do you have any signature moves or techniques to help you work the crowd?
JE: No…I am like a silent film star in that aspect. You really have to get into my facial expression and my acting. I would like to think that I am the Meryl Streep of drag performance. And most people really enjoy my lip-syncing abilities. When I learn a song, I learn every breath.
BW: Did/do you have a special person who mentored you?
JE: Well, I mentioned Toni Rose earlier, but I guess as far as my New York career, I would have to say The Electrifying Grace. She was a Hostess/MC at Sally’s which was featured in the Paris Is Burning documentary. She took me in and helped me get my first DJ gig here in the city. I arrived here in 1992 with $65 dollars and a small suitcase. The cab ride into city cost $30 and I had no where to stay. She was really kind. God always sends us angels when we need them.
BW: How many years have you been performing?
JE: I started in 1985. So, that would be about 23 years. Wow…it doesn’t seem that long.
BW: What is your relationship like with the drag king part of the community?
JE: I haven’t personally worked with any drag kings. Wait…I take that back. I did do one festival with a performer named “Dred.” And he was really cool. His real name is Mildred, and he did a piece from his show about being a drag king. It was very interesting. But that was about 4 years ago. Oh…and I remember a long time ago back in the 80′s, there was a drag king named “The Mastro” in Florida who impersonated Barry White. He was great as well.
BW: What do you feel is the most misunderstood about you?
JE: Well, I would have to say the misconception that all drag queens want to be women or are effeminate. No disrespect, but I am not into tranny-chasers. And believe it or not, most gay guys won’t date someone who is a female impersonator. It’s almost like you are less than a man if you do drag. And it is my belief that to be in touch with your feminine side and comfortable with it makes you more of a man. You have to be very confident to do it. And not everyone can.
BW: How would you describe the differences between the Tampa and New York City gay scene?
JE: It’s funny, because I was just talking with someone the other day about what the gay scene was like in Tampa when I came out. I guess because it’s smaller, the community was more concentrated. Meaning that, it was normal to have drag queens, leather men, twinks, and average gay guys all dancing on the same floor and talking at the bar.
Here in New York, the scene is so segregated in my opinion. You can literally get lost in one scene and never deal with anyone outside of that. So, your leather men stay at the Eagle. Your drag queens are at Lipp’s or Escuelita. The black gay men are mainly at Chi Chi’s and The Hangar. Your Twinks are in Hell’s Kitchen. There’s no one place where everyone goes. The only time they all come together is Gay Pride. It’s kinda sad. All these people are missing out on the diversity of our community and they live and work right next to each other. We were sorta forced to be a part of each other’s lives and it made for a better party.
BW: You’ve worked on films such as To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, Party Girl, and Jane Doe – and you’ve also worked on Sex & The City – do you have any upcoming TV or film projects in the works?
JE: As I mentioned before, “Showgirl 101″ starts shooting on July 2nd at Langston’s in Brooklyn. We are looking for America’s Next Showgirl. You have to bring us talent and creativity. This won’t be the same old Diva Search you see at all the other bars. The gyrls will have to do their homework to get the prize. And the contestants stand to win $1500 in cash. For more details or to sign up, you can visit myspace.com/JadeElektra or call (212) 631-3569. We will be filming, so you need to bring proper ID and sign a release form to be in the show.
BW: What people may not know about you, is you’re also a recording artist – tell us more about Proud Mary?
JE: Proud Mary was an album that I recorded back in 2000 and 2001. I had already released a single called “Why Are You Gaggin’?” on Progressive High Records back in 1998 which might have done well if they had actually promoted it. But instead they shelved it and remixed it and sold to compilation over in Europe. I never saw a dime of that money. But since Europe was familiar with Jade Elektra, it made it easy for me to sign with Triple X Records out of the UK. They had big plans of making me the RuPaul of England. We began putting together the album and marketing strategies. The first single was to be “Bitch You Look Fierce.” At that time, Napster was the big thing on the internet. A copy of the song was used on one of my mixed compilation, “Relentlessly Cunty- mixed by DJ Relentless” and it got leaked on Napster. It also got tagged as a Kevin Aviance track. And then 9-11 happened. And business for everyone was bad. The label folded, and I put the album out myself on my own label, 2nd Level Records. Plus, I am currently working on a Jazz Standards album. I am known for my Bitch Tracks and Club songs, but few people know that as a DJ I started in Community Radio with uncle, Herb and we did a Jazz/R&B show. I have been asked to do a song for an upcoming film by Tony Wilkins called The Mo Diaries. And last year, I was contacted by another label out of the UK, Groove Bay Records and they are planning to remix and re-release “Bitch You Look Fierce” in the Fall of 2008. This should be about the same time I will be shopping “Showgirl 101.” So, around September or October, I hope to be a household name.
BW: Thank you Jade, we believe you will be! For more information on Jade as a performer and as DJ Relentless, and Showgirl 101, please visit her MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/JadeElektra.
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