Sashay away. Shantay, you stay. Good luck and don't fuck it up. Condragulations. “Ru-isms” from the juggernaut reality show RuPaul's Drag Race on VH1 have transcended television to become synonymous with not only drag, but pop culture in general. The show, which began in 2009 on Logo, has since aired 11 regular seasons, 4 All Star seasons, a companion series Untucked and a British version set to air in the U.K. On top of all this, DragCon was first launched in 2015 in Los Angeles and has only gotten bigger every year, even expanding to New York two years ago.
Despite opening doors for drag in a myriad of ways, Drag Race can be a double-edged sword for performers who haven't made it on the show. Many “local queens” complain about a huge disparity in booking fees, or more difficulties in getting booked, period. “The show is not the be all and end all [of drag],” Bailey concedes. “Hopefully the effect is to elevate drag everywhere. Sure, everyone wants to see the queens from Drag Race, but also I think people are interested to see the queens who are going to be on Drag Race.”
Los Angeles was a top destination for drag even before Drag Race, but with the show filmed here, and many staying here after their big break, the queen quotient is off the charts. And with the success of the 5th Annual RuPaul's DragCon at Los Angeles Convention Center this past Memorial Day weekend, even more so. Here, we spotlight another Drag Race alum who's keeping L.A. running hot: Ms. Mariah Balenciaga.
Elijah Kelly, also known as Mariah Balenciaga, moved to L.A. five years ago from Georgia, which was a few years after she appeared on season three of RuPaul's Drag Race. In these short five years, Mariah has become a staple in the L.A. drag scene, appearing at Micky's “Showgirls,” the Standard DTLA's drag brunch “Wigs and Waffles” and drag brunch at the Rockwell. Mariah describes the L.A. drag landscape as “very diverse.”
“Before Drag Race, a lot of my friends told me there wasn't a huge drag scene. It seems like it's just blossomed and there's so much variety from downtown with the Boulet Brothers at Precinct and Redline to the WeHo scene, it's amazing the variety of drag queens,” says Balenciaga.
Mariah is best known for her incredible make-up skills via her Instagram, “Mug 4 Dayz,” as well as her fierce performance skills. If you see a Mariah lip-sync live, you'll most likely be treated with some cartwheels, splits and fabulous dancing. She can serve high-fashion Diana Ross-inspired diva as well as down and dirty booty-shaking trap queen. Whichever Mariah comes to party, we're grateful to have her as a fixture in our drag scene—and the feeling is mutual.
“There are so many places for the girls to make money [in] Southern California. I love that fact that it's such a circuit, that everybody whether you've been on Drag Race or not, can actually make a living off of doing drag,” Mariah says. “Anywhere else you just have that small little oasis. There's a whole network in Southern California to work at.” Can we get an amen up in here?