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.
“When Randy [Barbato] and I started out, drag shows were on a tiny stage. We just thought, oh my God, the artistry is off the charts,” says Fenton Bailey, executive producer of RuPaul's Drag Race and co-founder of World of Wonder, the production company behind Drag Race and DragCon. “I think it was always our dream to see this incredible work on a larger platform. And I think that's what Drag Race and DragCon have been able to provide.”
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 arrival of the 5th Annual RuPaul's DragCon at Los Angeles Convention Center this Memorial Day weekend, even more so. It's going to be a very queeny weekend in L.A. indeed, and to celebrate, we're spotlighting a mix of “wo-men” who have been on the Emmy-Award winning show and some who haven't. Either way, they're all L.A. drag royalty. Here, a Drag Race alum who celebrates her Latin culture like no other, the captivating Valentina.
L.A.'s own “diva with a heart,” Valentina is a first generation Mexican-American and non-binary queen from Bell who made a name for herself by embracing her roots and prominently showcasing her Mexican culture in her art. First appearing in season nine, her lip-sync will go down as one of the most memorable ones in Drag Race herstory when she used the red mask of her outfit to cover up not knowing the words to an Ariana Grande song. The moment got even more epic when Ru stopped the lip-sync and told her to take off the mask, to which she responded, “I'd like to keep it on please.” She got her ru-demption though when she returned for All Stars 4 and won a lip-sync to a different Ariana Grande song.
Also known as James Andrew Leyva, her strength has always been her looks, both her make-up and fashion — she's been featured in Vogue México and has shot a makeup tutorial for Vogue's YouTube channel. “Fashion started with me from a young age when it came to my mom getting ready for work. I [also] used to love to play with Barbies,” says one of Drag Race's most popular beauties. “I have a natural gift and talent … a sense of style that tends to be more glamorous and classic, and I definitely curated my image completely as Valentina.”
Valentina performs throughout L.A., including at some of the Boulet Brothers' events and in her own one-woman show. You may have also caught her as Angel in Fox's Rent Live.