With big hair, big lashes and an even bigger personality, Lady Bunny is set to take over Atlanta again on Friday when she joins Jungle's big drag show and supersizes it.
Lady Bunny last freshened up her Southern roots in Atlanta for a charity pageant in 2011. But she's been known to relive her nightlife moments at a Backstreet reunion and a Pride reception, too. We caught up with Lady Bunny to reminisce and get the latest dish on her new song, career and today's music and drag divas.
Congrats on your new song. I've heard nothing but amazing things about it.
Thank you, honey! I’m really excited about this project. I am a DJ and I have seen the taste of gay club-goers really take a hit in the last decade. It seems that all people want to hear are the same Top 40 songs over and over. And, in the last year, there were three songs that I thought were so terrible that I refused to play on principle that it is just bad music — “Gingham Style,” “Harlem Shake” and “Call Me Maybe.” Don’t get me wrong, “Call Me Maybe” was a cute pop song but I’m from the generation that listened to fierce divas, ya know, Deborah Cox and all them.
A lot of our “divas” nowadays cannot sing. Ke$ha, J.Lo., Rihanna, Britney, these are our top divas and they're not singers. What really gags me is when Whitney Houston died, they had Jennifer Hudson do a tribute to her cause she’s the only voice that could do it. Where's her hit on the radio? She ain't got one. We don't value voices anymore. And it used to be the gay community that was always the first to embrace a singer because of their voices. Take for instance the Weather Girls or Martha Wash. We didn't care about what they looked like because it was all about the voice.
I believe the music industry is in a tail spin because of illegal downloads and they're less willing to take chances, so they're doing very formulaic stuff. All of Britney, all of Beyoncé, all of Rihanna, it’s all the same formula. I will say though, that when Beyoncé stepped out of that format and did “Love On Top,” it was her best song ever. I don’t know why record execs don’t look at the success of Adele and say “okay so people still do appreciate a good song, or good singer.”
Know that in Atlanta, we know good music. But before we get to the Bunny you are now, let’s talk about the Bunny you used to be. Where did you get your start?
I was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., where I grew up. Then, in 1983, I moved to Atlanta and became RuPaul's roomie. From there, we all moved to New York City. RuPaul was basically the first person to put me in drag. I mean, I'd fooled around with it before, but she really pushed me. We were part of the same Midtown crew. So, from Atlanta, we all packed up and decided to move to NYC and Ru and I lived together there.
What was your game changer, your big break? What took you from bar queen to being known nationally?
My big break came when I created “Wigstock,” the festival that lasted in NYC about 21 years, and became the subject of the documentary that came out in 1994. So, the festival alone attracted tens of thousands of people and, while it featured mainly drag performers, we'd get big time recording artists like Boy George, Crystal Waters, Hedwig, Dee Lite and even RuPaul performed a few times. So it was a lot of dance artists along with the drag queens. So that festival was definitely my first claim to fame.
What is your favorite city to perform in?
For some strange reason, it has always been St. Petersburg, Fla. See, I’m a southern girl at heart and the crowd there is a little more redneck, and, I don’t know, for some reason I've never heard louder applause than when I'm in St. Pete. I've gone there many years and I'm not gonna say that I even like the city but I certainly do like the crowd.
You've inspired so many people in your career, but who do you look up to in the drag community?
I didn't really have drag queen inspirations growing up, but I do certainly look up to RuPaul, Divine and Dame Edna. RuPaul is one year older than me, even though she doesn't like to admit it, so she’s basically my drag mother. Another huge inspiration of mine is Barbara Eden from “I Dream Of Jeannie.” I’m very influenced by women of the 60's, like Barbara and Dusty Springfield, who wore big blonde hair, upper and lower lashes, and a nude lip.
Out of all the “Drag Race” girls, who is the most entertaining?
Ooh, this is a toughie! A lot of them are my friends, so I hate to choose, but I’ll give you my top three.
Sharon Needles is provocative, intelligent and political. I think she's edgy and interesting. If “Drag Race” is a show that's looking for the next RuPaul, in the beginning, RuPaul was different. He recorded music that got on the radio, and was edgy. A lot of queens nowadays are fantastic lip synchers, but that's not different.
Raja is another favorite. She is an absolutely unbelievable beauty and talented designer, makeup artist, everything.
And my last pick is Jinkx Monsoon. I just saw Jinkx perform at Pride Canada where she was doing Eartha Kitt impersonations and performing songs like Marlene Dietrich's “Falling In Love Again.” I love what she’s doing with her drag because she's re-introducing these old standards, acts and characters to young “Drag Race” fans. She's a talented singer, and I was very impressed.
I will also say that I love Tammie Brown because she's such a fool. And I also think that Latrice Royale is a great example of a big warm personality who is also a very bombastic, larger than life, onstage presence who lip synchs and does it very well. I'm sorry, but there is not a club in any town that wouldn't leap to its feet when that fat bitch does a split!
What's next for Bunny? You've already conquered music and TV so what's left?
I'm not sure what's next honestly. I have co-written a treatment for a drag show. It's in the beginning stages, so I'm not gonna talk about it and jinx it, and I'm writing a treatment for another show, featuring some really talented queens.
Should we expect “Lady Bunny’s Drag Race?”
No, no! One show is more entertainment with a dark comic feel, while the other one does have some comedy but it's based upon issues.
I was really encouraged by HBO’s “The Out List” to work on these shows. Don’t get me wrong, “Drag Race” is fun and it’s all about fun challenges and all that, but I would really like to see more images of drag queens who are expressing themselves about issues, whether they be funny or serious. A lot of the images I'm seeing of gay men and drag queens are “yeah, we're being accepted by the straight community but we're only being accepted as silly queens who know about fashion.”
Look at the “Fashion Queen” gays on Bravo, for example. I know that there are queens out there who have more opinions than “oh, she shouldn't be wearing that.” We, as gay people, aren't just your wedding planners, or interior designers, or makeover artists. Gay people are much more than that. I want this show to bring out the Dan Savage-s, the Dustin Lance Black-s. I just look at these shows where gay guys are planning people's wedding. And I think to myself “you've accepted us as that but once the show is over, and you go on your honeymoon, we still can’t get married.
We, as a culture, are disproportionately represented by really shallow stuff right now. Even as far back as “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” if we have advice for straight guys, or brides, we’re accepted, but I think we have more to say and I think it's high time we say it.
Lady Bunny appears on July 26 at the premiere of Jungle's The Other Show XXXL.