In a competition full of high heels, heavy eye makeup and gobs of glitter, a king walked away with the crown.
Nina West’s Drag Star Search went in search of the best amateur drag performer in Columbus. Twelve drag queens, who are men performing as women, and one drag king, who is a woman performing as a man, came out in full force at Axis Nightclub Saturday.
After pantomiming Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” to a crowd of about 600 people and three judges, drag king Cool Ethan beat the queens for the $1,000 prize, sponsored by SKYY Vodka. Cool Ethan said drag kings in Columbus don’t get as much recognition as queens, so he was shocked to win.
“I came into this just wanting to expose people to drag kings and wasn’t expecting to win,” Ethan said. “It’s so humbling and amazing. I honestly can’t believe it.”
Ethan is the creative director of drag king troupe The Royal Renegades of Columbus. He said the performance was especially meaningful to him because of the reaction from audience members.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me tonight and say, ‘You know, you really changed my mind about drag kings,'” Ethan said.
“It’s really uplifting. Columbus is one of the only places I’ve been that has such an amazing, accepting community.”
West, one of Columbus’ most famous drag queens, hosted the event with her scintillating, quick-witted humor and over-the-top costumes. Each contestant had seven minutes to impress the judges, who were marking points for talent, look and overall ability to move the crowd. A few of the contestants sang live, while most of them pantomimed to hit songs by artists such as Madonna and Britney Spears. Audience members seated close to the stage handed cash to their favorite performers.
West said the competition was important because drag is a dying art form that needs to be encouraged in Columbus.
“We’re just trying to entertain, make people happy and make them smile,” West said. “It allows us as a subculture to express ourselves in an art form that isn’t defined by a heterosexual society.”
After Ethan’s performance, drag queen and judge Anisa Love told the remaining contestants, “You b—-es better bring it!”
West said she wasn’t surprised to see Ethan take the prize.
“We were trying to look for the best and most worthwhile new entertainer,” West said. “It was an issue of talent, not gender, and Cool Ethan brought the best talent tonight by far.”
Frankie Wall, also known as drag queen B.B., is a third-year in city and regional planning at Ohio State. Wall said she started doing drag as a joke after dressing up as “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki for Halloween. After only two months of dressing in gender-bending costumes, she said her performance of Macy Gray’s “Sexual Revolution” was her first official drag show.
“I was so nervous,” Wall said. “I’ve only been doing this for two months and I’m going up against queens who’ve been doing it for 12 years.”
Wall said she spends three or four hours getting ready to perform. She said doing drag is “more than just playing dress-up.”
“A lot of people play club sports,” Wall said. “This is my club sport. It’s my art, my hobby. It’s what I do.”
Wall said she wishes OSU students would be more supportive of the large community of drag performers in Columbus.
“It makes you so much more well-rounded,” Wall said. “I’ve run into a lot of close-minded people at OSU, but then I come here and see hundreds of people loving it. I wish more people would come out and appreciate it.”
Wall said she thinks people have misconceptions about drag because they don’t understand it.
“A lot of people think drag is only for gay people, but it’s not,” Wall said. “And just because you do drag, doesn’t mean you want to become a girl. It’s so much more than that. This is fun. It’s a blast. It’s for everybody.”
Axis Nightclub, hidden in the Short North behind Hubbard Grille, hosts several drag events every month. Ethan said he plans to perform with West in April. For a schedule of events, visit www.columbusnightlife.com.