Hot on the stilettos of the premiere of season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race on March 7, we kiki’ed with Violet S’Arbleu, one of Houston’s most sickening drag queens. She spilled the tea on all things drag in Houston.
Ryan Bellinghausen: What sets Houston queens apart?
Violet S'Arbleu: Different places in the country (and indeed the world) are known for different things: Chicago queens sport some of the wildest makeup and costumes (examples from RuPaul’s Drag Race include Kim Chi, Trixie Mattel, and Gia Gunn), while queens from New York tend to be either comedians and hosts (like Mimi Imfurst, Bianca Del Rio, or Lady Bunny) or club kids (like Milk or Acid Betty).
I think Houston queens are set apart not because they excel at a particular thing, but because we try everything. At a show in Houston, you can see both newcomer and seasoned queens: you could see someone come out virtually naked, you could see standup comedy, you might see a fully choreographed dance routine, and you could even see fully rhinestoned pageant-caliber drag, all on the same night. The Houston drag community, in my opinion, is known for having something for everyone, and I think our queens are some of the most adventurous as far as trying different styles of performance and getting out of their comfort zone.
Houston also has some of the best opportunities for first-time performers. I started performing in Los Angeles, then cut my teeth in Savannah, GA, during my last year of school, and then was back in Houston to really grow up on the stage, so I’ve seen a few different demographics. People have asked me if I have any plans to move, but I love living and performing in Houston because I really feel free to try things.
RB: What made you get into drag?
VS: Honestly, I had never planned to perform, and I had only seen one drag show in my entire life before I started doing it. I used to have terrible stage fright, and to some extent I still do. When I was in college, I had very long hair and I was a good deal thinner, so I did some modeling. Eventually the shoots leaned more androgynous, and a few were effectively portraying me as female in some of the pictures, so it just sort of carried over. And going to an arts college, there were a lot of theme parties, so for all the times I was a zombie or a movie character, I was also occasionally out as a drag queen because that was the appropriate costume. I do have a higher voice, and I used to hate singing growing up because I thought I sounded like a girl, so when I started to look like one, I felt like, “maybe I should give it a try”. I actually sang most of my earlier performances live, which was how I got so many jobs in the early days. To any new queens trying to start performing who want advice, look no further than Gypsy: “You gotta get a gimmick."
RB: Have you seen a surge in the drag community the past few years from things like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lip Sync Battle?
VS: Actually I think that’s two questions: First off, yes there are a lot more drag queens out and about these days. I actually started performing immediately after Season 1 of Drag Race ended, so I guess my timing was great because the show hadn’t really caught on yet then. But there are dozens of girls in Houston alone who started putting on makeup right after season 3 or 4, and now you even see guys out in bars sporting high heels just for the fun of it. The audiences are out more because they see drag on TV and they’re curious or excited about it, and I’m getting a lot more messages about putting people in drag makeup for costume parties, or coming to perform myself.
As for things like Lip Sync Battle, I think that’s partially credited to Drag Race, too. Drag shows have a lot of fun things in them: lip syncing, of course, campy comedy clownish numbers, “Drag Suicide” or “Drag Roulette”, where a DJ will pick a song at random that the entertainer has no idea about ahead of time, and they have to perform as best they can whether or not they actually know the song, contests with the audience, etc. We’re a carry-over form of entertainment when people couldn’t celebrate being gay, so we had to be gay for everyone. And I’m proud to be a part of that legacy. But straight people didn’t know a lot of that fun stuff we did, and so I think now that people can see drag on a weekly basis with things like RuPaul’s Drag Race, they want to share in some of our fun, hence shows like Lip Sync Battle—and I will say, some of those are hilarious. I only wish we had the budgets to put on big shows like that every week.
RB: Best places for drag shows in Houston?
VS: I have to confess, if I’m not in a show, I don’t usually know much about it. I’m actually a big homebody. I love my JR’s show every Tuesday night at 11p.m., and Meteor’s Thursday night show (11:30 p.m.) is one of the most popular shows in town. Also Michael’s Outpost Piano Bar has fantastic early shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Meteor’s Thursday show is the award-winning amateur contest. Referring to my earlier statement about variety, there’s a joke that drag is simultaneously Disneyland and Nascar for an audience: They want fantasy and escapism, but they also want to see a huge disaster. The amateur contest gives you all of that. “So You Think You Can Drag” is five years running, hosted by Houston’s own Kofi. At Michael’s Outpost, you will see two very different shows: Fridays at 7:30, “Cabernet at the Cabaret” celebrates music from the first half of the 20th Century, and on Saturdays at the same time, “Eye Cons” is a Vegas-style Celebrity impersonation show, featuring tributes to Cher, Taylor Swift, Madonna, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, and many more. There are plenty of other bars (TC’s, Bayou City, Guava Lamp). Try it all!
RB: What is your favorite song to lip-sync to?
VS: Well I love all sorts of numbers. In almost 7 years of performing, I’ve done songs in six languages, live and lip-sync, as all sorts of characters. I’ve even performed songs with no words. I’ve cried onstage, I’ve laughed onstage, I’ve even had some Beyoncé choreography. My favorite things though are familiar songs and covers. I love early 90’s music. My go-to lip sync songs would definitely include “Emotions” by Mariah Carey, and my most-requested song is actually to sing “Part of Your World” live from “The Little Mermaid."
RB: So how about some self promotion, when can we see you next?
VS: You can catch me every Tuesday night at JR’s Houston for “Charlie’s Angels” with Chloe T. Crawford, DeyJzah Opulent Mirage, and hostess Kofi. I also occasionally appear as a guest-performer at Meteor’s Thursday “So You Think You Can Drag. “On Fridays, I am at Michael’s Outpost at 7:30pm and at South Beach Houston to host Stripper Circus. Follow me on Facebook (fb.com/RosesAreRed and fb.com/VioletwithaV) and Instagram (@VioletwithaV) to keep up with my other bookings in and around Houston.