From Sapphire, to Dee Ranged

“I’m so sorry, but I have to run home really fast,” Rob Harper said, apologizing for a sudden arrival and even faster departure. “I left my panty hose in the dryer. Be back in 15 minutes.”

Drag Queen Problems, I suppose.

Thirty minutes later, we were sitting in the dressing room and the transformation had begun.

O&AN: Tell me about where you come from and when you started performing drag.

Dee Ranged: I was born in Cincinnati and I started right before I graduated high school. This is my 14 year of doing drag.

O&AN: You don’t look old enough to have done this for 14 years.

D: Well I moisturize!

O&AN: Were you out in high school?

D: My senior year I was. I was just telling someone this the other day: I was always doing these art projects and everything I did revolved around drag queens. Culture Club was like my biggest thing growing up, and then RuPaul came along and [drag] was just “in there” with me.

O&AN: Were you a visual artist or a performer?

D: Both. I always sewed growing up and I always made costumes and wanted to be a fashion designer. I sculpted and painted and did makeup. I just wanted to do everything.

O&AN: What kind of performing did you do before you started drag?

D: I was into theater and did drama and stuff in school. My whole life I was in shows.

O&AN: Tell me about your drag debut. Was it a typical Halloween experience?

D: Yes. It was. There was a youth support group called CYG for teens who were coming out of the closet and a teacher of mine, who was a lesbian, suggested that a friend and I go and check it out. She obviously knew we were struggling. So we went and soon enough there was a Halloween party, and I thought, “Oooh yes. I want to try that.” I wasn’t Dee Ranged at first, though; I was Sapphire. Everything I wore was blue.

O&AN: Were you fishy? Were you dramatic?

D: Oh, no. It was bad. I thought of myself more as a club kid than a drag queen. Everything is a learning process, you know, but that was the real beginning. It was rough. Hang on. I have pictures here somewhere. It’s rough, though. Don’t freak out.

O&AN: Did you paint yourself the first time?

D: Yeah. I’ve always painted myself. Only once have I let someone else paint me and that was for the first pageant I entered. And I will never let anyone else paint me again.

O&AN: How did Sapphire transform into Dee Ranged?

D: My first boyfriend and I were just goofing off one day, and I said, “You know, I really want to try doing [drag] in a show, a talent contest. But I don’t want to be Sapphire.” He asked, “Well what’s your name going to be?” And I was kind of obsessed with Deelite and I knew I wanted to be “Dee”-something. I thought “Dee Lish” maybe, but he suggested “Dee Ranged” and I said, “OK!” So that’s where it all started.

O&AN: What was Dee Ranged like when she first sprang to life?

D: I mean I’ve always been crazy. I didn’t want to be a typical drag queen. I wanted to the off-the-wall. I wanted to be something people would remember.

O&AN: What was the first pageant you entered?

D: It was called Miss Pipeline, and it was all for newcomers. I think there were ten or twelve contestants. I won three pageants that year, and I knew I was on the right track. I wasn’t touring like I am now, but I knew I was onto something.

O&AN: Did your performance opportunities and booking rate increase because of your wins?

D: Yes, but it’s different in Cincinnati. The way the casts rotate in clubs you only perform once a month. I was one of a cast of twelve and each girl got one weekend. There weren’t show bars like PLAY Dance Bar. In 2003, a guy named Lamar who was the director of National Entertainer of the Year told me he thought I was really creative and should try the EOY pageant.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it with no expectations of winning or anything like that. I just wanted to see what it was about. I ended up placing fifth out of thirty or forty girls in the national pageant, and I was, like, “Wow. I can really do this!” So I went back year after year and continued to advance a spot every time until I finally won in 2007.

O&AN: Until you relinquish your crown this summer, you are the reigning Miss Universal Show Queen 2011. Were you Emcee here at PLAY before you won that pageant or did it bring you here?

D: No. I was the emcee at PLAY already. I’ve been here nearly three years. Carmella [Marcella Garcia] was leaving to take time off to care for her mom, and the Princess was taking a job in Chicago, so they needed an Emcee. I just happened to have worked here the weekend before, and they offered me the job and moved me to Nashville. I lived at Columbus at the time. Like I said, in Ohio they have a totally different concept of drag and they don’t really pay their girls as well as they do here. We girls have great salaries and benefits and we’re really lucky. It’s a job. But in Ohio they don’t treat it like that. Even the style is different, most of them are boy queens instead of trannies.

O&AN: It seems as though female illusion and transgender performers instead of boy drag are the most popular types of drag at PLAY. Of course there are exceptions, you in particular. Would you say this a “Nashville thing” or is it specific to the club?

D: I think that is a preference of the club mostly. I look at drag on an entertainment scale. Anyone can go out and purchase breasts and call herself a queen, but there has to be underlying talent. And we are blessed to have incredibly talented performers here. Everyone has a different style and we all know our places in the show and it really all comes together well. I just happen to be the weird one.

O&AN: So you’ve sewn since you were seven years old and are known for your detailed fabulously creative costumes. What is the secret to creating such visually striking characters?

D: I basically see something I want to do and try to replicate it. The hardest part is, while I can recreate anything and have it pretty authentic looking, finding a song that the audience is going to like that fits that character is truly a challenge. But if you honestly sit back and look at what I do...I don’t know if I should say this...but there’s a trick to it. Most of the stuff I put with a character is a drunk sing-along song, like something you would hear at a wedding reception. Because they’re going to get drunk, they’re going to sing along.

O&AN: They’re going to respond to the music and hand you dollars even if they weren’t already paying attention to what you were doing onstage.

D: Right. So that is what I keep in mind when I am picking out music, but sometimes I’ll go ahead and throw in something just for me … a song I like.

O&AN: Is that way of choosing songs due to the fact you are in a large show bar/nightclub environment with a specific kind of drag audience?

D: Nashville is really hit and miss compared to other cities. For instance I can go to Indianapolis and walk out with no less than $2,000 for three nights. Granted, you’re going twelve numbers a night and you’re full-on out there; but there they love drag. Here you have to impress people and take it to a whole other level in order to make money.

O&AN: You volunteer to paint faces and help with a lot of turnabout fundraisers and support aspiring performers in Nashville. Do you enjoy working with new queens and those just sticking their heel in the water?

D: Yeah. It’s a dying art form, and we have a responsibility to take the time to teach new drag queens the correct way. Everyone goes through what we call the “Diva Stage." It’s where they start off and they know everything and exactly how to do it. I know I went through it. I’m sure everyone in this room went through it. But there are a bunch of right ways to do drag and there are definitely wrong ways to do it. So teaching people is important. Unfortunately making sure they are listening can be a task.

O&AN: Are you a part of a house or affiliated with a drag family?

D: No. There is a circuit of nationally known acts and I’m a part of that. I just travel once a month to get my name out there. YouTube really helps. I mean I have stalkers on it. They show up at my shows. It’s crazy.

O&AN: The Internet fame YouTube can give a girl must be a double-edged sword.

D: Definitely. Recently I worked in another city and I had brought my Tourette’s mix, which is something I made years ago. I turned it in at the bar and they sampled the music into their computer. Well they put on another girl’s Tourette’s mix. The same exact thing that I do, except it was all jumbled around so I had no idea what I was doing. So that’s the downfall of YouTube: everyone wants to copy another queen.

O&AN: You mentioned wanting to encourage new performers to prevent drag as an art form dying out. What else do you think the at-large drag community in Nashville or any other city can do to keep it alive and growing?

D: I don’t think there is a clear answer. I think people need to realize first of all where we came from and what had to get done for us to be where we are now. The drag race show, is great, but it is a reality television show; people have to remember that. It’s not the best drag out there just because it’s on TV, and it’s really not about drag; it’s about your television personality. A lot of these things they are showing on camera, when they are getting ready and stuff, the tricks that we’ve been doing for years behind the scenes. No one was really supposed to know how we did it. And that’s what was fun about it: the illusion of drag. Well now it’s even harder because we have to perform with everyone knowing exactly what we do back here. So you’ve got to twist things in your brain and make them see something completely crazy onstage.

O&AN: So now that you are turning in your crown at the Miss Universal Show Queen 2012 pageant in June, what is next for Dee Ranged?

D: I’m chillin.' I don’t know. There are always pageants. For some of us queens, pageants are in our hearts; that’s just how it is. I can’t get rid of that. But the turnaround now is not what it used to be. Even up to the point when I won EOY, you put a lot of money into a pageant. But when you win: you travel, you work, you make the money back. Now you’re putting your money in to win the pageant, but your booking fee now is minimal compared to these girls who are on the TV show. It’s crazy. And on top of that the airlines are charging so many fees for luggage and now even for carry ons. You just can’t escape any extra charge now. It’s hard to tell if pageants are worth it. And I’ve already won the ones that are in my heart. Now my focus is just being here and working. There used to be a huge drag scene in this city. Nashville used to be nationally recognized for good drag, and whether we’re the cast mates of PLAY or not, there still should be other good drag in this city. But there is not. We have a great group of girls at PLAY who are amateurs right now, and I’m trying to teach them. Because we have to bring more “good drag” back to Nashville. Legends like Bianca Page would have expected that. She started this local drag scene we are still a part of and she would want us to breathe life into it again.

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