‘It’s about the people’: Brooklyn Drag Queen shares experience competing on 16th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Dawn, drag queen contestant of ruPauls race season 16
Dawn, a drag queen based in Bushwick, is a contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 16 which premiered earlier this month.
Photo courtesy of MTV

The 16th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered on Jan. 5 on MTV and two Brooklyn representatives are among the contestants.

The latest season features 14 queens competing for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” and a cash prize of $200,000. Dawn and Megami, two experienced performers based in Brooklyn, have already made great impressions.

Drag performers from across the U.S. have come together to compete in the biggest drag art contest that takes in account costumes, makeup, lip singing, dancing, some gymnastics and stage presence. RuPaul, arguably the biggest drag icon worldwide, and her panel of judges —including producers, fashion designers, actors, stylists, electropop musicians and choreographers— will pick the winner. Brooklyn Paper first got a hold of Dawn to get some insights about her experience working with the giants of the industry. The publication will be talking to Megami in coming days.

“All the flowers to RuPaul,” she said. “We all start into drag after learning from RuPaul. She teaches a lot about finding yourself. We all have doubts, and she pushes us to live our lives regardless of them. Also, she is hilarious.”

This season marks the 15th Anniversary of the Drag Race franchise, which first premiered Feb. 2, 2009. The season 15 premiere was the number 1 cable entertainment telecast of the day, according to reporting from Deadline.

The popularity of the original series led to the creation of a media franchise including spin-offs and international adaptations. Now, different versions are produced in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Chile, Canada, Sweden, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.

Dawn, who was raised in North Carolina and currently lives in Bushwick, is a completely self-taught drag queen. She had an “ambiguous” start into drag in 2017, right after she finished college, only five months after she came out as gay, when she found an eyeliner in her mom’s purse. By 2020, she had a wig, heels and a corset, but she still would not wear them out of her room. Now, it takes her about three hours to get ready from the start until getting to the door of the venue where she’ll perform. 

“Dawn is something that has always wanted to come out of me,” she said. “So, I wouldn’t say she is persona. She is a part of me, except my boyfriend and my friends say my personality does change when I’m in drag and I become more of a diva, but it’s just that, when I’m wearing the heels and the eyelashes and the wig, I don’t want to bend over and pick up my phone when I drop it.”

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In her days before drag, she used to have mixed feelings about performing. She was part of her school marching band, but she would still get stage fright, so she would stay in the back seats. As Dawn, things have changed.

“I kind of loved being in front of the cameras, and the judges surrounded by the production team, I’m only kind of shy and reserved when I’m not in drag,” she said. “The hardest part is the hours it takes to shoot and to give it your best, your all, that entire time.”

Dawn is a longtime fan of the show. She especially likes season 12 because of the contestants who became her favorite drag queens, Peppermint and Sasha.

She also watches especially to see people’s experiences going through the show. Her favorite parts are the self-pep talks contestants have in front of the mirror as they get ready for the challenges.

“I know people make fun of them, but those are the core of the show,” she said. “It’s about the people.”

Even though the audience has to stay tuned through many episodes to see how this season of the race fully unfolds, the taping has already wrapped up. Now, Dawn is back to performing life, especially in Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn is where there is more kooky-crazy stuff and I am kooky-crazy,” she said. “Brooklyn is an ever-flowing river of talent. People are not afraid to try anything. The diversity is amazing.”

When she plans a show, she thinks of what the songs she lip-sings mean to her more than what it could have meant to the artists and she likes to take her audience on a journey.

She loves New York’s most well-known drag scene in Hell’s Kitchen, but her predilection is for this borough.

“My favorite place to both watch a show and to perform is ‘Come On Everybody’ in Bed-Stuy,” she said. “It’s a small space so the shows can’t be all kicks and splits, queens have to actually give a show and the space feels curated for drag.”

She also has plans to go on tour this year, starting in New York at Soho House this weekend.

As to the states where there have been attempts to ban drag shows —Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and Montana all passed laws in 2023 that would specifically ban drag artists from performing in certain public spaces, most of which are currently blocked by judges— she thinks it’s just a political move.

“Drag is the most pure embodiment of love,” she said. “Those who want to cancel shows do it as a political move, to attract the wrong kind of voters and build fear.”

Her advice for potential drag queens who haven’t dared to venture out of their rooms is to start by doing it just for fun, not to impress or to become famous. 

“Drag is liberating and life without it is repetitive and boring,” she said. “Just get up there.”