Being a queen is more than just wearing a crown.
According to Jasmine Summers, who won the top honor during the 2019 Miss Blue Ridge Pride Pageant, it’s about honing her craft, competing with grace and being a role model to fellow queens and Asheville’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
The pageant coincides with the Blue Ridge Pride Festival, the weeklong celebration of Western North Carolina’s LGBT residents. It’s one of the region’s most prestigious drag queen tournaments, having vaulted Miss Blue Ridge 2011 and 2014 Eureka O’Hara to season nine of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Competitors challenge gender norms through dazzling artistry and cheeky personas — and have a whole lot of fun.
Summers, who originally hails from Greensboro, North Carolina, has been performing for 10 years. She is former Miss Charlotte Black Pride and Miss Chasers Sweetheart in Charlotte, among other awards, but maintains that Miss Blue Ridge is the most significant title she’s won. And she kills it on the drag stage while also working a full-time job as a medical billing specialist.
Summers retained the honor last year after 2020’s pageant was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Blue Ridge Pride Festival and pageant are canceled again in light of rising COVID-19 infections.
While she awaits the opportunity to adorn Asheville’s next pageant winner, Summers sat down with Xpress to share what it takes to be the best in drag in Western North Carolina.
How did you get started in drag?
Before I did drag, I was super introverted. I didn’t like a lot of attention. I had never been around other LGBTQIA people. I had never been to a gay club before.
I was dating someone who did drag and he [said], “Oh, you should let me put you in drag one day.” I was very resistant for awhile because I saw the process of what it took to get in drag, and it’s a several hour process. At that time, I thought there’s no way I can sit through all of that.
But then I [said], “You know what, let’s just do it. It’s my 23rd birthday, why not?” We went out to several bars in Greensboro afterward. One of them was a straight bar. But surprisingly, the response was really good. No one was hostile. We didn’t get any funny looks or anything like that. It was a very empowering feeling.
What’s your favorite thing about doing drag?
You get to express yourself in ways that you don’t normally express yourself and you also get to play dress up. I also enjoy that you’re able to take on a different look or perspective — a different character, so to speak.
I go into a complete zone when I perform. Nothing else matters at that point, I’m in my own little world. It’s an escape, too. A lot of queens and drag artists will say that doing drag is an escape from reality.
When I’m in drag, I enjoy the attention, because I feel like a different person. I feel empowered. Doing drag has definitely helped me with my real, day-to-day life. I’m a little more extroverted and able to be more social as opposed to before when I was just very, very awkward.
What inspires your drag looks?
I’m a big nerd. I love comic books, I love superhero movies. I love Greek mythology. Anything that’s fantasy and or sci-fi, supernatural types of things.
When I played video games as a kid, I was always drawn to female characters. They always looked amazing. they had the best costumes, the best moves. They were very powerful, and I always try to emulate that in drag.
For example, I’ve always been obsessed with the movie “Queen of the Damned.” [R&B singer] Aaliyah played the main character, Akasha, and as a kid, that was my favorite movie. I have done a look inspired by her and that was my favorite look ever.
Another inspiration is Hella from the “Thor” movies. She’s a villain, which I always liked the villains as well because they were really badass
What’s the most challenging part of doing drag?
I do pageants as well and pageants can take a lot of money, time and dedication. It’s frustrating and a hard pill to swallow when you put a lot of effort into a pageant that you really want to win and you end up losing. It’s a gamble that we all know is there, but when you’re hit with it, it still hurts. You have to force yourself to look OK in the moment. It’s OK to feel bad about it when you’re alone in your car, or away from people, but it always looks better the moment that you handle it with grace.
Now me — being a person that when I’m upset, it visibly shows in the face — it’s very difficult for me to do that. I try my best to smile or look down, but that can be hard and gut-wrenching, especially if it’s something that [I’ve] been wanting.
As far as etiquette, what is something people shouldn’t do at a drag show?
One of my things that I get really annoyed about is if someone comes on stage unwarranted while I’m performing and tries to dance with me. That’s really disrespectful in my eyes. I will not entertain it. I will ignore it at first, but if you keep coming, I will politely direct you back into the crowd.
How has the drag scene changed since the pandemic started?
There’s been an unusually high demand for drag entertainers, especially here in Asheville. So many places all of the sudden want to do drag shows all the time. It’s been pretty hectic. I’ve recently just realized how tired I am from working a fulltime job, traveling, doing pageants, traveling and doing shows and doing shows here in town. I’ve had one Saturday off in months.
Wow, that is a lot! Why do you think there’s such a high demand?
[Audience members] want to escape just like we do. My purpose in my performance is to entertain people and to keep them smiling and cheering and enjoying what they see. I think it was packed when clubs started reopening because people have been cooped up all year.
I especially enjoy seeing the reaction from nonqueer people to drag shows. I enjoy their reaction the most, because they’re the least exposed to it, so they’re reaction is magnified. It’s like they just saw someone walk a tightrope or something. They’re just so in awe.
What would you say to someone who is considering performing in drag for the first time?
Anyone who wants to get into drag, my recommendation is to go to drag shows and talk with whatever queen you gravitate towards the most. Here in Asheville, we are super accepting. You don’t have to be overly polished or perfect. They just want to see that you’re serious about what you’re doing and that you engage the crowd. That’s really what it comes down to in Asheville. If it shows that you love what you do, people will eat it up.