By John M. Hayden
After months of quarantine, reduced hours, and way too much good parking, Wilton Drive is starting to come alive. If the heart of “The Drive” is a good cocktail, the soul is the entertainment. Now, one of the hardest working girls in the drag scene, Miss Nicole Halliwell, is starting to get back out there, even though she never really went anywhere!
Nicole is a fixture around Wilton Manors, spreading sass and throwing shade everywhere from The Pub, to LeBoy, to Gulf Stream Brewing Company. She talked with me about everything from her family’s history in the entertainment industry, to creating her unique level of fabulousness, to finding a platform in a pandemic.
With bars closed and stages empty, Nicole went online. To keep in contact with her fans, she joined up with other local queens and created www.QuarantineQueens.net. “I don’t know how I’ve done it, but I’ve done it,” she told me. “I jumped in early when things went south, and created Quarantine Queens as a platform for myself and other local Florida entertainers to make some type of income and still connect to our loyal audiences who are used to seeing us every week.” For someone who’s used to playing to a packed house, it was an entirely different experience. “It was an adjustment to try to entertain absolutely nobody but a smartphone and a table full of cosmetics, but thankfully I had plenty of time rehearsing in front of my mirror growing up, so it all worked out.”
Nicole has used the time to work on, not only her act, but her performance. “It’s given me greater time to reflect on how my comedy sounds and to improve my delivery to get laughs out of a digital audience. While ‘LOL’ is gratifying, I do miss the laugh of a crowd. It was such a fulfilling moment to walk back out to a live show after five months of no work. Let’s hope we can continue to slowly and safely return to our venues.”
If you’ve ever been to one of Nicole’s shows, you’ve probably been bitten by her wit! She’s no one-trick-pony. “My act varies by the demographic I serve. Sometimes there’s young children, sometimes older adults who don’t appreciate crude humor, and sometimes it’s a room full of Gen Z kids at a college.” Each audience provides unique challenges. “Being able to adapt is a lot of work. It means constantly staying immersed in popular culture while still being able to hang with the old-school folks, and being ready to fake it if you have to.”
Nicole runs Bingo over at Gulf Stream Brewing Company, and that is a lot of fun because you never know when the game/show is going to take a turn. “Bingo is a whole different animal than any other show I do. I’m on display for 2 hours by myself and I’ve got to carry a show, a game, and make it look seamless. My Bingo show is a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of situation where I follow the flow of the audience. There’s a lot of gay wit that flies well with straight audiences, but sometimes you just have to be a total [blank] to win everybody over. Who doesn’t love laughing at other people getting roasted? It’s not called ‘Hilariously Offensive Drag Queen Bingo’ for nothing!”
Quick comebacks are a drag queen’s best friend, and she’s been working on hers since childhood. “A lot of my comebacks stem from great practice of firing back at bullies in school, but the real inspiration is growing up on classic comedy and entertainment where intelligence was key. I look up to incredible comedians and actors [like] Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, and Carol Burnett. Sly, smart entertainers who created characters and played them to the hilt. I always say Nicole is a cross between Elvira and Don Rickles. Bad taste never looked so good.” Oh, so very true.
Her website sums her up best with, “… this crossdressing, makeup brush wielding, show stopping, shape shifting, insult slinging drag queen, …” and Nicole stands behind it. “Well, you know me – always modest! People think I’m stuck up because I’m so gorgeous.”
Nicole’s shows are total productions. Hair, makeup, outfits, shoes, music. It’s all her. “My inspiration comes from everywhere. Most of what I wear is created from scratch, but I’m not afraid to cut up something I bought and make it suit me better. I go for bright and colorful, outrageous items, like hot pink leopard fur coats, or giant Spice Girls platform shoes.” She thrives on bright colors. “You’ll often find me in my favorite color, neon yellow. I love looking like a disgruntled highlighter.” Nicole loves looks that take you back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, and she says songs often inspire her looks.
When it comes to choosing songs, it’s not about hitting a random song on her cellphone. “Choosing music is a science for me. I constantly display variety in my song choices so I don’t get typecast to one genre of music or become predictable.” It also depends on the show. “For me, the song has to fit my character and also work well with the others in the show, so it doesn’t seem out of place. I do a lot of work to study my venue and tailor my choices to that. From comedy to broadway, punk to rap, I do a little of everything to keep ‘em guessing!”
While Nicole does have some help from a designer friend, she thrives on being self-sufficient. “I’ve learned that relying on others sometimes can give you unwanted results, so I take it upon myself to shoot and retouch my own pics, create my own ads, and mix my own music. When I get a vision for something, I need it to play out exactly as I imagined, so I’d rather beat myself up for it not being right than someone else.”
Being up on stage playing a room for laughs is more than a way of life for Nicole; it’s in her blood. “I grew up in entertainment! My father was in showbiz long before I was born, so I was brought up in a household that revolved around music and shows 24/7. A stand-up comedian and band leader, my dad’s 50 year career in entertainment took his touring show around the country. From headlining in Vegas, to records and television, he’s done it all. So, the bug got me early from seeing an audience react to him and how powerful he was at commanding a room. Thankfully, I learned everything about my career at a young age from him, including the comedy, so I knew what I was getting myself into!”
Her foray into drag wasn’t planned. In fact, it’s kind of scary. “Getting in drag wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it just happened! Long story short, I dressed up as my idol, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, for work and was invited by a curious customer to appear in costume at his restaurant’s event later that evening. When I got there, he told everyone the real Elvira was in the house, and I was met with camera flashes and chaos. The switch flipped, and the wheels started turning. At the end of the night he handed me an envelope of cash for my appearance, and I said to myself, ‘I could get used to this!’ And here I am, 15 years later!” We’re all glad she’s here and coming back.