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Drag Talk with Style Superstar Carson Kressley

By Denny Patterson

Award-winning television personality, style expert, interior designer, and New York Times best-selling author are just a few of the credits the multi-talented superstar Carson Kressley is known for. 

Beginning his career as an independent stylist who became invaluable to major designers like Ralph Lauren, Kressley became a breakout star after appearing as a member of the original Fab Five on Bravo’s hit reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which earned him a primetime Emmy and global following. 

Following Queer Eye, Kressley quickly became a well-known figure in the industry and went on to host multiple TV shows, appeared as a fashion critic and commentator on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America, and participated in reality competition shows like Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars

Now, Kressley can be seen as a key judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, for which he now serves as an executive producer. A hardcore fan of the distinguished art form, Kressely believes drag is a great way for one to showcase talent and authenticity. On October 23, 2021, he will be hosting the annual Miss’d America Pageant at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Kressley took some time to talk more about the pageant and his love for drag with OutClique

Denny Patterson: You will once again be hosting the Miss’d America Pageant. Can you tell us more about this event?
Carson Kressley: This has been going on for many, many years and the organizers who are still involved in the pageant organized this event as a fundraiser to raise money for HIV/AIDS related causes back in the late 80s and early 90s. It was really a rally for our community to get together, to have some fun during a dark time, and raise some money for our own community to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Drag queens have always been superheroes in that regard. They have kept us laughing and entertained in the darkest of times, so that is really where this started from. It is a very fun event, and we still get to raise lots of money for various LGBTQ causes throughout South Jersey and the Northeast. So, it is a fun night. We have fabulous queens, an amazing musical lineup, we have the Miss’d America dancers, and they are always hot, and it is just a great night at a fabulous casino. I think we have room for 3,000 people, so we need you all to buy tickets. Like I said, the money goes to amazing charities that support the LGBTQ community in South Jersey, Philadelphia, and the general Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas. 

DP: How many years have you hosted this pageant?
CK: Gosh, I don’t even know. I have been the host of this pageant since around 2004, maybe, and I have done it every year, I think, except one. I think one year I was on location somewhere and I was not able to get back to the east coast, but I have done it about 15 years in a row. It’s a great night, and it’s not just the pageant. There is a whole weekend of activities. A drag brunch the next day, an after party that is usually at the host hotel and casino – you can really make a weekend of it. Come to Atlantic City, have some fun, the weather is still gorgeous in October, and you can enjoy all the festivities of a great drag weekend

DP: What is your favorite part about being the host?

CK: I love seeing new drag talents, and I think this is a great platform for so many young queens out there. There are also some fantastic queens that are legendary who have been part of the pageant, like Tina Berner from Drag Race, and several others. I just love seeing the quality of the drag talent. It is very much modeled on the Miss America Pageant, which also used to happen in Atlantic City. The organizers thought we’ll do one the weekend after called Miss’d America. Like, you missed it, but this one’s even better. So, I love the quality of the drag talent, and I love the musical guests. We always have somebody fabulous. I am very excited for Thelma Houston because I get to be backstage and watch the concert from the wings. And did I mention the dancers? They are so cute! So, drag, entertaining, it’s all combined into one fun night for me. 

DP: There are several different drag styles and aesthetics. What do you specifically look for in these contestants? To you, what defines great drag? 

CK: Great drag to me, I think it is really embracing who you are and bringing that forward on the stage, TV show, club, wherever you work your magic. Drag is an art form, and I think it is very, very personal. Bringing your own flair, personality, and what makes you special to the art of drag is really wonderful. That’s the kind of artistry we look for on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s the kind of artistry I think our judges look for in the Miss’d America Pageant. It is really bringing you to the art of drag.

DP: You have even dabbled with drag yourself. Any plans to resurrect Lisa New Sonata?
CK: Oh, gosh! She makes an appearance every now and again, especially during Halloween. Especially when I am like, oh, wait, I didn’t come up with another costume. I’ll have to be Lisa New Sonata again. But yes, I love dabbling. I have realized, as I get older, you need to be better at makeup because you are putting it on droopy things. I don’t do it as much, but you may see an appearance. One of the most fun things was DragCon in L.A. two years ago, pre-pandemic, Trinity the Tuck gave me a drag makeover. When a true professional beats your face, I was like, wow, I’m gorgeous! It is tempting to have somebody really talented work on this face one more time. 

DP: Last year, Miss’d America banned trans and non-binary participants from competing, which caused a lot of controversy. Although the policy has been changed, we have seen over the last couple years this ongoing debate about trans drag entertainers. Why do you think this has been such a problematic issue?

CK: I really don’t know. As a community, we need to embrace all our brothers and sisters, whether they are gay, straight, trans, whatever. I think drag, like anything else in life, the more the merrier. I think it’s an art form, I think anybody can do drag, and I think it is great that we are including everybody in the pageant. Nothing should be more inclusive than drag, shouldn’t it be? I mean, come on. Maybe it was old ways of thinking, but what’s important is that we are embracing everybody in our rainbow, as we should. It is going to be a fantastic show because of it.

Carson Kressley Photo
Photo Courtesy of PVPR

DP: Now, you have become one of the most beloved judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race. How meaningful has it been for you to be a judge?

CK: It is so fun and so rewarding in so many ways. Friendships with Ru, Ross, and Michelle are great. When you see that banter on the judges panel and you see it while we are adjudicating the queens, that’s real friendship. We just enjoy one another’s company, and it’s like, the three of us and our guest judge are out at the club watching great drag. We are commenting and having a great time. So, first and foremost, it is really fun. Secondly, I’ve got to meet so many amazing people. We have such a great crew, a great production team, and of course, the queens that we get to discover first. We see amazing talent and watch them grow on the show. For me, that is my most favorite thing. Seeing a queen that we have never seen before who is maybe just starting out. They have this fantastic opportunity to be on the show, and we get to see them learn. We get to see them embrace who they really are. We get to see them blossom in this environment and become a fierce drag queen. That’s a really fun process to get to watch from a front row seat.

DP: Some people argue that the show has become too mainstream, and it is ruining drag. What are your thoughts on this?
CK: I would disagree. The art of drag has been such an amazing art form for a long, long time, and it was, unfortunately, cloistered in gay clubs. A lot of people didn’t know about the art of drag, didn’t see the art of drag, weren’t privy to it. Now, yes, we still have great gay clubs where people will do drag shows and drag pageants, but we now have RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV, and I think it’s great. I think it exposes an amazing art form. It celebrates our LGBTQ culture, exposes such people, and most importantly, I think the number one benefit of the show is that young people all over the world, from Bangalore to Boston, get to see people being their authentic selves and being celebrated for that. Seeing people like their favorite queen on the stage, and they say, I identify with her. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but now I know there’s a place for me. That is a fantastic thing because it gives hope and security to young people all over the world. That they can be just who they are, and that can be a great thing.

DP: Even though we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, season 13 marched forward. From your point of view, how challenging was it to film the “COVID season?”

CK: First of all, I was thrilled that we were able to do it. Like so many people, we were sitting at home thinking, oh my gosh, are we ever going to get back to life again? So, it was great that we were able to do it. Our production company, World of Wonder, was spectacular in making sure that we were all safe, all tested, making sure protocols were followed. I think they were one of the first production companies to actually be back up and running. They kind of helped pave the way for other shows to get back into production safely, and with confidence. We had a great season, and I think in some ways, it has been a terrible time, but there are always silver linings. I think for us, these queens really bonded. Normally, they are sequestered in a hotel somewhere and they don’t see friends or family, but on top of that, working in a pandemic really brought us, the crew, the cast, and the queens together in a very special way. I think you see that on the “COVID season.” We made lemonade out of lemons.

DP: You are constantly on the go and always involved with some kind of project. How were you doing while locked in quarantine, and did it feel weird to have so much downtime.

CK: Yes. Normally, I am traveling all over the place. I mostly live in New York and usually film in L.A., but there are always charity events, fundraisers, pageants, TV commercials, and things where you are always traveling. So, to be shut down for three months, at least, was really unusual for me. Again, I am going to cite that it was a silver lining because I got to be with my family for three months, and my elderly parents. My dad happened to have passed away, not from COVID, but in July of last year. I got three months of uninterrupted family time where I can be around, cook meals, and have my family over to my house. Our little bubble. That was time I would have never gotten if it weren’t for the pandemic. Again, I know it was a terrible time for so many people, but for me, in some ways, it was a blessing to have that time with my family that I would have normally never had.

DP: As we all know, you rose to fame by being the original fashion savant on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. How was it reuniting with your Fab Five brothers for E!’s Reunion Road Trip?

CK: That was great! There was some feedback after the show saying, oh my gosh, you guys are as close as ever, you didn’t miss a beat, you seem like you still have the same chemistry, and I would just tell those people that we do because we still have a group text from, like, 2005. We are all on there and we still always talk to each other. I see Thom whenever I can, and I did a show with him for Bravo. I was just talking to Jai the other week and we are working on something in L.A. We have been very connected by that show. It was such an unusual experience to go through together. That was our first TV venture for any of us. So, to go through that crazy process and that roller coaster ride together, it has really bonded us in a special way. Doing the reunion special was just like another day where we all get together and hang out. We don’t get together as the five very often, but we always see each other in smaller groups. It was fun, and it just felt like we were back at it again.

DP: Because the show was such a success, did you have any reservations about the reboot?

CK: No. The producers actually called us before the reboot happened and said, hey, we are rebooting the show. I was like, oh my gosh, that’s amazing! Let me dust off my jean destressing cheese grater. Then they were like, no, no, no. You’re not going to be in it. I was like, what? I think they very wisely chose a younger, new crew for a younger, new audience. A new generation of people who are learning about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and learning about embracing our best selves and making these changes in our lives and lifestyles to be more confident, successful, and happy. I think the new crew is doing a great job of representing us both with the Queer Eye brand, but also the LGBTQ world. They are taking that message and their authenticity to new places. We filmed mostly in New York and a little bit in Dallas, Vegas, and London, but they are going to the middle of America. Like, rural Missouri, Georgia, and places where maybe people have not had a lot of exposure to members of our LGBTQ world. They are getting to know these people on a one-on-one basis and realizing that we have more in common than what sets us apart. It’s a great legacy, and I am thrilled that it is continuing into 2022 and beyond on a streaming platform that reaches people all over the world. Our show was in 98 countries, but still, this is global. That kind of visibility is very important for our community, and it also moves us forward.

DP: I interviewed Thom over the summer, and he said he doesn’t think you two will be doing any more episodes of Get a Room, but you are talking about some new shows. Any details you want to say about that?
CK: I love interiors, and I know I’m the fashion savant, but my real passion is interior design. I love doing my own houses and helping friends with their homes. When we did Get a Room, I was in heaven. Of course, Thom did all the hard work of measuring and renovating, then I would come in at the last hour with, like, an orchid and be like, great, I think we’re done here. Let’s show the people their new house. So, I got off easily on that one, but yes, I think we are going to do something else in that design space. I have an interior design-based talk show on the Design Network called Couched, which we are getting ready to go back into production this October. You can watch that on Apple TV, Roku, or anywhere you stream your content. I just love that world.

DP: Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to mention or plug at this time?
CK: Let’s see. Certainly, everybody should get their tickets for the Miss’d America Pageant, everybody should be watching RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars on Paramount+, and I just finished a fun new show for Food Network called BBQ Brawl. Who knew I would be a good judge of food? I have been eating since I was a baby, so apparently, I know what I am talking about! We have another season of that, hopefully, coming soon, and a very special Thanksgiving special on the Food Network coming out as well. Basically, follow my social media and you can always find out where to watch me and what’s going on in my world.

Stay up-to-date with Kressley by following him on Twitter and Instagram, or visit his website, CarsonKressley.com. For more information about the Miss’d America Pageant, visit MissdAmerica.org