Anka Shayne is one frosty queen, and a stunning example of Denver's best drag talent.
Anka Shayne is one frosty queen, and a stunning example of Denver's best drag talent.

Meet 2017's Thirteen Freshest Faces of Denver Drag

Working on The Heels Have Eyes: A Dragumentary, a documentary about Denver’s explosive drag scene, for the past eight years, I have discovered a cornucopia of performers and trends in this Queen City of the Plains. Used to be that I could count the number of fierce, active queens in Colorado on a few hands, but a recent tally puts the number at well over one hundred and counting.

High priestess Nina Flowers planted quite the bed of seeds when she landed in Denver in 2008, and the mainstream popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its recent All-Stars season — the most-watched in the show's existence — has made the soil richer. Still, no Denver queen has been on the show since Ms. Flowers in 2009, but those odds seem to be getting better and better.

All of this has led to a bumper crop for this year’s Westword Freshest Faces of Drag, and figuring out who to include has never been harder. There are more performers in town than ever before, but space to perform is getting scarce. Some venues have closed. Capturing the spotlight is more cutthroat than ever, and more queens are finding new spaces to perform off the beaten path, like Blush & Blu and some mostly straight venues, like Herb's downtown.

Last year's Freshest Faces — Jessica L'Whor, Arial StaxXx and Yvie Oddly, to name a few — made great strides in 2016. Some have won titles and launched shows of their own; others have moved on to other cities, where they are still flourishing in their art and inspiring a whole new generation.

To be considered one of Westword's Freshest Faces takes a little more than just putting on makeup and adding rhinestones to your favorite outfit. You need to have passion, focus and a need to make a splash not just once, but every time you get into the pool. A great queen has a burning desire to leave people gagging (drag queen talk for "left speechless"), but also humility and a desire to grow. Finally, you need to promise that when you make it to the top, you'll offer a hand to queens below you, in an effort to inspire and shape the community.

This list is not the be-all and end-all of the best talent in Denver's drag scene, but merely a thermometer measuring some of what's hot. We have a whole year to watch these stars turn supernova and to watch new talents ignite, especially at this year's Ultimate Queen Competition at Tracks, which is just a few months away.

Until then, in alphabetical order, meet the Freshest Faces in Denver Drag to watch in 2017.

Anka Shayne
Anka Shayne

Anka Shayne

Salty like a margarita and just as delicious, Anka (aka Jordan Gilbert, 30) came onto the scene in 2016 with two impressive tours of duty during the grueling Tracks Ultimate Queen Competition and its All-Stars version. Though she didn’t snatch the crown, she found something else that fit her head, applied some glue and has been sashaying around town with some of the most out-there, freaky drag looks, inspiring a new wave of artists to get weird, too. Collecting some of her favorite queens into the newly minted Haus of Lost Causes, she’s become a supreme ruler of the highest - and most intriguing - drag order.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Anka Shayne: Competing in Tracks' Ultimate Queen Competition and All-Stars pushed me so much and made me the queen I am today. It was worth all the hard work to show so many people who I am as a performer, make new connections and grow so quickly.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

In and out of drag, I grew a lot in 2016. With growth comes change, and that affected many of my relationships. I lost many friendships last year and had to put a lot of work into keeping some.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

I have been looking for a creative outlet that keeps my attention for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried sewing, drawing, sculpting, painting, refinishing furniture, embroidery and everything in between. Drag is the only thing that has not become boring within a few months. Even if you start becoming stagnant in one area, there is always more to learn. Makeup, hair, costuming, dancing, nails, everything. No one will ever do drag perfectly, and that is really exciting.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

In 2016, I started the Haus of Lost Causes, and I have been so inspired by my fellow Lost Causes: Yvie Oddly, Gemini Skye, Mani Queen, Lithia Morose, Jupiter and Piper D’Bulge. In addition to them, out-of-the-box artists like Ryan Burke, Timothy Hung and Imp Queen are so exciting to me and make me push myself in new directions all the time.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

In 2017, I want to continue to grow the haus. I want photo shoots, producing shows with special guests from around the country, and creating some fun, new things that hopefully haven’t been seen before.

Catch Anka at Club Q in Colorado Springs, R Bar in Fort Collins and locally in Denver at Charlie's, Blush & Blu and Tracks.

Bella Couture-Le Cher
Bella Couture-Le Cher
Keith Garcia

Bella Couture-Le Cher

The winner of this year’s Ultimate Queen Competition, Bella (Jimmy Gonzalez, 29) seemingly fell from the sky and landed in a superhero knee pose, ready to bring an arsenal of studs and rhinestones — and one shiny, bald and ready-to-be-appliqued head — to the battle. The result was avant-garde, sometimes scary, but always drop-dead gorgeous. Bella is halfway through her earned first year as a cast member of Drag Nation, where she whips the stage into a frenzy each month, never getting comfy and still taking chances at every turn. You want more? Well, she’ll give you more!

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Bella Couture-Le Cher: Competing in Ultimate Queen. The competition was — and still is — everything to me. It allowed me to push myself and step out of my box and not be afraid of being different. I also became more of an extrovert, which is surprising in my world, cause as a bo,y I'm more of an introvert unless I know the person. I never thought I would have made it past half of it due to me being so insecure of myself and my living situation. Once I found focus, it was on, and look what happened!

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

Life gets hard and can be challenging. Losing my home in Denver as well as my car due to a financial crisis/change — this all happened during Ultimate Queen. No one really knew, as I didn't mention it to a lot of people. I didn't want it to be the main focus of my life at the time. The competition was my focus. I couldn't let that get the best of me.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

There are no limitations. You can paint, style or perform in any shape, for any mood that you’re in. It allows you to transform yourself into something you'd never imagine. As far as what keeps me going, it's myself and all the love and support that I have around me, from friends, family and, of course, the fans. It's what makes me happy. I'm starting not to care what people think. This is my art, my vision and my passion. I love performing! You know how a fish needs water? I need the stage!

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

Honestly, all the queens and kings here in Colorado. Each have their own drive, creativity, style and stage presence. The passion and fire in their eyes gives me so much adrenaline, it's addicting! To this day, I still fangirl over people I do shows with. It's truly an honor to be in their presence.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

If I can answer to both, please? In drag, I would like to start hosting my own shows, performing more in and outside of our state, and I also want to finally grace the main stage at Pride this year. Out of drag, I'd like to get my car fixed, get my own place and potentially a new career!

Catch Bella the last Friday of every month at Tracks for Drag Nation, and at many other venues, like Charlie’s and Blush & Blu.

Candy Warhol
Candy Warhol
Nicolas Harrison

Candy Warhol

Just two years ago, Candy (aka Nicholas Lahman, 29) packed her wagon in South Dakota and set her sights on the Mile High City, where she brought seven years of hard-won drag experience to our stages and started pounding the pavement, taking on as many gigs as she could find, impressing folks along the way with her steady strut and a brilliant smile. It wasn’t until this year’s Ultimate Queen Competition that Candy found her spark and showed off her talent, cultivated over years, sewing and designing costumes, a skill she used to rank in the top three. Coming back for Ultimate Queen All-Stars kept her brand strong. After the competition, Candy sewed costumes for many of her sisters, who are now dripping in sequins and dazzling patterns; of course, she saves the best duds for herself, to model and sashay in what could be her biggest and most fashion-forward year yet.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Candy Warhol: The best thing that happened to me was all of the exposure and acknowledgement of me and my drag all over Denver! The Ultimate Queen Competition introduced me to so many friends and really put my art out for the public to see! And winning the Animal and Drag on a Dime challenges during the competition didn't hurt!

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

There were definitely some disappointing moments, but I don't think anything was the "worst" thing. Tough moments make us grow, if we let them. Ultimate Queen All-Stars had its fair share of rough moments for me, but everything happens for a reason!

What does the art of drag mean to you and why do you keep doing it?

Drag to me means self-expression and individuality. Eight years of doing drag has shown me so many of my strengths and weaknesses. I don't know who or where I would be without it.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I don't think any particular queen influences my drag. I much prefer to set my own standard. Here in Denver, I very much look up to the mentors from the Ultimate Queen Competition. Felony Misdemeanor and Victoria Sexton have become amazing friends and sounding boards for my drag here, and the two of them, plus Mariah Spanic, have a level of professionalism, polish and sparkle that definitely inspire me.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal for 2017 is just to keep growing both as Nicholas and as Candy. You'll just have to wait and see what tricks I have up my sleeve — and what fabric I use to make that sleeve!

Candy can be seen at Charlie’s and other fine venues around town.

Cherry Poppins But'zin
Cherry Poppins But'zin
Keith Garcia

Cherry Poppins But’zin

For three years, fans of the Ultimate Queen Competition have watched Cherry (aka Nathan Wallace) grow up right before our eyes. From a wobbly first performance where her high heels got the better of her to top three in this year’s event, Cherry has clocked in and put in the work as one of Denver’s most thirsty — for knowledge — queens, and learned that a little bit of humor can go a long way in becoming a fan favorite. Though eliminated early in All-Stars, Cherry got up again and found herself catching the eye of brassy, bearded mama queen Gabriella But’zin, who honored the young star with her last name and a whole new world of possibilities within the the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire, Denver's longest-reigning charitable drag pageant empire. There her style, wit, wigs and whoopee might just finally put Cherry on top, where she belongs.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Cherry Poppins: The year 2016 held a lot of highs for me, but I would have to say the best thing that happened to me was winning Miss Denver County Fair 2016. Even though the whole thing was just for fun and mostly for kids, when you are there in the moment, you really feel the fire light inside, and it feeds that drive!

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

I also had many low points in 2016. I think the hardest point came right at the end, when my drag home and job — M Uptown — closed its doors after eleven years of amazing talent performing on that stage.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

Drag has always been something very powerful to me. I’ve always thought of drag as kind of the backbone among our community, making it possible for me to be a very flamboyant man or even a very butch female. So to me, drag means power to express one’s opposite gender role.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

While I could list so many queens as inspiration to my art, I would have to say that my first impression to do drag was seeing the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar, with Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo. My mom comes from a small town in Mississippi, so I immediately connected with that movie, and I felt like I could do what those men were doing, too.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My goal for 2017 is to take better care of myself and really take my career to the next level, in whatever way that might be.

Be on the lookout for Cherry’s next show. After the closing of her favorite stage at M Uptown, she’s eyeing some big stages to make her return.

Gia StaxXx
Gia StaxXx
Juan Tarango

Gia Staxxx

One of the Ultimate Queen Competition’s earliest participants, Gia (aka Juan Tarango, 28), helped raise her sisters in the glossy, bossy and controversial StaxXx familia, often pushing her kin in front of her own success. But 2016 saw Gia snatch a golden ticket to be an All-Star, and she used the battle to really stick her neck out and prove that she had a style all her own. Gia elevated her pussy (drag shorthand for taking her drag to the next level) and honed her makeup skills and went full-throttle on her performances. She is never afraid to drop to the floor and kick her way back up, scratching at the backs of anyone not quick enough to get out of her way. Is that blood on her nails, or polish? Maybe it’s a little of both.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Gia StaxXx: The best thing that happened to me in 2016, drag-wise, was getting to do a So Cal Tour. I performed in various club clubs throughout California, and I was able to meet new people and make great new connections! Nowadays, in the drag community, a lot has to do with the people you know and how you market yourself. Making top four during Ultimate Queen All-Stars was a great accomplishment and made me very proud of myself. That competition pushed me and made me into a better performer. I also made my Drag Nation debut in 2016. I had a pretty successful year.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

I went through a very public breakup, and in our community, everyone talks and has their opinion. I lost many people in my life that I considered friends, and it was difficult. But I knew I was strong and that I could surpass this, so I took a few steps back and moved back to Greeley to recollect and find myself. I found out that everything was a blessing in disguise, because if I would have continued to be in that toxic relationship, I would not be the person I am today or would [not] have had a lot of the accomplishments that I did in 2016. So even though it was a slump in my life, I managed to get through it, and I focused on my drag, and it helped me step my pussy game up!

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

The art of drag is beautiful. For a few hours, you get to dress up and be glamorous and change your hair and your outfits, just like the Barbies I used to hide away in my room and play with when nobody was watching. Drag to me is an outlet. It lets me express myself. It stimulates my mind and helps my creative juices run. I continue to do drag because it's a passion, and I want to make it a career. I want to travel and be known and make Gia Staxxx a household name.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I don't have a specific queen that I look up to in drag, but I follow a lot of a queens on social media, and I live for their makeup techniques or amazing costumes, and that's what pushes me to be better and to keep on working to get myself to be immaculate and unclockable and more polished. One thing that I respect in a queen is being humble and treating others like you want to be treated. I was told some great advice, and I plan to live by it: Drag is 20 percent on-stage performance and 80 percent how you treat people — and that's true. With being in the public eye, I want to be a role model and be approachable.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

Biggest goal for 2017: Drag-wise, I want to continue booking out-of-state gigs. I have a performance coming up in February, in Brooklyn, New York, and I want to keep branding myself. This year will be the first year I audition for the Race (RuPaul’s Drag Race). Hopefully that happens; if not, then I'll just keep on trying! Out of drag, I want be a homeowner in 2017.

Catch Gia when she hosts her own show every third Wednesday at Potreros, and look for her monthly show  at different venues, full of local girls with an eye on inviting out-of-state talent to Denver — not from the ranks of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but just as spicy.

HER?
HER?
Rachel Allen Dennis

HER?

Since its inception, centuries ago, the art of drag has exploded with offshoots: bearded drag, drag kings, gore drag, comic queens — the list goes on and on. One of the most fascinating branches is the more recent bio/faux/hyperdrag queen. If those descriptors have you scratching your head, hang on: A bio queen is a cisgender woman who takes her born femininity to the nth degree with drag. Adopting a drag palette in makeup, wigs, pads, outfits and more, she takes it to the stage. The practice is still a little controversial in the community, but for someone like HER? (aka Rachel Allen Dennis, 27), the result is life-changing. Gender lines were made to be blurred, and what better way to express one’s true self than through drag, which was designed to take its artists to their ultimate form? Out of drag, Dennis is a woman. In drag, that woman takes flight and sets fire to the norms that dare tell any of us what is appropriate for our lives and expressions. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage: HER?

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

HER?: The best thing that happened to me in 2016 was by far starting drag. I would watch RuPaul's Drag Race — because there is rarely a drag show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I came from — and think, "Ugh, if I were a man, that would so be my gig." So I moved to Denver a little over a year ago and dove head first into the gay bars — which is never a place to meet a lady, unfortunately. But I got to experience drag shows all the time, live and for the first time ever. I met Yvie Oddly, because she is the friendliest, cutest, most talented and modest queen out here, and I told her I was a drag queen stuck in a woman's body while really drunk at Tracks. She messaged me a week later, asking me to help out in her monthly show, The Odd Hour, and the rest is history.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

Dealing with everything on the inside of me. I did not up and leave Pennsylvania frantically, but I was definitely running away from something, and I don’t want to run anymore. I want to look all my problems in the eye. I feel like 27 is some magic number of life. You either start to get your shit together or...die — just kidding, but wait, maybe? So 2016 was hard, and I'm ready to grow up a notch or two. Also, I have only just begun quitting cigarettes.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

OhMyGahhhd, the art of drag makes my heart feel tingly and my feet feel full. Seriously, I live for it. Drag, to me, is an expressive interpretation of femininity through performance art, while also giving a big fuck you to homophobic squares ruling the nation. I keep doing drag because it makes me feel alive, and I live for the people. There is no better feeling then planning, practicing, painting, styling and then nailing a look or gig. I have so much to show and learn in this community.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

The first time I fell in love with a drag queen was Sharon Needles. I’ve never fit in and was always bullied in high school for it. Sharon owns her weirdness, and she's tough, and I want to be like her in that aspect. In Denver, I look up to this whole drag community, who really, for the most part, welcomed me with open arms. Fontoya Vendetta hardly knew me or what a bio-queen was, and took on the role of my drag mom soon after meeting me. I think queens can see that I really love and respect drag, and I want to contribute to it. In Denver, I look up to Yvie Oddly, Anka Shayne and Jessica L'Whor. Those queens practice, change up looks and slay the stage; also they always answer my never-ending array of questions about makeup, performance and anything drag. I look up to nice queens who care about their fans and push themselves. My favorite bio-queens out there are Kat Sass and Lucky Stiff from Chicago; they werk my pussy out!

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal for 2017 for my drag is to make a name for myself. I want to learn a lot and work hard to see results. I'm entering the Tracks Ultimate Queen Competition, and I'm scared shitless. But if you're not scared, you're not living. Before drag, I played roller derby for three years, so I know a thing or two about getting over that. For my personal life, I want to grow up a few notches and become more responsible. I feel like 2017 is gonna be my year.

Catch HER?, in shows at Charlie’s, Tracks and Blush & Blu.

Read on for more of the freshest faces in Denver drag.

Khrys'taaal
Khrys'taaal
Courtesy of Khrys'taaal

Khrys’taaal

With nine years of experience under her belt, a place in our Diva Dozen list, an extended stay in Drag Nation and a gossip bomb of chatter that a recent disappearance was caused by the hand of RuPaul herself, Khrys’taaal’s appearance on this list may seem like bending the definition of “freshness." On that mysterious break, she says she healed from a torn muscle caused by her show and got her head right after a little too much time spent in the spotlight. Now she's returned smelling like fresh laundry. Her resurrection shows exactly what a performer of Khrys’taaal’s caliber needs to do to guarantee that the new year unfolds for her like a golden set of stairs for her well-toned legs to climb. Snag your Khrys’taaal T-shirts now, kids, before they become collector’s items you can’t afford.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Khrys'taaal: Becoming Miss Rocky Mountain Shining Star 2017 and Miss Element 2017 was by far the biggest blessings for me last year. I always stated being a "pageant queen" was not my line, but I realized now that they were necessary experiences in order to discover different facets of myself beyond just being the "tomboy-Serena Williams of drag" the public is so accustomed to seeing.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

Losing way too many of my blueprints who inspired me as a kid.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

After nine years of being in this game, I no longer see drag as just another way to express oneself. It has elevated my mind and mission to something greater, and that is to continue motivating, encouraging and uplifting those who follow me. I've come to the realization that this is the platform that was chosen for me, and I am duty-bound to use it wisely.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

Even though some have transitioned out of this world, I still look to those men and women who are represented in my name for guidance. As far as other icons, my die-hard faves will always be Miss Jackson (Janet), Selena, Anastasia, The Undertaker [of the WWE], KISS, Josephine Baker and and many, many others.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

To continue being an independent artist and businessman, to continue traveling, especially on a global scale, and to continue setting the example for young people that if you want your dreams to manifest, you have to be willing to step out on faith, by yourself, and make them a reality.

Catch Khrys’taaal the last Friday of every month at Tracks, for Drag Nation, and in Fort Collins, at the Whiskey (every first Saturday) and R-Bar (every second Friday).

Lady Sativa
Lady Sativa
Damien Dane

Lady Sativa

Never underestimate that face in the crowd that looks on at the vast array of queens in this town with adoration, inspiration and a pen, furiously taking notes. Lady Sativa (Damien Dane, 40) may only be eighteen months into her journey, but she comes with an education built on the personalities and lessons of some of our best queens. Once she found her face, she set out to not just be a part of other shows in town, but to create those shows and give younger queens a leg up. She has morphed that desire into a monthly show, Slay It Forward, that pairs seasoned performers with new ones whose eyelash glue is still drying. She also uses her extensive music background to bring a live, not just lip-synced, element to Denver drag. Sativa is making a sweet pie out of drag’s sweetest fruits and trying her best to keep drama boiling in teapots other than her own and keeping things as positive as possible.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Lady Sativa: The best thing that happened to me in 2016 was charity work. I was able to overcome alcohol, marry the man of my dreams, grab Denver drag by the pussy, make some amazing friends and connections, be featured in Drag Nation, and host my own shows. But nothing topped the gratitude and unique fulfillment I found in my work for the homeless, hungry and those dealing with HIV, breast cancer and mental illness. It's when you have someone from the C.H.I.P. Clinic for kids with HIV come up to you with tears, expressing their happiness and telling you how much you mean to them. This lady loves some tips, but no denomination of currency can match the intense honor it is to know you are helping the less fortunate.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

The worst thing that happened to me in 2016 was the realization that there is so much to do within the community. When one starts to focus on helping others, the reality of the problems we face becomes very real. My empathy is rather intense, and I tend to take a lot of the emotional weight of those for whom I care. The divisiveness of the country is evident in the community, as well. It baffles me that more entertainers don't jump at the opportunity to give back when we all have such a great platform. I hope out of that realization I'm able to help bring us together even more and concentrate on things less petty.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

The art of drag to me is the eloquent amplification of my existing showgirl. I see it as being a straight-up superhero. When I spin around and become Lady Sativa, I have the power to pull a smile, a laugh, a gasp, a tear, or nearly any emotion from any given person or the whole crowd. The true art is knowing how to use that power. I do my best to lift an audience out of the funk the day can bring and offer an escape to the weird AF place that is my creative mind. The response is why I keep doing it. Taking in the moment when someone is lost in the euphoria and feeling their oats because you are helping them understand their own version of 'beautiful' and their own version of 'sexy,' combined with the bliss of charity work, is every reason for me to rock on indefinitely.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

For different elements of performance and for drag itself, I adore a few outstanding artists. The power and perfection of Lacey Vanderpump is what motivated me to get on stage in the first place. The impressive rise and mind-boggling ability of Jessica L'Whor is a source of motivation that I draw from daily! The costuming of my sister Candy Warhol, the fearlessness of Evelyn Le Cher, the painting skills and boundless creativity of Anka Shayne, the overall opulence of the magnificent Victoria Sexton, all — goals as fuck. The strength and tenderness of my true friend Lithia Morose pushes me daily. No one has taught me more personally than my sister Vivian Le Cher. She is Denver's Fairy Dragmother, and I would be poop without her. On a national level, I'm floored by Bianca Del Rio, Katya, and my main global diva rockstar bish, Adore Delano! However, the true inspiration comes from the amateurs. Stellar newbies like Ellen DeGenderless, Adryana Slayz,and Stella Ray are the future, and they thrill me in my own art and keep me aligned on why we do this in the first place.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

I want my band Lady Sativa & the Shake to have a national audience, I want to be able to raise $100,000.00 for local charities, and I want to expand my drag venturing more into the wild and weird, and to keep my husband and animals happy.

Catch Lady Sativa soon as she relocates her monthly Slay It Forward show to a new location (after M Uptown’s closure) and when she performs live with her band Lady Sativa & the Shake, every last Monday at Herb’s.

Mani Queen
Mani Queen

Mani Queen

The origin of Mani Queen (aka Andrew Cronk, 24) oddly didn’t begin with a face at all. Mani was a performance concept, a living mannequin in a head-to-toe black bodysuit with no features save for a pair of brightly colored lips for syncing. That’s enough for a couple of numbers, but entering into the world of drag begs for a mastery of makeup arts and of creating multiple paintings over the same familiar canvas. When faced with this challenge, Mani dove in face first. She brought her existing painting skills to the forefront, creating a dark, beautiful creature that is equal parts gore and gorgeous. Once the face was freed from the bodysuit, the rest of her body followed — except for her knees. Andrew was born without knee caps, which you'd never know by watching her high-heeled fantastical performances. Drag can exacerbate her leg strain, kicking up her feet, whether they’re in ten-inch heels or cloven hooves. As a member of the Haus of Lost Causes, Mani is turning her whole life into a work of art.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Mani Queen: It was a good year for me, and so many amazing things happened. The best, though, would have to be competing in Ultimate Queen All-Stars at Tracks. It helped me realize my potential and connected me with so many amazing fans and queens. It really helped push my drag career in an amazing direction.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

With all the terrible things that happen in this world every day, I try not to focus on negative things that happen in my life. But if I had to choose a 'worst' thing that happened, it would just have to be run-of-the-mill heartbreak. It's what happened that may have hindered my life the most. And in the long run, it was for the best. I've learned and grown from it.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

Drag for me is one of the most textbook definitions: a way to express myself artistically. One of my biggest hobbies is painting portraits, and I found drag as a way to just bring that to life. And I keep doing drag, because now that I've created this entity that is Mani Queen, I've built a fan base and a family that appreciates my art, my craft and myself. And even in times when I feel I should just bury her, like the whole no-knees thing, which can be rather painful, I realize I have so many people rooting for me that I can withstand a little pain as long as there is the potential that I could let just one person forget about their problems while I'm entertaining them.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

Oh, my inspirations list could go on for days. It includes the obvious Sharon Needles and Lady Gaga, but then goes on to so many other people. Like queens who have mentored and molded me: Ginger Douglas, Janessa Befierce, Mariah Spanic, Scarlett Red, Felony Misdemeanor and Victoria Sexton. My drag family: Porsha Demarco-Douglas, Frenchie Q.S. Bardot, Coco Bardot, Calypso Bardot, Tilda Maro and Orion Galaxxxy. Queens I've shared stages with: The Staxxx family, the Shearz family, Jessica L'Whor, Kyree Myst, Discord Addams, Deja Dellatero, and it can go on forever. But my biggest inspiration would have to be my parents. They support me wholeheartedly, whether it's coming to cheer me on at a show or to have an Ultimate Queen All-Stars viewing party with their friends at home. They always have my back.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal for 2017 would be to take my art, drag and painting, as far as I can. Perhaps a drag art gallery showing in New York? I'm eager to see what will happen and always hope for the best!

Catch Mani Queen at Club Q in Colorado Springs every Sunday. In Denver, Mani appears at Tracks, Charlie’s and whatever spooky graveyard is near you.

Mileena Lové
Mileena Lové
Jaime Mejia

Mileena Lové

Large and in charge, Mileena Lové (aka Jaime Mejia, 26) is working hard to prove that drag isn’t just for the skinny girls. Starting with a mug that is beat for the gods, Mileena slips her tall curves into some hot outfits that accentuate a set of gams that won’t quit. Her stage-stomping performance lights the floorboards at Charlie’s on fire like a molotov cocktail. More important than her looks is a passionate spirit that has latched onto her newfound drag fame and ability, and a sweet demeanor that is at once stiletto-sharp and soft as a kitten. Though she's currently killing the floor at Charlie’s, soon those walls won’t be able to contain the fire that’s still to come out of this fresh hot stepper.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Mileena Lové: I started drag in June of 2016, so I've only been doing drag for about seven months, but the best thing to happen to me in 2016 was when Charlie’s asked me to work for them as the host of their weekend, just three months into my drag career. I'm so blessed to be where I'm at so soon, with not only my face seen every week, but also to have my own night on Mondays and a show every other Saturday.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

The worst thing that happened in 2016 happened the month before I got hired for Charlie's. I used to work at call centers all my life, until this point. I was performing in a show, and I fell and slammed my wrist into the concrete floor. I couldn't bend it or move it. Call centers require some typing, and when I couldn't do that, it was pretty much a done deal that I would be unemployed and they didn't need me anymore, so I lost my job. But the worst thing that happened in 2016 led to the best thing!

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

Drag to me is literally everything to me. When I first decided I wanted to entertain, I was very young. I used to twirl around my living room and sing everywhere I went. Not much has changed. I'd perform for my mother’s friends at her parties, but before I started drag, I was always getting down on myself, telling myself I was not worth anything. I knew I could sing, but other than that, why would anyone want to book me, because of my size and looks? After starting drag, I can honestly say it's boosted my confidence level. I'm not big-headed, but I feel better about myself and what I know I can do. Being an entertainer lets me show my true colors and brings out a side in me I honestly didn't know I had. I feel like drag makes everybody feel good, including the audience, and they are why I do this. A wise man and drag queen once told me that performance is 20 percent; the other 80 percent is what you do off the stage.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I look up to Kai Lee Mykels, because she's done so much with her drag career. It's amazing to know her and learn from her, as well as Brendan Sullivan, my manager at Charlie’s. He has done so much as well, so soon. And learning the business side of things is also so amazing, which is why I look up to them both.
I get inspired by so many, but I can honestly say my drag mother, Alyssa Lové, has been inspiring me since I first saw her rock her way through a six-minute J Lo mix. I was hooked and in Lové with her ever since. She inspires me to keep changing it up and doing new things.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal is to just continue to grow with my career and make people smile and cheer and understand that being "different" is okay. You don't have to be a size two to slay, honey! If you have a hump on your back, don't worry. Just throw some glitter on it, honey. Go dancing!

Catch Mileena at Charlie’s, where she hosts Undie Mondays every Monday,  and is one of the stars in both Rhythm of Lové every second and fourth Saturday, and Kai Lee’s Kiki, on Sundays.

Piper D'Bulge
Piper D'Bulge

Piper D’Bulge

Piper D’Bulge (aka Caleb Rice, 25), of Fort Collins, is a big firecracker in an unsuspectingly demure package. Conveying both sexy and silly can be a risky mix, but Piper lays both traits on thick. As a member of the Haus of Lost Causes — alongside sisters Anka Shayne, Gemini Skye, Lithia Morose, Mani Queen, Jupiter and Yvie Oddly —  this queen boasts an unclockable face, an offbeat wardrobe and a surprising agility on the dance floor that includes twirling, tumbling, twerking and a few testicle taffy pulls (flying splits) for good measure. Watching Piper pounce a stage may leave you shook, but that’s the correct response to this tiny earthquake.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Piper D'Bulge: I would have to say adopting our cat Charlie. He plays in my makeup, claws at my wigs and has consumed an unforgivable amount of sequins. Our vet said that he is "extremely intelligent" but quickly backpedaled once we told her that he plays with his own poop. Despite his filthy and strange nature, he has been a great addition to our family.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

The worst thing that happened to me last year was the passing of my grandmother, Diane. She was a classy woman with an expert taste in fashion, to boot. Even with only a few weeks to live, she ordered a navy blue beaded ball gown that she wanted to be buried in. She left me with a generous amount of her jewelry that I wear regularly when I perform. I miss her dearly.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

Drag is a very big part of my life. Whether I'm driving to work, grocery shopping or doing laundry, I'm constantly dreaming up new ideas for Piper. As a repressed, gay pastor's son, I spent countless hours as a child in my bedroom, dancing in front of the mirror. I would marvel at Missy Elliott music videos and spend hours learning the choreography. It's exciting for me to see all of that childlike self-expression come to fruition in my performances today. I feel like I've only scratched the surface of my creativity and look forward to continuing my growth as an artist and entertainer.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I'm inspired by all sorts of entertainers. As far as drag queens go, Coco Peru, Imp Kid, Ariel Versace, Katya and Aquaria, to name a few. I also draw a lot of inspiration from comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Gabe Liedman, Jenny Slate, Kate Berlant and John Early. My performance concepts can stem from a song, a podcast, or even something as simple as a piece of fabric. Drag is very elastic in terms of what kind of audience you can reach.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal for this year is to take the Ultimate Queen crown. I'm competing for the first time, and I'm eager to get my heels dirty and slay the competition. Other goals of mine include traveling more and expanding my horizons professionally. I have no formal dance training but love to choreograph high-intensity hip-hop numbers and would be utterly gagged to do that for a living.

Catch Piper D’Bulge at Glitter Cabaret at the Whiskey, and L'Whor House at R Bar, both in Fort Collins, and Yass Queen and Kai Lee's Kiki at Charlie's in Denver.

Veronica Taylor-Mykels
Veronica Taylor-Mykels

Veronica Taylor-Mykels

With a flash and a bang, Veronica Taylor-Mykels (aka Matt Hollaway, 24) zipped into Denver’s drag community and bewitched her way into hearts with a beauteous passion for the art and a smile that just won’t quit. So it’s just a wee bit unfair that on top of a knack for good face, this queen is not just chock-full of razmatazz, but she's also a professional percussionist, to boot, who's been known to bust out a number on a massive xylophone, balance precariously on a tall set of heels and still have time to collect those tips, hennie! Veronica has a wicked sense of humor, which comes out to play in her live Netchix & Chill show, which delivers amazing drag wrapped around a  showcase of the best and funniest clips that have captured the Internet’s attention during the week. It’s like watching your favorite YouTube channel, but with more glamour and minus all the trolls.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Veronica Taylor-Mykels: It was a whirlwind of a year for me. This year restarted my drag career in Denver, and success came to me sooner than expected. March was the first time that I had stepped on stage as Veronica in two years. I graduated with my master's in May, and a week later, I moved to Denver and had my first performance at Tracks. Fast-forwarding, after working at Charlie’s for a few months, I began to get booked in their shows as well as others in the city. In September, the best thing of 2016 happened to me: I was offered my own recurring show at Charlie’s, which is still going strong. I had reached one of my biggest goals for myself and Veronica. I also should mention that I became Kai Lee Mykels’s daughter this year. It’s a huge honor to be her best friend and a part of her family.

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

I think every year has its ups and downs, and 2016 was no different. I experienced a lot of change last year, some of it good, some of it bad. I’ve learned that one of the hardest things you can go through is losing someone you love and cherish, whether it be a relationship, friendship or even a death. Those situations cause a lot of hurt, heartbreak and unwanted change that I am still going through. However, I know that in 2017, I will continue to be strong, have amazing experiences and forever surround myself with loving souls.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

The art of drag means several different things to me. First and foremost, drag is entertainment. I think all performers should want to connect with an audience and make them feel all kinds of powerful emotion. The art of drag to me is also visual art that defies the social constructs that our society has put into place. “Men aren’t suppose to wear women’s clothing.” Who says? I want to question the ridiculous “rules” our society has put into place and exploit them. Drag to me is also just plain old fun and glamorous. Putting on the glitter, makeup, sequins and dresses makes me feel fabulous and empowered. A business suit doesn’t quite do the same thing for me.

I keep doing drag because I am so passionate about everything I just said. I’m a born entertainer; I live on the stage. I want to continue defying our silly rules of society, and it’s simply what I love doing. I love watching myself grow and evolve, and I surprise myself every day with what I can do. And honey, there’s nothing wrong with being a fabulous woman.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I don’t know if there’s room in this article to list all my inspirations and the people who I look up to, but I can name a few. My drag mother, Kai Lee Mykels, inspires me every day, not only because she is a good entertainer, but [because]she’s a good, genuine person on and off the stage, who has believed in me from day one. She ain’t playing around with that “Good Christian Woman” aesthetic. When I met Yvie Oddly, she changed my life. She was getting ready for Drag Nation, so I offered to help her craft a little. As soon as I picked up that hot glue gun, it all came back to me how much I missed the art. And later that night, when I went to the show, I thought, “That’s going to be me one day.” Ever since then, Yvie has challenged me, inspired me, questioned me, and has helped me grow. I also look up to Jessica L’Whor. She booked me in my very first show and saw so much potential in me that she continues to have my back. I admire her level of sheer passion, growth, commitment, professionalism and persistence, which I hope to have one day. I should say I owe my own aesthetic to the old-school drag queens of the South, old Hollywood and Britney Spears.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal of 2017 in and out of drag is to love myself. I think I have lost some focus on me and want to truly find who I am as Matt and Veronica, love him and her unconditionally, and to know my worth. As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?”

Catch Veronica Taylor-Mykels in Netchix and Chill every second and fourth Fridays, and in Kai Lee’s Kiki on Sundays, both at Charlie’s.

Vivica Galactica
Vivica Galactica
Jeremiah Corder

Vivica Galactica

Doing drag is scary. Throwing all caution out the window and learning how to paint a face, lip-sync songs, add some soft shoe while towering in high heels, shape a body, style a wig, and do it all with a smile is not easy. We dare you to try. But Vivica Galactica (aka Spencer Korey Duncan) is up for the challenge and just seven short months ago, she began learning all of these skills while putting herself out there on stages, ready or not. The results have been revolutionary as Vivica shares her daily progress on social media - haters be damned. She does what a lot of queens with twice her experience wouldn't dare do: She books gigs all by herself, on a wing and a prayer, and invites her friends and inspirations along for the ride. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s reaching outside of our gay community to bring drag to the masses, starting a monthly show at the normally straight dive Herb’s downtown, where she and her girls are welcomed with open arms, hoots and howls. Welcome to planet Earth, Ms. Galactica.

Westword: What is the best thing that happened to you in 2016?

Vivica Galactica: The best thing that happened to me in 2016 was going to caucus for Bernie Sanders in March of last year. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't be where I am at today. I eventually became a national delegate at the DNC, which led to me asking Ilsa Fauv to help me create a benefit show to raise some funds to cover a part of the trip. I ended up making my drag debut, with the help of Lacey Drawers, and the rest is history.

What is the worst thing that happened to you in 2016?

The worst thing that happened to me in 2016 was struggling with the growing pains of becoming a new queen. I've gained and lost close friendships. But out of struggle comes growth. Also, when being political and huge into activism and community, having both candidates you spent so much time supporting defeated, it takes a huge toll on you. Moving forward, we've got to stay on top of community and stand strong together.

What does the art of drag mean to you, and why do you keep doing it?

To me, the art of drag is to take self-expression up an entirely different notch. I can create a face and a performance based on a feeling, an emotion, a color, and the list goes on and on. There is no limit to the boundaries of drag, as long as you are serving yourself, you are serving your community. I keep doing drag because it allows me to have a voice that I've found in myself through drag. I can be an activist and stand up for others who need more voices to be heard while also pushing myself to become a better Spencer and a better Vivica. Every time I paint my face, I get better and become more confident in all parts of who I am.

Who do you look up to and take inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from a few places primarily: from the philanthropy and grace of Vivian Le Cher, to the cunning beauty of my drag mother, Khloe Katz, to the incredible talent and oddity of Jessica L'Whor and Yvie Oddly, the vivacious presence of Pinky Pie and Kai Lee Mykels, and the sisterhood of Aera Waters, Eva Lucien, Evelyn and Bella Le Cher. Denver is a vast well of inspiration. In terms of social media, the likes of Hedda Lettuce, Cheddar Gorgeous, Ry Burk, Katya and Ellis Atlantis inspire me every day, because they push their creativity to the max and inspire so incredibly much. I would also be lying if I didn't say RuPaul and Michelle Visage didn't fill me with such a huge desire to be the best damn drag queen I can be.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2017?

My biggest goal is to continue growing and to be the best Vivica that I can be. I am in the process of a challenge I've created for myself called the 40 Days of Face. Everyday I'm doing a new look for myself and posting to social media to show my growth. I'm competing in Ultimate Queen at Tracks this season, and I’m going to put my best foot forward and make it as far as possible.

I'd love to perform in different states and push my looks to different, more cosmic levels. I want to continue to produce shows and give opportunities to showcase local talent, bring drag to new places, and bridge the gaps between the vast communities around Denver. We've got a tough four years ahead of us, and we've got to stand together, because we're stronger together.

Catch Vivica Galactica the second Monday of every month at Herb’s for Bodacious Babes in BroDo, and monthly at Tony P’s  for Queer Pong, with her partner in crime Khloe Katz.

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