Meet 2017's Thirteen Freshest Faces of Denver Drag

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.

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.

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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.



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