The Thirteen Freshest Faces of Denver Drag in 2016

Jessica L'whor, one of the freshest and most beautiful faces to hit Denver's drag scene.
Jessica L'whor, one of the freshest and most beautiful faces to hit Denver's drag scene.

Last January Westword shone a spotlight on our local drag community with the selection of The Diva Dozen, twelve of the best performers who represented the past, present and future of an art form that had become increasingly popular in this town. But we could have highlighted so many more; that list focused on just one branch of a much larger tree, a tree with legends and newcomers alike.

So through the year, I offered periodic Diva Watch profiles, devoted to other personalities in Denver's drag scene. While continuing to report from the trenches as I gathered footage for my Denver drag-umentary, The Heels Have Eyes, I saw an abundance of change within the community: Some great performers like Janessa Befierce retired while some moved away, new shows took off while others closed. And as 2015 went on, it became clear that this city was suddenly full of fresh faces, strutting their stuff at the bustling venues around town — whether a tiny dance floor at Charlie's or the Compound, or the epic stage of the coveted Drag Nation show — in order to claim their places among the diva elite.

These new batches of boys always kept things interesting, finding their brushes and learning to paint like the pros, taking the training wheels off their heels they rolled down the runway — and they deserve a list all their own. Like the Diva Dozen piece, the following list (presented alphabetically) represents just a small piece of the bigger picture, the shiniest new rhinestones that caught the light just right and showed a magnificent sparkle all their own. These are the freshest faces in Denver drag — and you'll want to follow them all in 2016.

Alyssa Love.
Alyssa Love.

Alyssa Lové
Alyssa Lové (aka Brandon Gutierrez, 24) is likely to leave you truly breathless after you watch her perform. The pint-sized queen cuts a fiery path on stage, bringing high energy to a barrage of dance numbers that showcase her ability to not only shake every inch of her curvy frame but make you feel every whip and backflip as she sticks every landing in high, high heels. That intensity isn’t lost on stage mom Kai Lee Mykels, who puts her front and center in her weekly show at Charlie’s. “I love Alyssa Love because the b#$*h can twirl and she is a downright good person,” says Mykels. “I always enjoy the amazing energy she brings to the stage.”

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

Alyssa Lové: The best thing was finding myself in truly accepting myself as a person and finding happiness as a gay male and as a female artist. In the year 2015 I also landed a cast member position in the drag show Kai Lee's Kiki as a contracted artist, and I love performing at Charlie’s Denver — an amazing venue to showcase my talent including flips, dips and lady kicks .

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

Well, there was the one show I was in where I slipped on a spilt drink on the floor and attempted to save myself with a split and completely pulled my hamstring! I was out of work and performing for a good two months, but other than that 2015 was a year of growth for me, to encourage myself to be happier and much better person than the person I was yesterday.

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

Eeek... What defines drag? This can go so many ways. There isn't necessarily a correct answer to what defines drag, but to me drag is my form of entertainment and self-expression. I have been a professional dancer since age twelve, and now I'm 24...drag gives me the opportunity to perform and express what I cannot do in words, it's a whole other level of language for me. What defines being a drag superstar? Well, I never define myself as less or better then someone. We are all superstars in my eyes; we are all equal. I consider being a face in the community my duty as a drag superstar. Promising myself to spread smiles happiness, entertainment and "nothing but Lové."

Who do you look up to?

I look up to each and every one of my fellow supporters and family members because without them, I would be nowhere and not be the "drag superstar" I am today. But if I had to choose, my top five it would be my mother Annette, Kai lee Mykels, Venus Sexton, Missy Jo Lové. They’re my biggest supporters, because they consistently keep me together and give me even bigger and better confidence to push in my challenge to becoming a Drag Superstar in 2016. It's my year, the year of "Nothing But Lové."

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

My biggest goal this year, as far as a drag artist, is to run for another title in the pageantry system. I wish to run for a state title such as Miss Gay USofA Newcomer, which is the prize of a pageant held at Charlie’s. I think I'm ready to represent my state and community as a confident entertainer and ambassador.

Drag sisters Amber (left) and Lala Shearz (right).
Drag sisters Amber (left) and Lala Shearz (right).
Roger Vega/Lala Shearz

Amber and Lala Shearz
Drag sisters and roommates Amber and Lala Shearz (Josh Gallegos, 26, and Joey Cordova, 29) emerged on the scene a year ago under the wing of drag mom Valerie Shearz, who put them to work fast in one of Denver’s best new drag shows, Bitchcraft, where weekly the ladies could work on their looks and talents in a curated showcase of other fresh, fierce talents. The weekly grind took its toll on the Shearz family, which decided to go out on top after completing a full year of the program and retired in order to focus on the family members' own growth and glamour in the new year. Mama Valerie couldn’t be happier: “I am proud that they carry my name with dignity and pride,” says the original Shearz. “Also that they ventured off into the pageant side of drag, which is something that I didn't get to do. I’ve never seen myself as a pageant queen, but I want one in the family. Hopefully one of them will make Momma really proud and bring home a title or two!”

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

Lala Shearz: Becoming a Shearz. This family has been my support system over the past year, and when I felt like I couldn't continue they encouraged me to keep going.

Amber Shearz: Building a stronger relationship with my nephew. Now that he is in my life, I couldn't see living without him. He brings me so much joy.

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

Lala: Being laid off from my job. Everyone knows drag isn't cheap, so it has been a struggle. Hopefully the tables will turn soon.

Amber: A car accident that led to a series of car troubles.

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

Lala: I don't feel like there is any definition of drag. I've met and gotten to know a lot of people over the past year who embrace drag differently. Drag is diversity. We are artists and there can be no one definition of art. I think being a drag superstar takes a lot more than stage theatrics: It's an attitude. It takes humility and a lot of love and compassion for others.

Amber: Drag is an art form and I don't think that there are any rules to it. Drag is a form of self-expression, and as long as you have a complete head-to-toe look and stay true to who you really are, then you are a star in my book. My definition of a drag superstar is someone who is always humble, kind and respectful to all queens and the style they choose to do.

Who do you look up to?

Lala: Well, as Joey I look up to my biological mother and grandmother. They are the two hardest-working and compassionate people I know. And for Lala, the answer would be the same, along with my mother, Valerie Shearz, and my “glamma,” Janessa Befierce. They are my biggest supporters and mentors. They've worked extremely hard with their drag careers and taught me to do the same.

Amber: I look up to my family and friends. Without their love and support, I wouldn't be able to do what I love in the drag community. I look up to every queen for bringing their own style and originality to the stage. Each one of them challenges me to try new things and to never stop learning.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

Lala: My biggest goal for 2016... Bitchcraft: the Sequel. Kidding. But definitely looking into developing a new show or two and maybe even entering the pageant scene.

Amber: My biggest goal in drag for 2016 is to challenge myself to be more creative and crafty when it comes to my performance costumes.

Amya Kunt will C U next Tuesday.
Amya Kunt will C U next Tuesday.
Eve Katz

Amya Kunt
You can’t name yourself after one of the hardest descriptions of female anatomy without having a diamond-sharp attitude to not only bring that image to life but imbue it with a truckload of sex appeal to boot. The wild,yet mysterious Amya Kunt (Jody Lee, 26) does just that with every performance; you can feel her power from the tip of her silky smooth legs all the way to her perfectly coiffed hair. She knows what she wants from you and just how to get it, so just sit back and let it happen, sir.

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

Amya Kunt: I feel 2015 was a year of enlightenment for me that showed me where I would like to be in the future and the type of life I would like to build for myself. I'm extremely thankful for the personal growth that I accomplished last year.

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

I don't really think there was a "worst" moment of 2015 for me. I'm all for any negative moments turning into learning experiences. If there was a worst moment, it was so minuscule that I don't recall.

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

I hate the idea that drag has to have specific requirements or limitations. What defines me as a Kunt is staying true to myself and my vision at all times regardless of popular opinion. What works for me doesn't work for everyone, and vice versa, but I feel as long as a queen strives to bring her own unique twist to things, it makes it much more relatable than trying to mimic what someone else does.

Who do you look up to?

I look up to the Nicki Minajs, Beyonces, Lady GaGas and Rihannas of the world. Women who know their own worth and value and are not afraid to get what's theirs. Individuals who are passionate and dedicated to their craft, and paving the way for new and upcoming artists to express themselves however they see fit. I strive to embody that same essence every time I'm in drag.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

My biggest goal of 2016 is to constantly challenge myself and learn as much as possible. I'm so eager to brand myself and make Amya Kunt a business. I have so much to offer and I'm finally ready to let the world in and show everyone what I'm really made of.

The alluring Arial StaxXx.
The alluring Arial StaxXx.
Arial StaxXx

Arial StaxXx
The newest member of the sassy sorority known as the StaxXx family, Arial (aka Jonathan Torres, 24) hit the ground running in her high heels — for the first time ever — at this year’s Ultimate Queen competition. This La Junta native’s premiere prowess took her to the final two; despite not taking the crown, she made worked her way onto the Drag Nation stage and numerous others, ready to impress with her furious moves and, occasionally, her own  butter-smooth voice. In 2016, she’s coming for your heart, eyes and ears.

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

Arial StaxXx: Being able to perform in front of hundreds of people on the Denver PrideFest main stage, feeling their energy. It let me know that this is where I belong.

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

I would have to say one of the worst things I've experienced is the backlash I first received when entering the drag scene as a new queen. It was something I thought would never end, but I continued to fight the stereotypes and do what I love.

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

I don't think anything in particular defines a drag queen besides passion and commitment. There are different beliefs in what is drag and what is not, but I say if you’re doing what you love and loving what you’re doing and feel that it's drag… then it's drag!

Who do you look up to?

I look up to many queens that I have seen pave the way: my (StaxXx) sisters because to me they are flawless, and, of course, my idol, (RuPaul’s Drag Race star) Adore Delano.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

My biggest goal in drag for 2016 is to be able to bring my singing voice into my drag more and perform out of state somewhere. My passion since I was a child was to sing, and now I've opened a new chapter in my life, which lets me expose my other talents. I'm ready to show people the other sides of me.

Daphne DeCoteau.
Daphne DeCoteau.
Paige Eden

Daphne DeCoteau
The precious and precocious daughter of Diva Dozen queen Daniella DeCoteau, Daphne (aka Justin Baker, 24)  blossomed on stage last year in a few limited but entertaining drag-stravaganza shows, including a unique, theatrical spin in a special Fairytales & Fantasies show, where she embodied the best of Disney’s most gentle princesses with the freshness of a just-bloomed tulip. This Pueblo native is ready to let her garden grow this year.

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

I got to leave Colorado for the first time ever in my life. I went to New York City with my best friend and mentor, Todd Peckham (Daniella DeCoteau). Such an amazing city! I can't wait to go back!

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

Todd went through a gall bladder surgery in September. It’s pretty common, but the ER visit was a little traumatizing as Todd ended up going code blue due to an unknown opiate sensitivity with the pain medication. Thankfully, he is doing great now.

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

Drag for me is a way to be creative and make a voice for myself where in everyday life I am not often heard. It’s a way to be expressive through performance and art.

Who do you look up to?

Although I have had many individuals influence me in my life, who I look up to the most is my Todd. He has pushed me to being a better performer and a better person. We have been through a lot together and I honestly would not be where I am today, or the person I have turned out to be, without him. Who can say if I have been changed for the better — but, because I knew him, I have been changed for good.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

My goals for 2016 would be to push myself in physical fitness and a healthier lifestyle, continue to entertain audiences with drag and perform in more shows in Denver, along with all of our city’s great talent. Oh, and travel more.

The ferocious Jessica L'whor.
The ferocious Jessica L'whor.
Jessica L'whor

Jessica L’whor
This fierce and feisty 22-year-old phenom has nearly set her high heels on fire with the mileage she's put on stages all over Colorado, from her home in Fort Collins, where she continues to keep that scene’s fires stoked, to the many venues of Denver. Honing her skills sharper than a stiletto, she takes risks worthy of the L’whor name, long may it reign — all while completing her degree at Colorado State University Fellow Fort Collins pal and Diva Dozen mentor Khryst'aaal has nothing but kind words to say about the nimble newcomer: "Her determined work ethic reminds me of myself at that age; she is truly unashamed and unafraid to make her goals become reality."

Westword: What was the best thing that happened to you in 2015?

Jessica L'whor: The best thing that happened to me in 2015 was probably being welcomed to be part of the cast of Felony's Cellblock, a show produced by Felony Misdemeanor. In all honesty I tried for a little while, before the start of 2015, to get into shows in Denver and no one would give me a chance on stage. In all respects, I was extremely new to the drag scene, but I still wanted the opportunity. After asking a couple of times, Felony made me part of her show and then welcomed me to be a cast member. After that, it opened so many doors. I felt like people started taking more chances on me in other shows that I really wanted to be part of and really wanted to experience. I am so grateful for that one chance Felony gave me to be part of her cast. Still, the best moment of 2015 had to be being on the stage of Drag Nation for the first time. I remember watching Drag Nation on Halloween two years ago, just when I started drag, and saying ,"I will do whatever it takes to get on that stage." To have it finally happen last June was an experience that I have never had in my drag career, and gave me a feeling that never felt so good.

What was the worst thing that happened to you in 2015?

Losing my grandpa in late July. My grandpa was one of the most influential and inspirational people in my life. He was my male role model growing up, and although he was very set in his ways, he was extremely willing to talk, listen, understand, offer advice and modernize his ways to better relate to who he was talking to. This man was selfless, compassionate and continued to help other people before needing to help himself. HIs passing continues to be the hardest thing I've been going through, and as much as I wish I could have come out to my grandpa before he passed away, I know that deep down he loves me no matter what. He continues to remind me that life is too short, and to embrace the moments and people who help make life worth living. It is because of him that I try to constantly think about and love this quote by Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

What defines drag and being a drag superstar to you?

Drag, in my mind, stands for Dressing to Represent Another Gender and because gender is such a broad spectrum and not binary, to me it is anything you want it to be. It can be as extreme or as simplistic as you would like to make it with characteristics that are socially seen as masculine or feminine. It can also be a combination of the both! The drag community, in my opinion, needs to recognize that there is more than drag queens and kings, but there are performers who identify as androgynous, faux queens, faux kings, etc. that are looking for an outlet of expression outside the social binary.

To me professionally, a drag "superstar" simply is someone who is booked all over the world, is a celebrity, and/or is someone who is seen in the drag world as famous. On a personal level, everyone can be a drag "superstar." Everyone has the ability to better the people around them, innovate drag, genuinely connect with people, try new things, be critical and supportive, provide opportunities, be humble, take risks, and, most important, have fun/love doing what they do!

Who do you look up to?

I feel like the odd queen out because I don't look up to any RuPaul’s Drag Race queens like most performers I have met. From the time I started to now, I still look up to performers that I have had amazing interactions, memories and experiences with, and have been inspired by their unique skills/talents. I look up to the first queen I ever talked to, Victoria Sexton, and the first queen I ever saw perform, Ginger Douglas. I look up to the queens that I first started with in Fort Collins (Khrys'taaal, Alanna, Natalia and Anya) for being mini mentors and just watching them do drag and doing their makeup. I look up to the Shearz family and LeCher family who truly represent being genuine and community-building. I look up to show directors, hosts and DJs like Felony, Kai Lee, Erik, Mandi, Marki, DeMarcio, Matt, Duane and Le'D for being positive forces, taking a risk on me, and providing me amazing opportunities. I look up to the absolutely creative and amazing performers like Janessa, Bootzy, Mia, Andrea, Yazmeen, Coco, Vandy, Jesse, Kiera, Kiana, Odette, Mani, Yvie, Mariah, Daniella, Jordin, Jaime and so many others for indirectly pushing me to want to be better and showing me different styles of what drag is and can be! I look up to the queens who paved the way for drag to even be a thing here like Nina, Rosa, Brittany, Krystal, Cleopatra and so many more. In addition to those individuals, I look up to so many other performers I have had the privilege to work with, interact with, and especially all the new performers getting their name out there.

So many people have helped me grow as a performer, pushed/challenged me to be better, encouraged and supported me, inspired me, shown me an immense amount of kindness, and/or have been true friends to me… for all these reasons I can't help but say I honestly and genuinely look up to so many different people in the drag community.

What is your biggest goal, in or out of drag, for 2016?

My biggest goal out of drag is to graduate in May from Colorado State University with my bachelor’s and take my life to the next step. For the two and a half years I have done drag, my goals have always been to continue doing one big thing I have been doing, try something completely new and to challenge myself to improve myself further. My "continue doing one big thing goal" is that I want to continue to be on the PrideFest main stage. I have been honored and privileged to have been provided the opportunity and to work with amazing people to make this goal successful the last two years, and I hope that I can continue to be part of this amazing Denver tradition for 2016.

My "trying something new goal" is to learn more and get involved in the pageant world. I have started looking at a couple different pageants that I would like to compete in and run in. This is extremely new for me and will help me learn about a side of drag I don't practice regularly. My "challenge myself goal" is to explore and teach myself more about wig styling and sewing. These are skills I would really like to focus my time on and find the resources to become more successful in these areas to further my drag career.

In addition to these main goals, I have a few other goals of coordinating the largest and biggest university drag show that Colorado State University has ever experienced. Also, to produce/coordinate a show in Denver. In addition, continue being part of the amazing show families that I have been. And finally, to travel to a couple different states to perform.

Keep reading for six more fresh faces...


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