In Diva Watch, we profile the passionate, diverse and fascinating performers who light up Denver's drag community, expanding on our Diva Dozen list from 2015 and our new Freshest Faces list for 2016 by asking different queens — from established to ingénue — questions that take a peek beneath the wigs, heels and makeup.
In March, a few dozen amateur and experienced drag performers entered the fierce Track’s Ultimate Queen Competition (which we named Best Drag Competition in town), and twelve weeks later, one performer emerged victorious, ready to claim her crown and place as a new cast member of the coveted Drag Nation (our Best Drag Show). That victor was Bella Couture LeCher (aka Jimmy Gonzalez), a 28-year-old medical professional from Denver who brought a big box of showmanship to the contest, filling every one of her performances with extravagant costumes, fierce looks, hot dance moves and a penchant for covering her bald pate with glittery objects other than wigs. For four years, Bella has been dipping her toe into our drag community — but with that new crown placed on the head of this feisty ingenue, the sky really is the limit.
Westword: Congratulations on taking the crown for Ultimate Queen 2016! What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up the morning after the competition ended?
Bella Couture LeCher [with a big smile]: Thank you so much! That means the world to me! I woke up and thought…what am I gonna do for Drag Nation? The thought of winning was still hitting me little by little.
What does it mean to you to have the Ultimate Queen title? Who was your biggest inspiration during the competition?
It means more to me than anyone could ever know! I’m humbled and honored to be given this amazing opportunity. Not only am I able to represent Denver’s biggest LGBTQ club/bar, I get to continue to share my passion with all my Cooters [Team Bella’s nickname for her fans]. My biggest inspiration is the whole cast of Drag Nation. Every time I’ve been to a show, I always enjoy their energy. You can tell hard work was put into every performance. And if I may, I’d like to give a big shoutout to everyone who has supported me throughout this journey. I'm blown away with all your kindness and encouragement. Thank you! XoXo!
How long have you been honing your craft in the world of drag?
I have been performing in drag for four years. Funny how I started: A friend, whose girlfriend at the time started a drag troupe called "Boys Will Be Boys and the No Dramas Mamas,” had asked if I was interested in performing. Since performing is my passion, I was like “Yaaasss” — well, more like “Yes!” at the time, since that drag lingo didn’t enter my world then. I will admit when I was in drag for the first time, I disliked it. I felt so uncomfortable, mostly because my goods were shoved up my butt! After a few times of being in drag and receiving positive response, I was like…I can get used to this! I had a few queens paint me on several occasions since I knew nothing of makeup at the time to prep me for shows. When I did my own makeup…oh heeeennny, it was a hot mess!
Our troupe mainly performed at Charlie’s, raising money for the community, and went on for several months at a time. After some time, members of our group found new opportunities and we were no longer a troupe. I had a few bookings here and there, but I honestly thought Bella’s career would end after a short amount of time.
There was a moment after a show when a drag king by the name of Stretch Shane Bottoms offered to put in a good word for me with a few well-known queens to help me evolve, if I was willing to put in the work for it. I spoke with our very own Felony Misdemeanor (Westword’s Best Drag Queen in the Best of Denver 2016), and I knew that she was not taking on any new children — but a part of me hoped that I would have impressed her enough with my progress to be called one of her own. And though we did not get to meet up until later on, after I was doing my own thing, I was very honored to be in her presence and get some tips/tricks from her. (Thank you, Felony!) But soon after that, I went on hiatus for a while to figure out if I was even going to return to the stage. I heard about this opportunity to get back into the scene with Pinky Pie’s Show, “Broads on Broadway,” and that's where everything fell into place and kicked off for me.
I joined Reign 42 of the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire in 2015, and that opened doors for me and allowed me to go back into raising money for the community like when I first started, and it was an amazing experience. Finally came my opportunity for Ultimate Queen. I was going to actually do it in 2015, but I did not have the confidence, and I was terrified. But that changed this year, and now look where I am!
Tell us about the first time that you ever performed in drag.
The first time I ever performed in drag was for a breast-cancer event. I still remember that day: I performed Adele’s “My Same” and Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.” I was so nervous I forgot the words to Adele and stopped moving my lips and just smiled awkwardly! I didn’t know the drag rule — to at least keep moving your lips! It was a good time, though.
What is the origin of your drag name?
It took a couple of hours to find my drag name; my friend and co-worker Czandra Blake was assisting with this. At the time, Twilight was popular, and I thought of Bella from the movie (Team Edward, by the way), and I hadn’t heard of any queen with the name Bella in Colorado. It also means "beautiful" in Italian/Latin, and I wanted to be a beautiful queen. My last name was the hardest part; I thought of Bella Chanel but it was not smooth and didn’t give me that pizzazz. Then I moved on to the next idea, which was the brand Juicy Couture — and when I put Bella Couture together, I had that feeling of when you take your first sip of liquid coffee happiness. And I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted my name to be.
What cultural icon do you admire the most, and why?
This is not going to be a surprise to most who’ve seen me perform, but it’s the legendary Britney Spears. She has inspired me since the "Baby, One More Time" era to be the total package. She currently is not the same dancer she once was, but she still has that spark and fire in her, and with everything she has been through and is still going through, she keeps going strong. Her controversial breakdown proved that even at your lowest you can push yourself through the negative to find the positive and move forward.
Explain what it feels like to get into all of your drag and hit a stage.
Once I’m fully dressed/tucked/ready to go backstage, I can be such a dork. I will hop around, and if someone is performing, I will dance to their track — it helps with the nerves. When it’s all said and done, though, it’s electrifying!
Who/what inspires you to keep pulling out the makeup brushes every day?
Recently I have found Kim Chi from RuPaul’s Drag Race to be so inspiring. Her makeup is so smooth, clean and colorful. Also, every single look she creates always has a story attached to it. I hope to be at that level one day soon!
Favorite brand/item of makeup?
I enjoy many types of brands, like Mehron, Ben Nye, Le Femme, E.L.F. (yes, E.L.F. has some good finds and I’m brooooke!) Mac, Nyx, Urban Decay and any glitter product, of course!
Name three very important items in your purse/drag bag you can’t leave home without.
I am horrible and tend to leave stuff at home all the time! I would have to say, though: 1. Jewelry 2. Hair —yes, I still wear hair; I’m not bald all the time 3. Costumes!
When you’re out in drag, what one thing does everyone want to talk to you about? What do you wish they would actually talk to you about?
For the most part, I get good feedback on makeup and/or whatever I’m wearing. Of course, I don’t mind compliments — keep ’em coming! — and I think that people in general start good conversations, even though I can be socially awkward sometimes. So I wouldn’t want anything to change right now in that capacity.
If your drag persona had a theme song, what would it be?
“Work Bitch,” by Britney. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves.
They’re casting the movie about your life; what actor and actress would be perfect to play both sides of your coin?
For boy mode, hands down RuPaul Andre Charles! He is hilarious, and I would like to see that vulnerable side of him. For Bella, Angelina Jolie — I’m thinking of her in Gia; she is such a diverse actress. I would love to see her vision of a drag character.
Which is harder, given your drag profession: tucking or having a relationship?
I have been with my husband for almost nine years, and we have a very good relationship. Tucking can be harder than my husband’s stubbornness, because at least I can zone that out — but the pain of tucking at times cannot be! A big shout-out to my husband, Joe, for always believing in me even when I didn’t, and guiding and supporting me with every decision that I have made. I love you with all that I am!
What was it like growing up gay? Does your blood family know about and support your art?
Growing up gay was one of the hardest times for me. Ever since I was a child, I felt different than other boys in my age group. I knew that I liked boys — I always thought of myself as a Disney princess and would choose my prince on a daily basis! I had no interest in girls besides playing Barbies and singing and dancing with them. Middle school was my darkest, most trying time. I was verbally harassed by male students every single day. It got to the point where I did not want to go to school, and [then] it became so routine and normal, and I just took it. I did have a group of friends who were all amazing, who helped mask my pain and were the main reason I could try and stay strong. (Thank you for that!) I never told my family and other friends that I would get picked on, because I was too scared and didn’t want them to find out about me being gay. There were times that I had dark thoughts and wanted it all to end, and I’m very thankful I was never physically abused.
High school was a different story. When I came out at the end of my junior year, it was because I was so tired of hiding who I was! My goal for senior year was to actually come out of my box and closet and just be free. As soon as I did that, I actually started getting more respect from certain people, and it didn’t really come as a shock to some people.
When it came down to coming out to my family, it was a very interesting experience. I had it planned out and wrote a letter to my mother to leave for her while I was in school, but for whatever reason she caught me when I finished writing it and read it out loud to me. When it got to the part “I am gay,” she paused like she didn’t understand what I was trying to say — maybe she knew and was playing it off — but she freaked out. After that, I just remember going to my room and going to sleep. In the morning I woke up to my mother sitting by my side with a Bible (crazy woman!) and she told me she was talking to a priest for a solution to “fix” me. For several weeks, she continued to ask me why and what did I mean...it was frustrating, as we don’t have the best relationship to begin with.
It wasn’t until my first relationship that my family started finding out slowly; I’m pretty sure some already knew and just needed my confirmation. But it started to became easier to be around my family regardless of what was said behind my back. The hardest person to come out to, though, was my grandma, which was probably like two or three years ago. She is an old-school Hispanic who was raised Catholic, but there is no messing with her, as loving as she is! I just remember her saying, “I know you are, but you’re mine and I love you so much.” It was the most memorable moment in my book. Currently, my mother is more accepting. She may not 100 percent agree with it, but she sees that I’m happy, and I think that’s all that matters to her. My mom knows that I do drag, but she is so mysterious of what she truly thinks. I showed her recent photos of my looks from Ultimate Queen and she was actually amazed.
What does the word “family” mean to you, and have you found your drag family here in Denver?
Family goes a long way. To me, it’s all about how well you connect and interact with one another. I have found a drag family (the LeChers), and we have an amazing connection. We can discuss anything with each other without judgment. I love them so much — so thank you for believing in me, everyone! If I may, though, I’d like to offer one tip for newer queens and kings who may consider joining a family: It’s not about the name. Just because it’s big and/or well known doesn’t define your success. It’s up to you how successful you can and are wanting to be. Put in the time and work, never be scared, and no matter how long you’ve been doing your art, be open to still learn things. You’d be surprised where that takes you.
There’s a bank error in your favor, giving you $15,000. What’s the first thing you’d buy?
Coffee. So I can have all the energy to spend the rest of it!
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For all of the cost - monetary and emotional - and all of the blood, sweat and tears and drama, why do you want to make a career in drag? What does the art form mean to you?
I’ve always had a passion to perform since I was a child. Doing drag allows me to express myself in whatever mood I am in at that moment — whether it’s in a look, a dance move, a song choice, etc. What I love most about drag is: There is no filter. You can do whatever you want, however you want to do it!
When we check back on you in three years, what do you think you will be up to in your drag career?
I would love to get back into school and continue with acting, singing (I love singing) and dancing as Bella. I would also like to consider auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. I would love to experience that opportunity.
Bella Couture will take her place as a new cast member of Drag Nation beginning Friday, June 17, at the blowout Pride show, which also features RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty Bob the Drag Queen, Latrice Royale and a special performance by En Vogue. Get your tickets at tracksdenver.com.