Alyssa Edwards is keeping optimistic in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The iconic drag superstar is finding social distancing a struggle just like everyone else, but she’s finding ways to stay busy, including hosting virtual bingo, watching TikToks and listening to a whole lot of Adele and Celine Dion.
This weekend, Alyssa joins a host of RuPaul’s Drag Race favourites including Aquaria, Miss Vanjie and Yvie Oddly for Werq The World: Battle Royal, a live-stream benefit raising money for local queens who are out of work during the coronavirus shutdown.
Ahead of the show, we spoke to the iconic Alyssa Edwards to find out how she’s feeling about lip-syncing against drag daughter Plastique Tiara, what impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on the drag scene, and how To Wong Foo inspired her career.
Hey Alyssa! How are you doing?
It is a lovely day over here in good ol’ Texas, so I’m trying to be as sunny as the sun!
That sounds lovely. It’s raining here.
Well, I am very sorry to hear that.
How are you filling the time while social distancing?
You know, here’s the thing, I’m gonna be very honest about my experience. The first two weeks were actually kinda nice, because it was like a vacation at home, and I really have taken the time to click the reset button, I’m journalling more, I’m discovering things I have an interest in that I never knew like landscaping, I’ve never really had the time to do this, I’m always on the go. It sounds strange, right, but it’s about self-love and self-care. I’m trying to remain faithful that this too shall pass, and really take the time to focus more on me than the situation. And find that light within! It’s very hard. And then you get into week four and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’ve spring cleaned the whole house, I’ve planted new shrubs and trees, so what’s next?’ Well, I painted my room. I’m trying to find these projects to keep myself busy. One thing I am enjoying though is all the creativity that people are putting out with online virtual content. It’s so cool! People are getting very creative to stay connected.
It’s amazing to see, and you yourself have the Werq The World live-stream coming up – what have you got planned for that?
Well, okay, so when all this went about, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna sit back and watch the first few shows to get an idea of what people are doing’, and oh my gosh, they are incredible. And I’ll tell you what’s even more incredible, we now live in a day and age where we can sit and watch a drag show from the comfort of our own living room! So I asked myself, ‘What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to do Justin?’ And I’ve just moved into a new Beyond Belief dance studio, so I want to show that. The category is, ‘What’s the first thing you’ll do when you get out of quarantine?’ And for me I want to dance, I want to be around my students – although the Zoom calls have been very nice, I need to be back in that work room, because once I’m on stage that is my happy space. So I’m doing What A Feeling, and I’m gonna do it in my studio, we’ve got a bit of a Flash Dance moment! It just sums everything up, what I’m feeling right now, what I’m hoping to feel, it’s perfect, and I’m going to share a little bit more of me rather than me just being outside in my back yard. I’m taking it where I love, going to the studio, and I can’t wait to be able to do that again.
How are you feeling about lip syncing against your drag daughter Plastique Tiara?
Here’s the thing, I look at it all in fun. This is to make people smile, and cheer people up, maybe brighten someone’s day. I’ve always looked at drag as something that makes me feel incredible on the inside, and as competitive as we all can get, it’s times like these where that’s all put way in the back of the closet, and what is in the forefront is the joy we get out of it. It’s gonna be so much fun. I am so proud of Plastique, so very proud. It’s family values! It’s gonna be a good time.
What impact do you think the coronavirus pandemic is going to have on the drag scene?
Well, I think we’re kind of seeing the introduction right now, people are having to really push their creativity. Here’s the thing, do you remember how video killed the radio star? And then reality TV came for the scripted actor? Well now here we are, we don’t have a stage, and if these theatres and big arenas can’t open up until 2021, we don’t just let the art fall to the wayside, absolutely not! We’re the pioneers, we’ve stood the test of time, so we’re gonna put our heels on and we’re gonna do that show in our back yard, and we’re gonna do that show in our living rooms, and we’re gonna have these virtual Drag Cons in our bedrooms. And I’m enjoying the TikToks! These people are getting so creative. D’you know what I watched this morning? I watched a TikTok with stuntmen, it was all these stuntmen doing Mortal Kombat fight moves, they hit the camera and then it goes to the next stuntman who does the backflips and the rolls on the ground, and I’m like, ‘This is what the world needs at a time like this, we need to smile’. It warms the heart and it keeps the heart pumping and thriving. I’m a person who yearns for human interaction, and the FaceTime calls are great, but now the most exciting moment of the day is going to the grocery store. You take for granted that handshake or that hug, and maybe this reset is a chance to learn a little more about ourselves, and to learn to never take these things for granted ever again. Also, it’s hard sometimes to watch the news, so what I’ve told myself to do is limit how much I’m invested in this. Allow yourself an allotted time, and that’s it. Get on a daily routine, get up, say your prayers, wash your face, have your breakfast, read a little bit and then go and turn the music up and dance and move and workout and exercise and keep yourself going. I cleaned out my entire garage and made myself a little fitness centre. Then have yourself some lunch. I’m trying to get on that daily routine.
It’s interesting because queer people have been through so much where we’ve had to fight against the odds and find ways to carry on and share our voices with the world…
…and exist! It’s that saying, ‘I’ve fought worse monsters than this for years’. We know how to win the hard way, and we will get through this, and this too shall pass. Bravo and hats off and virtual high fives to every queen and king and performer and entertainer and comedian who is creating this content, because it’s keeping us all entertained. I’ll tell you, I don’t even find myself watching TV anymore, I just turn on my phone and watch all these Instagram Lives. It’s an interesting and uncertain time, and for someone like me, I own a dance school here, so I’m constantly asking myself, ‘What comes next?’ And I just have to tell myself, ‘Take it one day at a time, just one day at a time’.
What’s it been like being away from your students at Beyond Belief?
Oh my gosh, well first of all it’s been very difficult. We were just hitting our second competition when all of this happened, we were actually going to the competition and they cancelled the day of. Yes, so it’s been very difficult because the kids worked so hard to get here. But I think through the Zooms and the FaceTimes, we’ve connected in a different way and we’ve challenged our artistry and unity in a very different way. One of my students FaceTimed me two nights ago, and she said, ‘Justin, I don’t think I’ve really fully processed how much dance was important to me, I’m 16 years old and I’ve danced my whole life, and it’s not until it’s taken away from you that you realise what a gift and a blessing that is’. I got emotional – and I’m getting emotional right now – because she said, ‘I needed a teacher like you in my life, and if you ever forget that, please let me remind you’. So I’m finding that little bit of light in my life.
Sometimes that’s all you need, just a little bit of light to get you through.
Oh totally, just a little bit, just a spoonful of sugar to get you through, okay! Once we go back to the studio I think this will have recharged everyone. At the end of the day, it’s not about winning, it’s about the experience and the opportunity and the gift.
What are some of your best tips for people struggling to get through social distancing?
Go into your creativity, rediscover everything you’re about, and peel back those layers of who you are. Start a journal, I find that to be very therapeutic. Y’all know me, I can entertain myself, I really can, in fact I’m my biggest fan and I love doing it, but even for me it’s been very difficult. But I’m staying optimistic. You’ve gotta figure out what are the things about yourself that you’re very proud of, that you haven’t even reminded yourself of lately, because those things are very important! Indulge in the virtual shows, you’re supporting these entertainers and a lot of them are raising money for a great cause. Support your local restaurants with gift vouchers and support one another. I hope that we can all stay linked together throughout all of this, don’t isolate yourself and don’t allow that darkness to come in. I wake up every morning and open all the blinds and allow the sun to come in, and I remind myself, ‘You’re going to make it through this, and today is going to be a great day’. We have that choice and that decision to make, so I coach myself, it’s very interesting. Living without the hustle and bustle of being in the airports and constantly being on the go, it’s slowed me down. I’m able to go, ‘Okay, so this is what this thing called life is all about’. I’ve been in my front yard planting and picking weeds, I live in a very family-oriented neighbourhoods so the families walk by and we chat, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what this is like, I’m usually teaching dance and on the weekends I’m not here’. I jog around my block, sometimes I walk, and as challenging as this is we have to remain prayed up and prepped and primed. We can’t allow ourselves to just give in, we can’t. And to all the doctors and the nurses and the people working on the frontline, I have so much admiration and respect and I admire the will to want to help. So much respect and gratitude. People are working overtime and risking their own safety. It’s a little scary… I mean, it’s very scary. But we’re gonna get through this, and I keep telling myself that. With these Instagram Lives, I find myself looking into people’s lives and even though there’s not much going on, it keeps us connected. And with the drag shows, it’s like Alice In Wonderland. The fantasy is still there.
It’s so important to stay connected, and to know that there are so many other people going through the same thing. A lot of people are turning to entertainment to help them through social distancing, so I’m curious… what is your favourite album of all time?
Oh my gosh! Favourite album of all time… it depends on what day! I am a music person, music speaks to my soul. Okay, let me look at my phone. Oooh, this is going to be tough! I’ll tell you, I love Madonna, I love Lady Gaga, I love Celine Dion, I love Adele – oh my gosh, okay, here’s the thing about Adele, here’s a fun fact about Alyssa: I need power ballads to soothe me, and calm me. So whenever I get on a plane, I always put in my ear buds and I listen to her album 25. Hello, When We Were Young and Love In The Dark, it could put me to sleep, it’s so calm, it soothes me. It’s magical. I don’t know though because Celine Dion is so good too! That is a tough question.
So are we going with Adele?
I think we should probably do Celine Dion, the classics. No, actually, say it’s a tie-break between Adele and Celine Dion because I can’t pick. It’s fine, we have two winners, okay, like the All Stars.
What’s your favourite LGBTQ movie of all time?
Oh my gosh, here we go. Of all time? Wow, this is hard. Would y’all put To Wong Foo in there?
That’s it, of all time. And I’ll tell you why. As a little boy, I adored Patrick Swayze. Interestingly, I was allowed to watch it because he was in it, and he was a dancer, and it was also my very first time seeing RuPaul.
So that really set you off on your journey to becoming a dancer and a drag queen?
It completely did. I will never forget, at the very end, when the lady says, ‘Miss Vida, I don’t think of you as a man, and I don’t think of you as a woman, I think of you as an angel’. And Miss Vida says, ‘Well, I think that’s healthy’. And that was it. I’ve always wanted to be Miss Vida. I feel like that is my character, and that is when Alyssa really took flight. I looked at my mother and said, ‘What is this?’ And it was just joy, it was magical. Being a queer boy in Mesquite, Texas, there was no internet, I didn’t have a computer in my house, so it was just me trying to figure it out on my own. And that show was just so full of colour. It’s really something else.
It’s amazing how seeing these things growing up can really influence your whole life.
Well absolutely, still to this day. I haven’t seen that show in years… actually, I take that back! When I went to Camp Tazo, we watched it one of the nights. It’s one of my favourite shows. It’s so awesome.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
I’m doing virtual bingo this Friday, yes, and we’re giving out prizes, it’s gonna be a lot of fun, and anybody anywhere can join in, so I want all the people over there, over here and around the corner to come and join in. What I’m doing with the virtual VIP meet and greets, I’m donating 100% of the profits back to an establishment that supports the community, so this week I picked Roscoe’s Tavern in Chicago which houses a lot of queens and a lot staff. I’m very proud of that.
Werq The World: Battle Royale Live Stream will air at 5PM PDT / 8PM EDT / 12AM GMT on Saturday 2 May and can be streamed worldwide from any device at VossEvents.com.