There’s no denying the sway that RuPaul’s Drag Race holds over LGBTQ culture. Just 20 years ago, it’s doubtful that a show featuring a room full of performers competing to become America’s next drag superstar would have seen the light of day. But just like Ellen and Will & Grace, the show found its audience and has thrived beyond even the wildest of expectations, collecting a few Emmys along the way.
But the question remains: Why hasn’t a Houston queen made it to the show yet?
That’s the riddle that has plagued Frank Hernandez, also known as the va-va-voom-proportioned drag queen Barbara Coa.
“I was watching a video made by Denali, one of this season’s [Drag Race] contestants. She dropped ‘Chicago Drag Excellence’ and I was inspired [that she featured] a lot of queens who have been on RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as queens who haven’t been on the show but have a big following, Hernandez recalls. “I was so excited, and thought, ‘Why doesn’t Houston have a video like that?’ Then I realized we haven’t even had a Houston queen on Drag Race. That got me worked up and thinking about it.”
Hernandez immediately got to work. As a seasoned drag performer, he asked several of his drag sisters to participate, and to spread the word.
“I started asking the girls that I’ve worked with in the past, but I didn’t want to just ask my friends. I wanted to ask people who I don’t see perform regularly, too. I asked the girls to reach out to other performers and ask them who wasn’t being included,” he explains. “I scheduled 10 or 15 girls at a time in blocks of eight hours. Even during that big February freeze, we still did it. Everyone was excited and getting their costumes ready. Hopefully, it will blow up and get the attention of Drag Race.”
In total, Hernandez asked roughly 40 performers to take part in the video, and more than 30 showed up to help him showcase the breadth of the Bayou City’s drag talent.
Thanks to the work of Jay Clark Films, Hernandez dropped a 30-second teaser video in February set to Idris Elba’s “Girl With The Bat” featuring Shaddow Boxxer and many of the Houston performers. He says the clip has already amassed more than 10,000 views. The final video, which debuted April 5 and is six minutes long, uses “Show Me Love” by Robin S as the lip-synched song.
Hernandez is convinced that Houston is being overlooked by the Drag Race casting team. “We’re not a small city. We’re a big metropolitan city, and we deserve to be there,” he says.
Dallas has been well represented on the show, with queens like Alyssa Edwards, Asia O’Hara, and several more. Austin received its due respect with Cynthia Lee Fontaine. San Antonio received the love when Roxxxy Andrews spoke of her drag mother, the beloved late Erica Andrews. The closest Houston has come has been Farrah Moan’s run. Moan grew up in Spring, but the show listed Las Vegas as her home base.
Small towns are also getting their 15 minutes of fame on Drag Race. Stacey Layne Matthews hailed from Backswamp, North Carolina. Heidi N Closet lived in Ramseur, North Carolina, when she was cast on the show. This season’s Symone currently lives in Los Angeles, but she mentions growing up in Conway, Arkansas, in the first episode.
But the nation’s fourth-largest city still has nada, even though Houston has welcomed the Drag Race contestants with open arms whenever they are touring.
“A lot of these Drag Race girls come to our clubs and bars, and there are a lot of Houston queens who deserve to be on Drag Race,” Hernandez adds.
OutSmart reached out to Casting Firm, the group behind the casting process for Drag Race, for a statement. Although they have not yet responded, a July 2020 Variety interview gives a glimpse into what they look for when casting the show. In it, company president Goloka Bolte is quoted as saying, “The queen needs to have a great story and a defined character. We’re looking for things we haven’t seen before. We look for someone who is unique and has many different skills. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competition unlike any other. We need to know if they can dance and sing. Will they be good at off-the-cuff humor and comedy?”
Despite their absence on the show, Houston’s drag performers have met with great success on the regional, state, and national pageant scene. Most recently, Blackberri was featured in a Facebook Groups commercial during the Super Bowl.
Hernandez hopes the “Show Me Love” video will highlight Houston’s drag talent and remind people that they are ready for prime time. “My expectation is to get the attention of some of the producers. These queens love what they do, and it shows. Drag Race is a big platform.”
He also notes that there’s room to think outside the box. Hernandez’ partner runs Jay Clark Films, and between the two of them, they’ve got the chops to launch their own productions.
“We’ve been working with queer artists, and we’ve been working with our local drag queens, Hernandez says. “If we’re not going to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race, we might as well make our own shows.”
Until that happens, remember to support Houston’s drag performers—both online and in person—with your applause and your donations. Then when Houston finally breaks its dry spell on Drag Race, you might be able to say you helped a local queen on her way to fame and fortune.