You likely know Justin Dwayne Lee Johnson by his stage name, Alyssa Edwards. You’ve also likely seen him on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5, RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 2, America’s Got Talent, and his Netflix docu-series, Dancing Queen.
What you might not know is that in addition to being an entertainer, choreographer, television personality, and the owner and director of the award-winning dance company Beyond Belief, he is also the star of his own solo show that he launched in London’s West End—The Life, the Love & the Lashes of Alyssa Edwards. He is now taking that show on a cross-country tour that includes a stop in Houston on June 5.
When Johnson appeared as Alyssa Edwards on RuPaul’s Drag Race, he says it felt like he was living a Hannah Montana life. “There were a lot of what-ifs that were running through my mind,” he remembers. “I was so afraid of being judged by all of the people that I worked with. My dance company truly means the world to me, and I just thought, ‘When these parents find out about this, what are they going to think?’”
But Johnson, a native of Mesquite, Texas, was very fortunate. “When I returned and they announced the cast, everybody in Mesquite was like, ‘Okay…’ The wig was revealed. This is the real person under it all. And they were so receptive. They were not only receptive, but they were just appreciative of everything that I am, and they celebrated my talent.”
Johnson’s career suddenly took off. Before he knew it, London was calling. “They said, ‘We have to do a live show built around his life.’ And I remember going, ‘I don’t want to live there. There’s no way I can just pack up and go. How are we going to do this?’ And I agreed to do a three-week run of this show.”
As complicated as the process was, it ended up being one of the most magical experiences of Johnson’s life. “I challenged myself. I pushed myself to greater heights that I didn’t know I had the energy to get to. And not only did I have the energy to get there, but when I arrived [in London] I remember feeling this sense of accomplishment, and I knew this was just the beginning of another chapter.”
After the show closed and he returned home, Johnson happened to see the Liberace documentary Behind the Candelabra, and suddenly his vision fell into place. “The flamboyant costumes and the shows—I was like, ‘This is what I see for me. This is where I see Alyssa Edwards, my character. Somewhere along the lines between Cher and Liberace.’”
That’s when he realized it was time to take his show on the road. “I’ve got to do this my way, the way I see it and the way I want to deliver it. And it’s going to require a lot, but I know that it’s within reach. I got in my office, had a glass of Moscato, and just started writing. I wanted something that was funny, something that was high energy, something that was authentic, something that was vulnerable.
“The show [covers everything] from my childhood to understanding what my magic power was, and coming out. I’m sharing the life story of Justin Johnson becoming Alyssa Edwards. I took the London show and added more costumes, more dance sequences, more wig changes. I remember saying, ‘This is it. It’s not just the memoirs. It’s the life, the love, and the lashes of Alyssa Edwards.’”
So, what exactly can audiences expect? “It’s all things Alyssa Edwards. Everything that you could possibly think of—an “Alyssa’s Secret Life.” I was asked to describe the show, and I was like, ‘Here’s the thing, there’s one queen for one night on one stage.’ I think this is not just a shindig, this is a spectacle that people are going to absolutely love.”
Even as a kid, dance teachers told Johnson that the world had something big in store for him. And those words, he says, gave him the strength to push through even when things weren’t so rosy. “Dance just gave me a world to believe in, [and a way for me to] tell all my stories. I was really good with hand gestures—hence the drag and all that.
“So it all makes sense now. Everything happens in life for a reason. Trust this process. Enjoy this journey. Throw your hands up like you’re in a roller coaster, throw your head back and giggle, because it all makes sense. I am so full. I’m so happy. Love is alive in my life.”
This article appears in the May 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.