By Donalevan Maines
Fans and pageant judges sometimes disagree (no tea, no shade), but this year, Miss Gay Houston 2015 is also our Readers’ Choice for Most Divine Drag Queen. “I can’t believe it!” says Violet S’Arbleu. “There should be a recount.”
S’Arbleu is the alter ego of Jacob Chaput, a native Houstonian who graduated second in his class (of seven students) from St. Stephen’s Montessori School in Montrose. “The Montessori principle is that you retain more information when you’re learning about something you’re curious about,” he explains.
Chaput loved fashion, so he studied the House of Dior, designed some outfits, sketched items that inspired him, and made clothes out of paper products, while also taking six years’ worth of math in four years because he likes math.
Chaput’s drag persona was born during his freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) when the world-renowned fashion program in Savannah, Georgia, hosted its annual gender-bender ball. “That would have been around Halloween of 2005,” he says. “It was the first time I put on makeup, and I made it a point to return every following year.”
One night while he was in drag, someone asked Chaput his name; he said, “Jacob in a dress.” But soon his eventual sobriquet surfaced, and Chaput’s drag persona took on the marvelous moniker of Violet S’Arbleu—first name starting with a V, to go with his friend’s drag name, Victoria Dubois; surname blooming out of clever wordplay. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he says. “Sometimes, it will be a year later when a friend calls and says, ‘Oh, I just got it!’”
The inventiveness of her stage name complements S’Arbleu’s often-ingenious talent numbers, which have won her the tag of “The Thinking Man’s Drag Queen” and comparisons to legendary drag entertainer Tasha Kohl. “I just adore her,” coos S’Arbleu.
It’s a mutual-admiration society, as Kohl tells OutSmart, “He’s a cute kiddo. I think he’s the cat’s meow.”
S’Arbleu also delights fans by singing live in about half of her numbers. In fact, she landed her first long-running gig in Houston when she sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid at TC’s Show Bar.
The same song also introduced her to audiences at F Bar during a karaoke show hosted by former OutSmart cover boy Tye Blue (who’s now the “assistant/roommate/life coach” to Rumer Willis, who’s starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway).
The following week at F Bar, Blue encouraged S’Arbleu to sing “Over the Rainbow” (which is on Blue’s 2012 CD, along with the Peggy Lee standard “You Give Me Fever,” and an original tune, “A Song from Heaven Down to Earth”). “I did, and I made more in tips than ever before,” says S’Arbleu.
Last October, S’Arbleu moved to JR’s, where she performs on Tuesdays, in addition to another regular gig, “Cabernet at the Cabaret,” at 7:30 p.m. Fridays at Michael’s Outpost.
S’Arbleu also performs often with Dessie Love Blake, whom she considers a favorite among the contenders at Miss Gay America 2016, which will be held October 7–11 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Blake is competing as the first alternate to Miss Gay Gulf States America 2015, while S’Arbleu is representing Houston and the Lone Star State as first alternate to Miss Gay Texas 2015.
“I was very emotional just to be in the Top 5 [at Miss Gay Texas],” says S’Arbleu. Adding to her excitement at this summer’s pageant in Dallas was the presence of Blair Williams, the reigning Miss Gay America, “because she saw me at the beginning,” at a club in Savannah, Georgia, where the pair also performed with The Lady Chablis, who played herself in Clint Eastwood’s 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
At Miss Gay America, S’Arbleu plans to perform “How Lovely to Be a Woman” from the 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie in preliminaries, then hopefully slay the judges in finals with Cunégonde’s coloratura aria “Glitter and Be Gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 operetta Candide.
In the evening-wear competition in Memphis, S’Arbleu will wear the gown she wore to win that category at Miss Gay Texas. “I love it,” she says. “My Miss Houston director, the amazing Lauren Taylor, picked it out. I feel like it was a game-changer. I still haven’t looked at the label—I don’t know how much it cost, but I felt like a million bucks.”
Donalevan Maines also writes about Tasha Kohl in this issue of OutSmart magazine.