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Singing Out Loud

Choir teacher and drag performer Sean Saunders hits all the right notes.

Sean Saunders is a school teacher by day, and a popular drag performer by night  (photos by Angelo S. Ortiz Vela).

If anyone has spotted a drag queen sporting a glittery beard and singing live, chances are it’s Jacklyn Dior. The belting beauty uses her vocal talents to wow audiences—who are probably unaware that she belts it out in her day job, too. Dior, better known as Sean Saunders, is a local high-school choir teacher.

“I’ve been into music since I was a kid,” Saunders says. “Ever since I could talk, I was singing. I got involved in church music programs and grew up in them. I also played violin, so I was in orchestra and choir at school. I knew when I was 15 that I wanted to do something in music, and to teach.”

That was the path he followed, earning a bachelor’s degree in music education at Sam Houston State University and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas. Since 2007, he has taught in Katy Independent School District (ISD) and Lamar Consolidated ISD, working with both middle- and high-school students. Saunders is currently the choir director at Lamar Consolidated High School.

Sean Saunders

“I love building relationships with my students—getting to know them and seeing them grow both as musicians and as people during their time in my program,” he says. “I love picking out their music, because I try to keep their personalities in mind.”

His choirs have earned recognition, both from the community and his professional peers. They’ve performed at Fort Bend’s State of the County address, and at functions for the City of Rosenberg. His choir has also sung for the Fort Bend Christmas-tree lighting event for the last seven years. To top it off, Saunders’ varsity choir was selected to sing the National Anthem at the National Technology Teachers Association conference.

His pupils have consistently scored well at contests, with some making the cut for All-State choirs—an honor bestowed on only the best young vocalists in Texas.

Like most teachers, though, he’s cautiously trying to make sense of what the coming school year will look like in the era of COVID-19. For activities like singing that involve breathing heavily, the chance of spreading the virus escalates.

“I live in Houston and work in Fort Bend County, which is now becoming one of the counties with the fastest-rising infection rate,” he says. “I’m nervous to go back, but at the same time, I want to provide continuity for my students. For some of them, being back in class will be what’s best for them. We’ll have to be vigilant about safety protocols. Lots of washing hands, and if you feel sick, stay home.”

In addition to his school district’s policies, Saunders will follow guidelines from the American Choral Directors Association and the National Federation of Music Educators regarding rehearsal space and what the best practices are.

In the evenings, however, after school is out and whenever the mood strikes, Jacklyn comes out. Saunders describes his drag persona as classy, campy, and glamorous.

“She’s a bit of an extension of myself,” he admits. “Things I don’t get to do in my professional life, I get to dip my toe into as Jacklyn. Putting on Jacklyn is like putting on a superhero suit. I get to be that larger-than-life woman I’ve always admired.”

His first drag performance occurred at the Miss LSVA Charity Drag Pageant, a fundraiser hosted by the Lone Star Volleyball Association. That show happened more than four years ago, and Saunders has been fine-tuning Jacklyn ever since. All of that attention to detail helped him snatch the LSVA drag crown in 2019.

“I started sewing my own costumes, working on my makeup skills, and improving my performances,” he notes. “I also started seeking out opportunities to appear outside of charity events.”

The hard work has paid off, as Jacklyn Dior has slowly but steadily made a name for herself. In 2018, Saunders participated in his first Houston competition at Guava Lamp, performing in Drag It On hosted by Blackberri. After placing there as a semifinalist, he competed in Dessie’s Drag Race and became the second-ever bearded finalist in that franchise. He also won Miss Tony’s Corner Pocket Bearded Queen Pageant, and has had the pleasure of performing on the road in New York City, San Francisco, Austin, and Beaumont.

“I’m regularly booked with Movie Muffs at Michael’s Outpost, and I’ve been a guest performer there for The Broad’s Way and at Piggy’s Kitchen & Bar for Brunch with The Broad’s Way,” he says.

Check out Jacklyn Dior digitally on August 20 with The Bad Kidz Club’s Back to School show on Instagram Follow Jacklyn Dior on Instagram @TheJacklynDior or Facebook @JacklynDior.

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Sam Byrd

Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to Outsmart who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture. Speaking of Houston, he's never heard a Whitney Houston song he didn't like.
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