Houston Drag Race fans… start your engines, because one of our favorite local divas is vying for the Season 15 crown. Mistress Isabelle Brooks is Houston’s first-ever contestant to appear on the Emmy Award-winning show.
“I am so excited for this season because I know I’m going to definitely represent not only Texas, but Houston specifically,” Mistress says. “Being given the opportunity to be on this platform is crazy, and I feel like I represent a lot of minorities. I represent Latinos, the plus-size performers, and I’m the first from Houston.”
The weekly show, and its counterpart Untucked, start airing on Friday, January 6, at 7 p.m. (CST) on MTV. This season also brings twists and turns that will keep fans gagging. In addition to regular judges RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, and new rotating judge Ts Madison, celebrity guest judges Ariana Grande, Janelle Monáe, Julia Garner, Hayley Kiyoko, Maren Morris, Ali Wong, Amandla Stenberg, Harvey Guillen, Megan Stalter, and Orville Peck are scheduled to appear.
Also, the increased number of contestants (16 in total) and the largest cast prize in show herstory ($200,000) will bring extra thrills—not to mention the show’s landmark 200th episode.
The show has piqued Mistress’ curiosity for more than a decade. “I remember when I was about 14 years old, I saw GIFs of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4 on Tumblr. Some friends sent them to me saying, ‘You should watch this show! You’d love it!’ I instantly fell in love with not only the show, but the art of drag itself. It combined so many of my interests into one big self-expression, and I just remember it being so magical to me,” she recalls.
Mistress first started dabbling in drag around age 16, and by age 18 she was performing professionally.
“When I first started, I would see Mistress as this ultimate character—almost like an escape. But as time went on and people got to know me outside of drag, I took the lessons I learned as Mistress and used them to be a business-savvy person, to connect with people, to network with people, and so forth,” she explains. “I learned that the things people love about Mistress can apply to my life outside of drag, as well. Mistress taught me how to be a man because I’ve had so many different life lessons from drag.”
It was an experience in high school that gave her a head start on her eventual drag career. “When I was in high school, I also attended cosmetology school. Hair has always been a passion of mine, and before I started performing in drag, I envisioned a career as a hair stylist. My love for hair led me to styling all my wigs, and queens would always ask me, ‘Girl, who did that hair?’ Once it caught on, and through word of mouth, I was doing hair for queens all over,” she recalls.
At the beginning stages of her drag career, styling wigs was something she would do mainly for herself and a select handful of queens. But in December 2019, tragedy struck and she was forced to rely on her talent at making wigs instead of performing in drag.
“I broke my ankle and the pandemic happened, all at once, so I had to find a way to take care of myself financially. I started hustling and pushing out wigs to queens all over the world. It truly feels like overnight my business skyrocketed, and weirdly enough, one of the darkest moments in my life brought me to exactly where I was supposed to be,” she says.
Before Mistress started making a big name for herself on the local drag scene, she enjoyed the anonymity of performing in drag. “I loved people not knowing who I am outside of drag. But now that time has gone on and I’m so deep in the scene, of course everyone knows me. [But at first], I could hook up with someone on Grindr, and then I’d see them later on my show, and they’d tip me with no idea they already knew me,” she adds. “It speaks to the true transformation of drag—the fact that I can pile on makeup and people have no idea who I am.”
Behind the makeup, though, Mistress has had to deal with less pleasant times, and she believes she was chosen by the Drag Race casting director, in part, because of her transparency in discussing those trials and tribulations.
“People think that going on RuPaul’s Drag Race is the end all and be all. Yes, the show is like the Gay Olympics, but people forget that it is also a reality TV show that focuses not only on our drag but also on our life outside of drag,” she explains. “In my audition tape, I was someone who was very transparent with my life in and out of drag. I put myself to the forefront and shared stories that I know are going to make people uncomfortable and that were hard for me to tell, but they are stories that need to be told. I represent people who aren’t accepted by their families [because they] perform in drag and they’re gay. I represent people who deal with religion, with their families, and being shamed.
“I want to show people that there is happiness at the end, and I think that my transformation from [my male persona] Israel into Mistress is what makes me stand out. When someone sees my drag, I would like to believe they see the passion behind it,” she adds.
As RuPaul famously says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love someone else?” Mistress has indeed learned to love herself, despite the hardships she initially encountered.
“The most powerful gift you can give yourself is to truly love yourself and to believe in yourself. I think that’s the key to anything in life, and that’s the key to success. I feel like if you’re not your own biggest cheerleader, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I think that drag, and being on Drag Race, has taught me to never doubt myself and have fun—because when I’m having fun, it’s going to show,” she emphasizes.
As for what will happen next, Mistress will simply be rolling with the punches. “I’m open to whatever the future holds. I would love to be back on TV, or maybe in movies. I would love to come out with a lot more online content. I’m working on releasing my new wig line. I have a lot of things in the works, and the future looks so bright,” she reveals. “I’m so thankful for everyone who has been along on this journey with me, because if it wasn’t for everyone in Houston—the people I grew up with here, and the queens who made me the performer I am—I would not have been able to do any of this. I’m very thankful, and I look forward to the future.”
But before this self-described Heavyweight Champ takes on the world, we first need to find out what fate awaits her on the upcoming Drag Race Season 15. She remains tight-lipped on how she fares in the pre-recorded episodes, so of course she encourages everyone to watch the show and enjoy. (Mistress is currently trying to work out a deal with JR’s and South Beach to host some Drag Race viewing parties.)
“I’m excited that we have a few of the girls coming in, which will be announced soon. Of course, I will be traveling quite a bit, but whenever I’m in town, I’m going to definitely be at the parties and on Zoom. You’ll see some of the girls from the upcoming season, some of the popular girls from prior seasons, and some of my local favorites hosting in my absence and performing while I’m not there,” she Ru-veals.
Until then, there’s still time to see her locally. She is currently the show director at JR’s on Monday nights for Where the Boys Are, and she performs at South Beach on Wednesday nights for Millennial Dolls. She is also one of the original cast members at Hamburger Mary’s, where fans can see her every weekend.
This article appears in the January 2023 edition of OutSmart magazine.