If you’ve ever ventured out into the gay club scene in Houston, you’ve likely run into the colorful, high-energy Muffy Vanderbilt III. Starting this month, she’s headed for summer camp as she makes her small-screen debut in the LGBTQ reality series Camp Wannakiki.
Vanderbilt, a Houston native, is the latest queen to compete on Camp Wannakiki, a streaming show where several drag queens see who can last a week at a summer camp and claim the title of “Queen of Camp.” For Vanderbilt, this is the culmination of a journey that began several years ago during her time in the theater.
“Once upon a time, I was in the theater arts,” she says. “I actually have done professional theater for most of my adult life, and I was in a regional production of Cinderella, playing the ugly stepsister. Having recently gotten out of a very toxic relationship, I started slowly inching into the gay scene in Montrose and had a realization that I could perform all the time through drag. The rest is herstory!”
Vanderbilt says that her drag name and the larger-than-life persona came from her two favorite things: Legally Blonde, and money.
“The Vanderbilts are a very rich, posh family in the real world,” she explains. “Very Ivy League. And Muffy is a vaginal joke made in Legally Blonde about a stuffy rich girl. I like to think of Muffy as a Disney princess who was raised in a unicorn-colored cabbage patch of cotton candy and Whataburgers.”
Like many in the gay community, Vanderbilt is a massive fan of pop culture and film, so her persona is also very referential.
“I love to pay homage to films and movies,” she says. “I also love pop culture and high fashion. I think our current culture revolves around pop culture, and I think the gay community in particular uses these art forms to heal and thrive since there is still so much hate in our world.”
From her personality to her love of pop culture, Vanderbilt says she knew Camp Wannakiki would be a natural fit for her when the opportunity arose.
“I have auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race three times now,” she says, “and it is still my dream to walk that mainstage. But I am also impatient. I believe we make our own success and opportunities if we want them. So when I heard about the Camp Wannakiki streaming series, I watched a few seasons and thought it matched my personality and would be a lot of fun. I decided to audition and made it on my first try!”
Vanderbilt says viewers of this season’s Camp Wannakiki can expect camp at its finest.
“This season, in particular, is very elevated,” she says. “It was just a crazy shoot. I legit had to sleep on a child-sized bunk bed in a cabin with no air conditioning for two weeks with five others and one bathroom. But I wouldn’t change anything for the forever family I got in the process!”
Vanderbilt’s goal after this season airs is to continue to expand her brand, noting that Houston’s gay scene has been a great place to start.
“I love Houston, and we have a really dynamic scene,” she notes. “There is something for everyone. I am very lucky to come from a place that has such high standards. When I travel, I notice the other scenes don’t all have the high standard that Houston sets. So, I am thankful to all the legends we have here that set us up for success—Dina Jacobs, Tommie Ross, Dejzah Opulent Mirage, and my drag mom, Dessie Love Blake!”
Vanderbilt has slowly gained confidence in herself during her last few years in the Houston drag scene. “This whole experience has taught Nick (the person I wake up as in the morning) so much about social interactions and the power of self-esteem,” she says. “Drag allows for a power dynamic and confidence that your out-of-drag body may not always know. You slowly learn to channel that power into your real life. Drag is a very powerful thing.”
In spite of the recent demonization of drag queens by far-right Republicans, Vanderbilt remains optimistic that the country will rally behind any drag performers facing prosecution, and choose love over hate.
“I am grateful that I have not been personally affected yet,” she says. “Now, more than ever, we have to stand with our trans community and our drag queens. They need us, and we need them. Nobody should be under attack for being authentically themselves.”
Going forward, Vanderbilt is focused on building her persona online and becoming a future RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant. “I’m hoping Ru is paying attention,” she adds. “I am ready to pull a Jade Jolie! At the moment, I’d just love to get to 10,000 Instagram followers!”
Camp Wannakiki viewing parties will be held at KIKI Houston,
2409 Grant St., on Fridays at 8 p.m. starting June 7.