For anything or anyone to last 25 years in today’s day and age is pretty significant. This goes double for the Miami LGBT scene, where you can be here today and gone tomorrow in the blink of an eye. One performer in the community who has beat the odds and finds herself busier than ever after 25 years in the business is comic drag queen Shelley Novak.
“I’ve been so busy and so thankful at my age to be getting the work that I’m getting and to stay relevant. It’s so heartwarming,” said Novak, known out of drag as Tommy Strangie.
Novak celebrates her silver anniversary recognizing drag entertainers and club kids of the community with the 25th annual Shelley Novak Awards.
The event will be held Thursday, March 1 at Kill Your Idol, 222 Española Way in Miami Beach. Novak said this year, she wanted to poll the community at Wigwood, “pick everyone’s brains, everyone on that scene” and have them choose the nominees for such categories as best drag name, best drag venue, best costumes, best make-up and most glamorous.
“It helps me because I don’t have my finger on the pulse like I used to,” Novak said. “These kids know and I want to gear it all towards these new, young kids that are coming up. My favorite category is the best new artist because I like to give these young, up and coming, hungry kids a chance to get up and speak. These are the kids that are going out there and performing for drink tickets or maybe a cheeseburger. They’re the ones wanting to keep these people’s parties going.”
Novak knows all about starting out new on the scene. She traveled from Boston to Miami Beach in October 1992 and “never looked back. Miami Beach is my home. There’s nothing like it,” she said.
Novak said she started out as the typical drag entertainer, trying to lip sync and “fit into that mold of the [drag queens] of that era.”
“They would go and perform and lip sync and they were amazing at it, but I was just a terrible lip-syncer,” Novak said. “And one day the cassette broke ala Milli Vanilli. It was at Gloria Estefan’s hotel and she actually was the one to say ‘listen, your voice might be terrible but get out there and sing. Don’t lip sync anymore. Just do you.’ And that was the end of that.”
Novak said she’s always been much better talking.
“Cocktail conversation was always my gig being an emcee,” she said. “But you know, 20 years ago it was edgy for a guy to throw on a dress, hit a speed and talk a mile a minute. That was edgy. Nowadays, drag is a different world and you have to find your niche.”
Novak said the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has changed things so much where today’s queens have to “step it up.” But she adds the “nightlife is one big apple pie, and there’s a piece for everybody. There’s enough pie for everybody.”
In 2016, Novak admitted she was “floundering a little bit.” It was during that time Athena Dion, anther local drag queen, asked her to help launch a new party at Score called The Lab Fridays. On Jan. 26, the weekly event celebrated its two-year anniversary.
“I’ve always loved Shelley. She was one of the first drag queens I saw when I first came out onto the scene, so I wanted to make her a part of my project,” Dion said. “She had a lot of energy. She was coming out of a whole new part of her life, so she had all this passion like a new queen. She was ready, she dove into it, and it just blossoms from there when you have that passion. So it worked really well.”
Novak credits Dion and Score for her comeback. She even ended up winning Local Hero at the Pink Flamingo Awards.
“2016 was a big comeback year for me,” Novak said.
Today, Novak hosts a number of regular gigs, including Not Your Standard Bingo on the last Sunday of every month at The Standard Spa in Miami Beach; Hollyweird Karaoke at PRL Bar in Hollywood every Monday night; and Karaoke Circus with “startender” Karloz Torres at Kill Your Idol every Thursday.
“That staff and those people at Kill Your Idol...the customers and the regulars, they’re like family,” Novak said. “It’s such a great gig. It’s my bread and butter.”
Speaking of bread and butter, Novak picked up another gig in December, Home Cookin’ at Rácket in Wynwood. A reboot of the late 90s party from 20 years ago, Rácket’s Home Cookin’ offers free burgers and free barbecue every Tuesday with an open bar for two hours, “which is unheard of,” Novak said.
“So they’re giving you dinner and drinks while surrounded by beautiful people at a great spot.”
There’s no signs of stopping for Novak, who just last month performed at the 20th anniversary live concert for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at Gramps.
“I am busy and I’m loving it,” Novak said. “I’ve been really lucky. To be able to do what you love is not work. And I’m happy to be able to do it and make people laugh.”
The nominees for the 25th annual Shelley Novak Awards are:
BEST DRAG NAME: Gift with Purchase, Queef Latina, Helen Degenerate, Dang-Ho Yu Sickning, Hairy Bradshaw and Charlotte Shottgun.
BEST COSTUMES: TP Lords, Kurt Fowl, Helen Degenerate, Andro Gin, Queef Latina and Jahsyra Pryce.
BEST CLUB KID: Delishiz Li, Kunst, Kurt Fowl, Lisa Limbaugh and Rubberchild.
MOST GLAMOROUS: Miss Toto, Kat Wilderness, Poizon Ivy, Athena Dion and Kourtney Sheers.
BEST LATIN PERFORMER: Juleisy Y Karla, Adora, Marytrini, Josefina La Mujer de Los Globos and Mariloly.
BEST MAKE UP: FKA Twink, Morphine Love, Persephone Von Lips, Jupiter Velvet, Andro Gin and Kurt Fowl.
BEST NEW ARTIST: Dasha Dixx, Andro Gin, Candi Dixxx, Celia Booze, Sensitive Black Hottie and Dang-Ho Yu Sickning.
BEST FORT LAUDERDALE QUEEN: Haus of Piss, Amanda Austin, Erika Norell, Nicole Halliwell and Daisy DeadPetals.
BEST DRAG VENUE: Gramps, Flaming Classics, Kill Your Idol, Molto, Counter Corner and the Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood.
BEST PERFORMANCE / NIGHT: Celebrity Deathmatch: Super Mario at the Hangar; Wigwood 2018; Elishaly D’Witshes climbs a double decker bus; Persephone Von Lips performs “21 guns;“ Kunst performs “All by Myself;” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” 20th anniversary live concert at Gramps.
BEST WIGS: TP Lords, Nelly Norell, Queef Latina, Athena Dion and Serena ChaCha.
BEST DRAG KING: Andro Gin, Ded Cooter and King Femme.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Helen Swan and The House of Lords.