Tlo Ivy doesn’t consider herself a veteran in the South Florida drag scene. But for the last eight years, the transgender entertainer has been wowing audiences with her Britney Spears and Selena Quintanilla-inspired performances at Palace Bar, Azucar and Georgie’s Alibi, among other venues.
“I’m not a vet. To me, vets are like TP Lords, Poizon Ivy, Erika Norell,” said a humble Ivy. “I’m not a vet yet. I’m still learning and I’m still growing.”
Ivy started transitioning at 15 and doing drag and “taking it serious by like, 21.” She says she does see a younger generation that is coming forward, “which is great,” Ivy said. “I’m not going to be young forever and they have to keep the legacy going.”
In the Miami LGBT scene, one group of drag queens have emerged alongside the long-established Haus of Lords, which include drag legend TP Lords, “Dark Beat” singer Oba Frank Lords and Score “startender” Roger Lords. The newbies are known as the Haus of Kunt, including star “Kunts” Neon Miller, LaDonna Sucia and Dasha Sweetwaters.
Since this new “Haus” formed, the girls have kept busy, thanks to venues like Score, which hosts Huntee on Sundays; Twist, which hosts Pop Mondays; and longtime promoter Tony Ferro, who started the “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” pool party and T-dance at the Washington Park Hotel across from Twist on South Beach. While Miller and Sweetwaters owe their drag success to Miami, the two queens are ready to leave the Sunshine State for Sin City. Both are planning to leave for Las Vegas in October, even starting a GoFundMe page to make it happen.
Miller says she’s always wanted to entertain, “ever since I can remember.”
“As a young child at age 5, I would dance around while wearing my mom’s red pumps,” she laughs.
“My drag mother, Dasha Sweetwaters, and I, when we first became friends, she would always nag and nag about how we should try drag and this and that, playing around,” Miller continues. “But eventually we started this journey and we both took it very serious because deep inside we both always wanted to show the queen that we had hidden inside.”
For 22-year-old LaDonna Sucia — the only newcomer to be nominated for Best Miami Drag Queen in South Florida Gay News’ Best of 2017 list alongside long-established queens TP Lords, Tiffany Fantasia, Athena Dion and Tlo Ivy — the “party is just getting started.”
She considers Miller her drag mother, as she and Sweetwaters were the ones who showed her what the drag and nightlife scene in Miami was all about. Now, Sucia can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Drag has already become a part of my life and my identity,” Sucia said. “It has become an artistic outlet for me. I don’t think I could ever leave it. In 5-10 years, I want to be able to have my own drag queen/theatrical production company. Drag and theatrics have always gone hand in hand, and I think for a collective of Miami queens to come together and tell a story is pretty exciting.”
These newbies wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for veterans like Shelley Novak, Daisy DeadPetals, Athena Dion and Fantasia Royale paving the way for them.
Novak moved to Miami Beach from Boston in 1992. “My best friend, the artist DEZI, put me in drag in 1992 at Mark Leventhal’s Tea Dance. The rest is history,” Novak said.
Today, the comic drag queen — known for hosting her annual Shelley Novak Awards, honoring the best in the LGBT community — hosts Karaoke Circus with Karloz Torres every Thursday at Kill Your Idol and once a month hosts bingo at the Standard Hotel, both on Miami Beach.
“You could make a list of every bad thing you can think of in the world and it’s probably already happened to me,” Novak said. “But I don’t dwell on sadness. I’m here to make people smile and laugh because life is too short. I’ll probably still be singing badly and telling unfunny jokes as they seal my coffin up,” she laughs.
DeadPetals, like Novak, has also had a long career in the South Florida drag scene. She started performing on South Beach in the 1990s with her drag mother, Allanah Starr, then known as club kid Damian Dee-Vine, and was the champagne girl at the legendary Warsaw Ballroom for the late Gianni Versace’s parties.
“Meeting him and his guests — Sylvester Stallone, Elton John and others — was a huge honor and such a decadent time in the 1990s.”
Then in the early 2000s, DeadPetals became the first drag queen correspondent with her own segment on “Deco Drive.” She did that for three years, reporting in drag and interviewing celebrities, including Meryl Streep, Lil’ Kim, Kevin Klein and others. Today, DeadPetals spends most of her time performing in Wilton Manors.
“I love what I do and have no plans on stopping,” DeadPetals said. “Making a living off one’s art is an amazing privilege and I am very appreciative of that.”
Royale may be relatively new to the South Florida drag scene, having moved from Jacksonville to Miami four years ago. But the 29-year-old transgender, known for her exceptionally large bust, has been performing in drag for 15 years. She started taking hormones at 16 and learned about drag during her transition.
“I always wanted to transition, but it just so happened I learned about drag and about being a transgendered woman at the same time,” Royale said. “So I did them both and that’s how I started.”
Today, performing mostly in Wilton Manors and the new drag bar, Molto, in South Beach, where she is a “transtender” (a transgender bartender), Royale says she is happy and elated to put on a show for her followers. She says being humble is the best way to advance in the drag community.
“My advice to the new girls is to stay humble. That will take you a long way, because it got me to a lot of places,” Royale said. “Even when I didn’t want to, being humble is the best way to have a long and successful career in drag.”
Dion, of Greek heritage, has been doing drag for the last eight years. “Me, Tlo Ivy and Sasha Lords all sort of started around the same time,” she said. “We’re a part of the same group and family.” She said growing up, as a young kid, she was first introduced to and intrigued by drag after watching the movie, “The Birdcage.”
“At a very young age, that was the initial ‘OMG, I like something about this movie,’ and it pushed me to think about drag more and more,” Dion said. “Then obviously there was RuPaul. She was around in the 1990s and she was hot, flashing on my TV screen a lot.”
It was only until Dion moved to Miami and met the local queens — veterans like Adora, Vegas Dion (her drag mother), TP Lords, Erika Norell and Daisy DeadPetals — that she was really inspired to join them.
“These were the queens who were performing at the time and they were so inspiring,” Dion said. “The way they were hosting, the way the crowd was so engaged. Those were the queens who really inspired me once I decided to start doing drag.”
Today, Dion is known for hosting the Sunday drag brunch at R House Wynwood and The Lab Fridays at Score. But the work she’s most proud of is what she does outside of the drag scene.
“Outside of the club is what I really want to focus on right now,” she said. “I helped create something called ‘Dream Queens.’ We’re a traveling band of drag queens who want to impact people outside of the club, like burn victims, cancer patients, the homeless. We visit these less fortunate people and do makeovers and put on a show for them. It’s really inspirational.”
Meanwhile, Dion is happy the drag community in South Florida continues to grow and evolve.
“It’s super cool to see a new wave of drag queens kind of move in and create their own kind of scene in Miami,” she said.