If the name Bianca Del Rio doesn’t sound familiar, you probably aren’t privy to one of the more entertaining reality shows on TV, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Hosted by its legendary namesake, Drag Race is like American Idol-meets-America’s Next Top Model-meets-Project Runway — with drag queens. The competition show premiered on Logo in 2009, with a seventh season in the works this year (Cincinnati drag queen Penny Tration briefly appeared in the show’s fifth season). Each season features drag queens from across the country competing in acting, singing and other challenges. Week by week, the queens face elimination on a runway and two are forced to “lip sync for their lives” before one is sent home.
This background is necessary because Season Six Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio is not just another drag queen — she is, in the words of RuPaul, a drag superstar.
Bianca Del Rio (39-year-old Roy Haylock) entered the show, which aired last spring, with nearly two decades of drag experience under her belt. With a solid look and spitfire wit, she was a clear standout from the beginning.
After a season full of wins and high marks, Bianca swept the competition and won the crown (plus a “sickening supply” of Colorevolution Cosmetics and $100,000). And while her ascent to the top seemed effortless, Bianca admits it was strange to watch it play out on television.
“It’s very awkward to watch yourself on TV because I hate the sound of my voice,” Bianca says, speaking via phone from a cab in New York. “It’s those moments where you’re like, ‘I do that?’ ”
Many drag performers specialize in singing or dancing, others compete in pageants and some adopt a celebrity to impersonate, but Bianca brings the funny. (And a mean Judge Judy impression).
The self-professed Don Rickles of drag says that while people who knew her act used to avoid her on the street out of fear, fans now flock to be “read” — Drag Race wiki dictionary translation: “To wittily and incisively expose a person’s flaws (i.e. ‘reading them like a book’), often exaggerating or elaborating on them; an advanced format of the insult.” Bianca Del Rio can read a person to filth, which is to say, very well.
“The weird thing is that for years people would just hide from me,” she says. “And now they go up to you like, ‘Read me, read me, read me!’ ”
Bianca put her reading skills to work on Drag Race, and naturally excelled at the show’s comedy challenge. (She actually has performed stand-up out of drag, as Roy, but prefers the full act. “It’s one of those things where you get away with murder when you’re in drag,” Bianca says. “So it’s been a perk for me.”)
When asked by RuPaul where she gets her quick comebacks and snarky humor, Bianca famously referred to her “rolodex of hate” — a term she’s using for the title of her comedy tour, which stops here at Bogart’s Friday.
And while Drag Race is campy and over-the-top (the essence of any good drag queen), there is a softer, more serious side. The show has served as an accessible platform for LGBTQ-centric topics such as HIV, transgender issues and family abandonment.
And what is more mainstream and accessible than Starbucks? Bianca starred in a commercial for the coffee giant with fellow Season Six finalist Adore Delano last year — the company’s first LGBTQ-themed ad. Many rallied around the collaboration, but one thing Bianca learned with the release of the commercial — and the spotlight in general — is that you can’t please everyone.
“I’ve done drag many, many years, but TV is a huge, powerful thing,” she says. “To get the opportunities I’ve gotten has been insane. But also interesting. With the Starbucks commercial, I found it fascinating that once it was on the Internet, tons of people, especially gay people, were like, ‘Why did they choose drag queens to showcase our community?’ ”
“We’re not curing cancer, we’re just drinking coffee in a commercial,” she continues. “And I thought that was interesting to hear from our own community. But you get the good and the bad, which has been truly a lesson and a journey for me. To come back and hear what they have to say and just totally let all of it roll off your back. Everybody’s a critic.”
As for Friday’s Rolodex of Hate performance in the Queen City?
“Expect the unexpected,” she says. “I go off the audience, which is great. A lot of the show is scripted, but one of my favorite sections is a question-and-answer with the audience. Because when I grew up I loved Carol Burnett, so it’s one of those things I enjoy doing. It’s interesting to hear what people have to ask you. So get ready for that!”
BIANCA DEL RIO performs Friday at Bogart’s. Tickets and more info: bogarts.com.