Nina Flowers :: Drag’s non-stop superstar
Guess who's coming to dinner? The definite crowd favorite and winner of Miss Congeniality on the first season of "RuPaul's Drag Race," Nina Flowers, finally makes her debut performance in San Francisco. The promoter and hostess, Isa Manzanita, of the 'little drag show that could' D'Lysh at one of San Francisco's oldest gay establishments, Deco Lounge, shows the bigger shows that she can not only attract top local drag talent, but also bring in the big guns like the 2009 "Drag Race" runner-up. Since appearing on the inaugural season of LOGO's popular drag reality series, Flowers, the former Miss Puerto Rico Continental and Miss City Lights Continental, has been non-stop with performances and DJ gigs across the country.
Along with constant traveling every week to club and Pride stages in city after city, Nina somehow manages to maintain a DJ residency at Track's, Denver's largest gay nightclub. With a dance single release earlier in 2011 called "I'm Feelin' Flowers", the extraordinary make-up artist continues to work on her recording career after her first single "Loca" made it to #15 on Billboard's Top Dance Club Play chart in early 2010 with remixes by notable remixers Joe Gauthreaux and the legendary Manny Lehman. Though it wasn't easy, I caught up with Flowers while in for a breather at her Denver home to talk about her experience on "RuPaul's Drag Race," her life after appearing on the reality show, her future in music, and what took her so long to get to San Francisco.
A busy one
BeBe: Well, darlin’, you have been a busy one.
Nina Flowers: (laughing) It’s been wonderful. You’ve got to take every opportunity that comes your way, right?
BeBe: You know that! We can’t let those squander away.
Nina Flowers: Let’s see I was in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and after Boston... here was I after Boston? My schedule has been so crazy. It’s hard to keep track. Oh, then I was in Detroit, and then last week I was in Miami.
BeBe: Oh, that sounds wonderful!
Nina Flowers: I got to admit, the traveling can be exhausting as a whole getting on and off planes, but once you are at the location and you are performing, it makes all so worth it. You are surrounded by people who have been impacted by your work, and it is awesome!
BeBe: It is kind of amazing to look back and see that it has been almost three years since you were on Season One of "RuPaul’s Drag Race" in February of 2009. Girl, saying that seems like it’s been forever. And saying that, the show has done phenomenal with its growth amongst the viewing public and exposing the world to the art that is drag. How amazing was it for you to be a part of such the groundbreaking first season of "Drag Race?"
Nina Flowers: It’s a combination of different emotions. It was overwhelming. It was exciting. It was very stressful at the same time. Being that we were on Season One, we really didn’t have any idea what we were facing and the competition was about. We knew they were going to pick a winner as America’s Next Drag Superstar, but as far as the chemistry of the show, none of us really knew what the show was about or how to prepare for it. That’s a great advantage that the new kids have that have been on past seasons have. They already know what the show is about and how to prepare for it. But Season One was so exciting. So many people auditioned and we were the chosen nine (contestants). To be a part of such an amazing experience for the first time, it was like wow! Also working with RuPaul... she is such an icon. She opened doors for everybody in the drag community.
Story continues on the following page.
Watch the video of Nina Flowers performing "I’m Feelin Flowers":
All about ’Drag Race’
BeBe: what is so interesting about that, Nina, is that I think the public expects the top three finishers of "RuPaul’s Drag Race" to go and do great things to further their careers, but what is interesting is how many of the girls who were just on the show and didn’t place have gone on to great things.
Nina Flowers: I agree. And I also have to say it has been amazing for the whole drag community in general. Because we know drag has always been around, but in in the underground. The show has put drag in the mainstream. Now all clubs want to have drag talent. And that’s great for all people who weren’t on the show because it creates a job opportunity.
BeBe: With that said, honey, I know many people in the drag community have expressed that despite the success of the show, the show is not really a true representation of what the drag community is like behind the scenes. The show depicts some of the negative things such as the bitchiness and backstabbing, and doesn’t show the sense of family or community in the drag circles. What do you think about the shows depiction of the drag community in general?
Nina Flowers: I agree on that. I have to say I keep hearing how people compare Season One to the other seasons. The girls in Season One of ’Drag Race’ handled the situations in a more professional fashion. I think now they have the formula to make everybody fight. And the reason they are doing this is because it has become more about not choosing the next drag superstar, but the show is now a reality show full of drama. The show gives all the bitchiness and cattiness that reality television needs in order to be successful. Most of the people who watch reality television, that’s what they really want to see. I’m sad and disappointed. We should take this opportunity that we have to show the world what drag is all about and make it a positive thing. Instead they are using it to serve drag queens as hateful, bitches, and catty. It’s unfortunate.
BeBe: You were on Season One, as far as my research has shown, and I’m not saying this to kiss your behind... you were really America’s favorite. I think it disappointed many people when you weren’t handed the title. That’s not to take away from BeBe (Zahara Benet, Season One winner) at all because I love her as well. I think people, particularly in the drag community, saw your make-up artistry as being second to none, and you handled yourself with a level of professionalism that we in the community admired and wanted people to see us as. It really is about the artistry, the entertainment value, and the whole illusion of drag, and you represented that. So, when you didn’t win it, it was disappointing. I’m curious, particularly after 2.5 years, how you have been able to look back and say, ’damn, I should have won,’ or is it, ’just one of dem thangs?’
Nina Flowers: (Chuckles) First of all, thank you so much for your compliments. And to respond to the question, honestly, if I could turn back time, I wouldn’t change a thing. The thing about my participation on the show, I feel I remained true to myself to the point that even though I didn’t win the title, I walk away with my head held high. I’m so proud to have made it all the way to the end. To travel all over the world and here people say to me that they were routing for me is such satisfaction. You know on that last episode (of Season One), I was so secure about my performance. I gave it 110 percent, and I thought to myself that I’d been so consistent that I could really win this! And it was heartbreaking not winning it.
But there was a part in me that knew that that (not winning) was going to happen. I was constantly critiqued (by the judges) on that show. I was told several times on the show, "...if you want to become America’s Next Drag Superstar, you have to learn how to soften your image because your image is too bold and too hard." They literally let me know from day one that they like what I was given them, but that was not what they were looking for. You know in order to become the next drag superstar, you have to have the four characteristics RuPaul has set on the show, which is charisma... I think my personality has charisma; uniqueness... I think I am unique. I don’t want to copy anyone else. I want to do my own thing; nerve... I have nerve to try new things; and talent... I have talent. I believed I had served what they were looking for, but in the end, it is what it is. They thought I wasn’t the one. And I was okay with it. I was good with it because I had mad respect for everyone on the show. I was sad, but I was happy with what I felt I brought to the show. You know I walk away a winner. I learned so much, I had an amazing experience, and met great friends. We are all artists and everybody makes their art in their own way.
BeBe: And I know that it has been non-stop for you since the show stopped. It is interesting also how much of an impact you have made on the dance music world over the last couple of years. You kicked that off after the show and have been going full force since with your recordings. Your first song "Loca" was in the top 20 on Billboard’s Dance charts. Then you followed with your EP of new songs called "Start Your Engines". You released a new single earlier this year called "I’m Feelin’ Flowers". How is that doing?
Nina Flowers: The way I have been developing on my musical career has been amazing. The fans have been embracing my work. It doesn’t stop. It keeps opening doors for me. I have been lucky and fortunate to have worked with some great people. I am currently promoting my fourth single "Tips", and I’m already working on a new one coming out called "Baila (Dance)". I have so many things in store for the fans. I keep growing. It’s been amazing! I’m really focusing on my music career both as a performer and as a DJ. My goal is to produce my own stuff and make my own music. I’m really moving forward in that direction.
BeBe: Do you think you will have to relocate from Denver to say Los Angeles, Nashville, or Atlanta in order to progress in the music area?
Nina Flowers: With the technology in music these days, I don’t see being in Denver to be a problem. I don’t think it will be a factor to get in the way of me making my music career more successful. All my stuff thus far I have been recording in my home studio. With the Internet and software, it is so much easier than it was 10 or 15 years ago when you had to be right in the mecca of music to make it happen. It’s now really about have the right connections, knowing the key people that will help you promote and produce.
BeBe: What about more stuff on television for you? We know, of course, that you have been on "RuPaul’s Drag Race." You’ve also been on RuPaul’s other show, "Drag U." You, along with Jessica Wild ("Drag Race" alum), were on Latin television with Objectiva Fama. Any plans for you to do more television or film work?
Nina Flowers: I am working really hard, and I hope the doors open to me (to do more television and film). But as far as "Drag U" is concerned, I’m not sure I will be back on "Drag U." I’m not sure I’m excited with the show, overall. I did one episode in its first season, and that experience itself was not really good. I didn’t really enjoy it. The show was not really natural for me. The producers and directors of the show at that time seemed like they were really trying to have me portray myself in a different light than who I really am. I’m not cut out for that. It wasn’t like ’Drag Race’ where I was able to be myself. So, I don’t see myself back on "Drag U."
BeBe: It’s funny that you say that because Lady Bunny (creator of NYC’s Wigstock) has had similar commentary. She has said some of her best lines have been nixed from the aired show because not really allowed to be herself on the show.
Nina Flowers: Yes. I think they were trying to make me be mean, and I said I’m not wired for this. They didn’t understand what my character is all about.
BeBe: Now Nina, you have been doing what you do for a long time. You are not one of the new kids on the block per se. You have spent a lot of time perfecting your persona Nina Flowers. You have won a couple of pageants in your native homeland of Puerto Rico. So tell me, what is the difference in drag in Puerto Rico where you have spent honing your drag craft than here in the States?
Nina Flowers: You would be surprised if you actually go to Puerto Rico and see how the drag scene has grown. They start at a really, really young age there. There is always a contest. They celebrate Miss this, Miss that. It is the kids’ opportunity to become famous or set a name for themselves. They take it really seriously. When I started it was a little different. When I started doing it, if you wanted to drag you had to impersonate someone. You had to look like Whitney Houston, Madonna, or Cher. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think impersonation is so beautiful, it’s so artistic.
But when I started doing drag I was one of the only kids in the bunch that wouldn’t really impersonate anyone. I’d come up with the craziest songs and come up with my own thing. And at the beginning of my career people told me I would never make it. That would say ’...that’s not the way we do it. You should be dong it this way...’ It was really stressful. But, I knew in my mind I wanted to do my own thing. So, I created my own look and style, and little by little it started growing on people. I became quite successful in Puerto Rico. I took it so seriously that I quit my job as a make-up artist. I quit my job as a DJ. I was literally performing 5 or 6 days a week. Drag was my way of life. That is what put food on the table. I started earning respect from all those who criticized me and told me I’d never make it. Now, drag has evolved in Puerto Rico that you will find a drag show in every club. It doesn’t even have to be a gay club to have a drag queen parading, or performing, or hosting an event. We have drag everywhere.
BeBe: Wow! It’s great to here. I hear similar things in European countries such as Germany, France, Spain. The appreciation of the "art" of drag seems to have evolved faster than it has here in the U.S.
Nina Flowers: Fascinating!
BeBe: Getting to your visit to San Francisco, you know SF has become almost a second home to the alumni of ’Drag Race.’ There seems to always be a drag performance featuring one of the girls from one of the seasons of the show. It’s really crazy that your appearance at Isa Manzanita’s D’Lysh Show at long standing gay bar Deco Lounge on August 31 will be your first appearance in San Francisco. I can’t believe it.
Nina Flowers: I’m very excited to be visiting San Francisco. I have to say that other opportunities to come to San Francisco have presented themselves, but they always seemed to want me on the weekends. And my weekends are so busy. Like now I am already scheduling out to March 2012. It’s that busy. And the clubs didn’t want to like wait for four or so months for me to be able to come. They wanted me right now or a month out. But this time, the show is on a weekday, a Wednesday, so we were able to make it happen, and I am so excited. I really hope it will be the beginning of great relationship with San Francisco and I start coming to the city on a regular basis. There is so much I want to bring you guys in my heart, that I’m not going to be able to do it all in one show!
Lucky us. Keep wanting to give us more, Nina, and we will be waiting to receive it. You know the old saying, "good things come to those who wait"! And, we have been waiting for over 2.5 years to witness a live Nina Flowers performance. All I got say is "Don’t fuck it up!" And I, and the rest of you anticipating audience, seriously doubt that you will.
Nina Flowers will be the featured headliner at D’Lysh at San Francisco’s Deco Lounge on Wednesday, August 31. Go to The Deco Lounge website.
Nina will also be coming to Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico 9/10, Hartford, CT 9/17, Sydney, Australia 10/1, Orlando, FL 10/8, Boston, MA 10/22, Uniontown, PA 10/29, Miami, FL 11/26, Tampa, FL 12/2-3.
For more about and tour dates and venues go to www.ninaflowers.com.
Watch this interview with Nina Flowers about "RuPaul’s Drag Race:"
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.