We celebrated Pride 2010 with a visit from ourscenetv.com and the talented Jesse Archer who we were happy to transform into Mildred Fierce. View the results for yourself.
Thanks to our deans, Miss Shannon and Miss Lin.
In February 2005, Miss Vera’s Academy was invited by Gareth Rees of Boomerang Productions, to participate in a pilot for U.K Ch.4’s Comedy Lab. The show would star two rowdy young Welshmen, named Matt Pritchard and Mike “Pancho” Locke. The two had already achieved much fame across Europe, as the stars of the program Dirty Sanchez, a “beyond Jackass” type show which has also aired on MTV in the USA as Team Sanchez.
The show, Pritch and Panch Do... The Cinderfella Experience took place in Cardiff, Wales and in Amsterdam. Miss Shannon, Dean of ’Do’s and Miss Deborah, Dean of Cosmetology accompanied me to Europe. In Amsterdam, we used the home of my friend, Xavier Hollander, the notorious Happy Hooker.
Between keeping Pritch and Panch on their toes, in their heels, and away from their pints, plus living and working in Xaviera’s bawdy bed and breakfast, we had our hands full. Needless to say, Miss Vera’s Academy rose to the occasion.
When Miss Vera was invited to be an expert on the Ricki Lake Drag Queen Make-Over Contest, the experience left such a memorable impression she sat down and wrote all about it. Read her hilarious account below.
(First aired 5/2004)
Producers on Conan O'Brien asked Miss Vera to bring along a few props for her interview. Conan tried to maintain his "straight boy" image by fingering the silicone breast forms, but he couldn't resist choosing his femme name, "Conina" and describing Conina's personality as "whorish slut." Ginger "Spice" Halliwell asked Miss Vera where we take students when they go out and about, "Do you take them to pick up guys?" Miss Vera was happy to declare she thought trannies are sexy. Students who want to try out their flirting skills go to bars like the Silver Swan where the patrons expect "girls with something extra."
(First aired 3/2003)
Miss Vera has appeared on The View conducting herself with grace and aplomb as Joy Behar interviewed her about her "wacky profession." Included in the segment was the transformation of one of the programs interns, a young man named Jamison. With the help of Miss Deborah, our dean of cosmetology and Miss Shannon, the academy's Dean of 'Do's, Jamison was transformed from a carrot topped eager beaver to a knock-out blonde. When asked how she liked the transformation, Jamison's mother told the audience "If we had two more outfits for his brothers we'd have our Christmas card photo." Jamison's brother added, "She's the sister I always wanted."
(First aired 8/2003)
Miss Vera could not resist being interviewed by these two delightful puppets. Actually, it was two Irish guys from London making a show about the Bronx, New York in Los Angeles. Bronx Bunny and Tommy Tourettes are a big hit in the U.K. Tommy, a panda bear, put on a dress for Miss Vera. The show is actually an entertaining way to present sex education. An interesting side story, the show was taped in a lovely little house that was once the Hollywood home of Marilyn Monroe. Miss Vera ran into her friend porn star Ron Jeremy also a guest on the show.
(First aired 11/2003)
Day One. I’m one of four experts chosen to compete in a Drag Queen MakeOver on the Ricki Lake Show. Producer Joyce, a diminutive, freckle-faced cross between cheerleader and drill sergeant recruited four drag queens from different parts of the country. Each contestant was nominated by a drag queen friend who felt s/he needed a new look. The other experts, my competition included Cher, Shirley Temple and Miss Drag Idol 2003. A visit to www.DevonCass.com informed me that Devon was not only a make-up artist, but a photographer and a phenomenal Cher impersonator who did his own singing. Chris March, a big, round baby-faced man could turn himself into Shirley Temple or a Teutonic Glamazon with the aid of one of his elaborate wig constructions. He had an insane imagination and his theatrical costume designs were showstoppers. He called his website “www.Gr8bighair.com” for obvious reasons. Artist Ashley caught the producers’ attentions the previous year when he won the title of Miss Drag Idol 2003 and was a awarded a trip to Las Vegas. He was still waiting for his tickets. They invited him back, this time, as one of the experts. Ashley was lovely and even in boy mode clearly knew how to sashay, sashay, sashay. Unlike them, I was not a hands-on expert, so I relied on brains, beauty, clever quips and natural cleavage.
As experts, we did have one thing in common: we each respected the life-altering power of transformation. No one wanted to dumb down the proceedings, be mean, or trash the contestants. Though judging by the look of these “before” candidates the producer would not have minded that one bit.
Now for the contestants. These were not like the trannys who visit at Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, the well known crossdressing academy where I am the dean of students. Our average academy students fall into the category of Mr. Whitebread businessmen. These were b (as in basement) level drag queens who performed in bars and wore outfits that might have gotten them arrested, at least that was the image each strove to project. The show had encouraged them to look really trashy/outrageous/over the top and each had followed instructions with enthusiasm. Miss “Rough and Stuff”, a dark chocolate queen from Chicago, wore an overly teased platinum fright wig, turquoise spandex tights and an orange tutu. The orange tutu matched her eye make-up and orange lipstick, which spread from earring to earring. She was tiny, but scary and literally, screaming. Galaxia was a big very white girl with pale powder puff skin. Her style was gothic and mammoth, but not as large as some people as I would discover. She wore knee high black lace up boots, a sparkly black mini and red open weave sweater that was stretched to capacity. Madison Lee had the best face and figure. Ricki Lake was quick to point out the tiny belly roll that peeked out from beneath Madison’s crop top, but it was clear she was no where near the level of the other three contestants. Whereas, our girl was definitely the dreg of the drags. Fantasy was our nightmare: a six foot four, 260 pound black queen with a huge butt and size 17 female feet. Everything about her was sort of swollen. Her “before” look was a denim mini skirt, shredded at back to show off her swaying caboose. She wore a skimpy beige top that was more like a rag, no bra, no breast forms, just lots of flesh. On her feet were tube socks and bedroom slippers. And she did not have the most co-operative attitude. Did I mention her pierced tongue and pierced chin?
The show had agreed to pay for our academy dean of cosmetology, Miss Deborah assist me the next day and do make-up. And when I saw the “clay” we had to work with, I thought, “Oh goddess, what did I get us into!” We have had lots of challenges at the academy, a few East Indians, a Hasidim with a long beard and peot or side locks, a few dames at sea with skin as weather beaten as old orange peels, but while I know there are plenty of you girls out there, we have never had a black student, and Fantasy was very black. There were two black contestants and two white. My first emergency call to Deb was just to alert her to the fact that our candidate was black. I could only leave a message. I know Deb has had plenty of other gigs, and has probably worked on all kinds of dark complexions, but I wasn’t sure. The other make-up artists said they would help, but not to the point of switching girls. Fantasy was a handful and no one was that generous. I definitely had the biggest (in every sense of the word) challenge.
Day one was mostly sit around and wait. We did one ten-minute segment and another one of twenty minutes. Meanwhile we sat in the studio from 10 am to 4:30. They had promised I could go home to rest (just a couple of blocks away) in the middle of the day when we knew we had a big gap of time. But, that was a lie. They were so disorganized, they really wanted us to stay and be there at their disposal. Our lunch was Subway deli sandwiches that looked like they’d been run over by the train. Producer Joyce gave us pep talks, constantly wanting us to be zippier and livelier. “I’m not feeling you... I'm not feeling you...” She threw out her arms and jumped around like a Chuck Jones cartoon. We all pretty much wanted to give her something to feel, like a sledgehammer. But, I must admit, I had fun on stage. It was great to shake off the dust and perform. Everyone on the crew except for one creepy young guy in a suit with a clipboard was really nice. I used my cane and toted my special pillow for sitting down, when not on camera. And everyone crew and experts were really helpful on that score. Even a couple of the contestant drag queens proved to be real gentlemen. Somewhere in the family “Rough and Stuff” was a mom or grandmom who taught that boy manners. Though, not our girl Fantasy.
End of day one was the scariest part for me because we all packed into a big limo, drags and mavens and headed to a wig salon where it was our job to pick out wigs for our girls. Did I mention our Miss Fantasy also had a huge head? The other experts had said they would help me, but I was pretty much on my own in the wig salon. Finally, the show’s young intern Nikia, who was our chaperone, helped me to pick out a wig, very long and lots of curls, a light strawberry blonde. Fantasy’s dress was gold, so I thought we’d go for the golden goddess look; even though she was protesting a bit. Fantasy felt the gown made her look like she was “singin’ in the choir”, while she wanted to maintain her “ho’” image. Fantasy was quite a floozy and had the pictures to prove it. Her favorite position was down on all fours; derriere in the air. During Fantasy’s introduction, Ricki tried to coax her into a split. Apparently Fantasy’s sponsor had revealed that our girl was quite an acrobat. The audience began hooting encouragements but the request had taken Fantasy by surprise and she refused, thus prompting the masses to boo, not an auspicious start. I just wanted to get out of there and go home. I felt I already more than earned my money, that’s for sure.
Finally got home at 6 p.m. Called Miss Deb and I actually spoke to her. She had a great attitude. I think she was really looking forward to doing the show and getting back in academy mode, too. (But remember she has not seen our girl, yet). As I started to regale her with stories, she told me not to tell her too much, because she might not come. So I stopped giving her the gory details.
I felt I could be in trouble in the wig department because I did not think I’d gotten enough hair for Fantasy’s huge head. So I put in a call to Miss Shannon, our academy’s Dean of Do’s. I had wanted the show to let me bring Shannon to help originally but they said they would pay for only one extra person and for only one day. Shannon knows the drag scene and every trick in the book and I knew we might need her whole drag library. Our girl was too big for most undergarments and the show’s wardrobe mistress was both inexperienced, overworked, and under-budgeted. She was, however, smart enough to admit she needed help. I called Shannon, at first, just wanting to vent and get advice over the telephone. But, in the back of my mind, I was hoping for more substantial aid. I guess I sounded pretty pitiful, for very early in the conversation, Shannon asked me if I wanted her to drop by the studio and give the wig a lift. Thank you, Goddess. I think Shannon would have done it for charity, but knowing what I was getting her into, I offered to pay her a fee I felt I could afford myself. She appreciated it and accepted.
As I mentioned, all of the costuming was in the hands of the show. We were brought on as the experts, but we did not have full control. They got all of the dresses from Macy’s where they had a special deal, etc... Miss Fantasy was a size 24. Expert Chris March, the big hair maven, told me he was borrowing jewelry from Larry Vrba, an Imperial Court jeweler and specialist in big Broadway baubles. The wardrobe mistress was going jewelry shopping, but she had not done so yet. At home, after the first day, when I told my tale of woe to my former student and good friend Patricia, she offered to lend her own Imperial Court jewels that had been designed by Robert Sorrell. Turned out they were a perfect match for our golden goddess-to-be. Patricia has impeccable taste, so the jewels were big, but not gaudy.
That night, Nikia, the intern, who seemed to be always charged with delivering the bad news, phoned to tell me that our call the next morning would be at 7:30 am. Initially, I was told day two would start at 8:30/9. We were not taping until 1:30. Joyce, the producer had said, “however much time you need to get ready.” I told Nikia there was no way I could reach Deborah to get her to come earlier. I wasn’t going to be sitting around for an extra hour just to be at their disposal because someone could not tell her ass from her elbow. I did call Shannon and asked her to be there at ten rather than 11. (A good move, because Shannon travels at drag time).
Okay, so now the team is assembled. Deb arrives bright and early. (She had to get up at 4 am since she lives two hours out of the city). She and I got to the studio and the other experts were already at work. There was no make-up table for Deb to work, but professional that she is, she brought her own lights, so we set ourselves up. I was so proud of her. She is an incredible work-mate.
First we decided to get Fantasy into pantyhose and undergarments, a task much easier said than done. The pantyhose they bought were too small, one pair going up to 200 pounds and the other 240. Fantasy had never before worn pantyhose, so she was no help. “My boyfrien’ likes me natural. I’m a natural girl!” At one point, I had my head next to Fantasy’s big butt as Deb and I tried to pack her into the pantyhose and I thought, “What am I doing? How did I get here?”
But then, the magic started to happen, Miss Deb got into the make-up. (Fortunately Fantasy had removed her face hardware). Deb contoured and highlighted, molding and softening Fantasy’s features, like she was sculpting a face on Mount Rushmore. She smoothed the dark stubble from our girl’s thick neck. Then she painted her with shimmery hues, setting the tone for our “golden girl”. Shannon arrived and had brought along extra hair, which was a good thing because on inspection the wig I had picked turned out to be out a demi and would never have covered her entire head. Our Dean of Do’s gave her what I later described as “butt bouncing blonde curls”. Even Fantasy’s attitude started to change, because she began to see herself as actually getting pretty! And I was in awe of my team, as was everyone else, the other experts, the drags, the shows’ crew.
Finally,it was time for the moment of truth. Just before we went on stage, Joyce the producer asked Fantasy if she had remembered to wear her shorts under her dress. I thought Joyce was referring to underwear because she was concerned about the borrowed dress getting soiled. So I assured her Fantasy was wearing plenty of underwear (including a saran wrap corset. This girl was hermetically sealed!). No, it turns out the producer was making a last desperate pitch for her to do a split in her ball gown. Can you imagine!!! If Fantasy wouldn’t do a split when she was dressed as a ragamuffin, did they really think she would do it in silk and sequins? I quickly put my foot down. To fortify my argument, I reminded the producer that Fantasy was now wearing a thousand dollars worth of rhinestones and that if her tiara should tumble during her performance, the show would pay. There was no more talk of splits. Even Fantasy has limits.
The contestants were presented from behind drawn curtains that opened to reveal four shirtless hunks with rippled chests holding feathered fans. The fans parted and each Galatea in turn stepped into the spotlight, while her Pygmalion described the process of her transformation. Devon Cass had buffed and smoothed Miss Rough and Stuff. He used charcoal and silver eye shadows on her dark complexion and painted mahogany highlights into faux brunette tresses to compliment her floor length russet gown. The lady glided onstage like a debutante at her cotillion, muscles rippling in her outstretched arm.
“The bigger the hair, the smaller the waistline”, was Chris March's motto, so his entry, Galaxia balanced a ’do that nearly kissed the ceiling. She might have toppled over had she not been weighted down by the diamantes that dripped from her ears, neck and bouffant. Her look was very theatrical and ready for her close-up.
The winner of the contest turned out to be Madison Lee, the one who had the most points going for her from the start: the best figure and a real pretty face, a creamy complexion enhanced by subtle Latin and Asian features. But we were undeniably winners too and the only ones interrupted mid-presentation by loud spontaneous applause when I said we turned Fantasy into the lady we knew lay within. I called her look “Beyond Beyonce” and included thanks to Deb and Shannon in my presentation. Unfortunately we were cut a bit short I did not get to describe all I would have liked. All that applause cut into our time. Immediately upon leaving the stage Fantasy hurried to the make-up chair and waited for us like a good little girl. I was surprised at the suddenly ultra cooperative attitude. Could it be beauty does as beauty is? Then I realized that Fantasy just wanted to be comfortable. After being under those hot stage lights our Marilyn was melting like a candle in the wind.
As we were leaving, we met up with Miss Tiger, the academy’s ballet mistress, who had come to be in the audience for moral support. Also the drag queens like Connecticut Spice and others from Florida and Chicago who had nominated their friends were coming up to me and thanking me and saying how much they admired my work and our academy. Our team is so good, and this experience reminded me how good. Plus, we love working together. It made even this near catastrophe a triumph.
But most of all, I saw the power of the magic. For at least a few moments, Fantasy’s life and image of herself was changed. Fantasy became real. I had thought she was different from other academy girls, but in this way, she was the same. I don’t know how much this experience will affect her everyday life. But I hope she remembers she gave a lovely light.