Introducing Daphne: drag rookie turned finalist

Drag rookie turned finalist

Pride Union's Drag Show Preliminaries was the first time Sam Lee performed in drag. This week he will be competing in the finals.
Published: February 27, 2019
Daphne (aka Sam Lee) performs at the SU Drag Show Preliminaries on Feb. 14, 2019
Daphne begins by strutting down the aisle of students to “What Have I Done To Deserve This” by Pet Shop Boys.

When Daphne strutted on stage to “What Have I Done To Deserve This” by Pet Shop Boys at Pride Union’s Drag Show Preliminaries, her presence was instantly all-consuming. The lyrics, “How am I gonna get through?” echoed over and over again, but Daphne had no problem getting through to the audience.

Perhaps the most shocking part of Daphne’s performance was that beneath two trench coats and a gorgeous face of makeup was Sam Lee, who was performing for the first time in drag that night.

“My history with drag has not been super formal,” said Lee. Previously, he had played around with makeup and dressed in drag for a party. He also wore a blonde wig and lip-synced to “All By Myself” by Celine Dion in the First Year Players Cabaret last fall, a performance Lee referred to as “full crazy, full tilt, nutty nut.”

Though not having much experience performing in drag, Lee had been thinking of taking part in the show for some time. He recalled going to the show to see Milk freshman year and said that he always left announcing that he’d perform at the next one. Being that this year was Lee’s final opportunity before graduation, his friends pushed him to participate.

“I finally did it because I’d talked a big game,” said Lee, “This year my roommates and other close friends were like, ‘Why are you not?!’”

While he was nervous on the night of the preliminaries, Lee knew he would be able to keep up with the competition. “I really felt confident in look,” he said. “I definitely feel that’s where my strengths lie.”

He then smirked and added, “I am very visually appealing.”

Developing Daphne was not difficult for Lee. While some queens view the persona as an alter ego, to Lee, Daphne is just an extension of himself.

“Daphne is a drag name that I’m giving myself while I’m performing in drag,” said Lee.

Fittingly, Lee chose the name Daphne because that was what his parents planned to name him if he had been born a girl. However, as a long time fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lee had a number of inspirations when it came to look and performance. Sasha Velour, Violet Chachki and Katya were few of the queens Lee fawned over.

“Violet Chachki has worked with Dita Von Teese, was in a Prada campaign, is truly breaking through the kind of subversive world of drag,” Lee explained.

But when it comes to performance, it’s Katya’s quirks that Lee hopes to emulate.

“What I respond to most in performers across the board is just them being crazy,” he said. “Crazy in the sense of just going out there and emoting the shit out of it. That is a talent.”

Daphne (aka Sam Lee) performs at the SU Drag Show Preliminaries on Feb. 14, 2019
Daphne captivates the audience with her double trench coat look.

One of the most exciting and intimidating parts of performing in the finals for Lee is the presence of two RuPaul’s Drag Race legends. Shea Couleé and Pearl, both finalists of their respective seasons, will be there hosting the show. While Lee said he was “psyched as hell” to have them, he is also trying not to think about it too much.

“It would be great to get any sort of validation from them,” said Lee, “Even just to be seen in this fledgling baby stage by these seasoned, world-renowned performers and artists.”

Celebrity hosts aside, the finals are a bigger show and Lee understands that. Each of the finalists – Daphne, Kalinda Kelly, Donna Tendo and, Anya Radar – will perform a seven to 10 minute routine.

Captivating an audience for seven to 10 minutes is not an easy feat. Lee thinks the best way to do that is getting up on stage and being himself.

“I went up and I did myself on stage [at the prelims] and people liked it and people responded to it,” said Lee.

The finals take place this Thursday at 8 p.m. in Goldstein Auditorium in the Schine Student Center.

Ultimately, it’s Lee’s self-confidence that is preparing him to take the stage. As he put it, he’s “just gonna go out there, act a fool, be stupid, have fun, and hope for the best.”