Meet the kings and queens of Pride Union’s Drag Show

Meet the kings and queens of Pride Union's Drag Show

Four students will be vying for this year's crowns Thursday night at Goldstein Auditorium.
Published: February 17, 2020
Syracuse University's Pride Union held the 18th annual Drag Show preliminaries on Thursday, February 6th. It was hosted by BellaDonna and Fantasia.
Syracuse University's Pride Union held the 18th annual Drag Show preliminaries on Thursday, February 6. It was hosted by BellaDonna and Fantasia.

Syracuse University Pride Union’s 18th annual Drag Show will take place at 8 p.m. Thursday in Goldstein Auditorium. During the Drag Show’s preliminaries that featured queens and kings of all attitudes, styles and personalities, four out of the 10 contestants advanced to perform in the finale where one drag queen or king will be declared the winner.

Meet the four finalists for this year’s competition:

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Brian Chau, performing as Vita Vanitea, is one of the four finalists to perform at the finals on Thursday, February 20.

Vita Vanitea

Brian Chau

“I think it’s about the ability to lose yourself in drag itself.”

Although this is Brian Chau’s first time performing in drag, the expression of drag interested him even in high school.

Drawn to the fashion, music and makeup – as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race – this year’s Drag Show was the perfect opportunity for Chau, a sophomore advertising major, to explore this artistic side of himself, he said.

In preparation for the preliminaries, he ran through the songs in his head constantly. He practiced his movements whenever he had free time. And when his moment came onstage, he shed his usually shy personality and became “a different person entirely.”

“If you’re fully committed to it, then the audience will be fully committed to it also,” Chau said.

His drag queen character – Vita Vanitea – is far from shy. She’s glamorous, fun and a little bit cheeky, Chau said.

The name Vita originally came from an Asian drink that Chau likes. He deliberately replaced the “y” in “Vanity” with “tea” to come up with Vita Vanitea, as a subtle nod to her sassy, fun-loving nature.

“There’s a lot of aspects of drag that you can take anywhere,” Chau said. “It’s really an art form that you can mold into whatever you want to say about yourself.”

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Michael Bonavita, performing as Velveeta, is one of the four finalists to perform at the finals on Thursday, February 20th.

Velveeta

Michael Bonavita

“Why not play with gender? Why not try something new? Why not explore a side of yourself that you might not feel comfortable with?”

This is Michael Bonavita’s first official drag performance, as well. During his summer abroad in London, drag peaked his interest – RuPaul’s Drag Race was on the U.K.’s Netflix and students in his program loved watching it. A friend of Bonavita’s encouraged him to dabble in drag for fun, and from there, his passion grew.

The last time Bonavita, a senior advertising major, had been on a stage was freshman year of college as a member of First Year Players. For someone who grew up with theater as a major part of his life, there was “just this missing gap in my life where I wasn’t performing,” which is what drew him to participate in this year’s show as Velveeta.

The name Velveeta mirrors the “vita” of his last name, but, perhaps more importantly, it’s also the name of a highly-processed cheese.

“It’s just super fun, kind of gross, kind of delicious. It’s an irresistible guilty pleasure, and I think Velveeta is a guilty pleasure as a person,” Bonavita said. “She’s kind of crazy, kind of skanky sometimes, she just wants to have fun and be super dramatic the whole time. So that’s Velveeta.”

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Rachel Ayala, performing as Javier el Jugador, is one of the four finalists to perform at the finals on Thursday, February 20.

Javier el Jugador

Rachel Ayala

“People always tell me that I have very mannish energy, so I thought that it would be cool to create a character that’s a symbol of that.”

Rachel Ayala, a junior chemical engineering major and a three-time drag show performer, is back for another year. She began performing when she was a freshman, when posters for the show around campus caught her eye and emphasized all gender expressions were welcome.

After researching drag online, she discovered drag kings were a common form of performance art, and once she performed in her first drag show, she was hooked.

“I’ve always been very androgynous, just kind of naturally. And it was something that I had gotten bullied for growing up, so it was really about embracing like the masculine parts of my personality,” Ayala said.

Although Ayala’s now had years of experiencing performing in drag, her main focus is to still have fun with it, rather than prioritize the competition aspect.

As a drag king, Javier el Jugador is someone who entertains, excites and interacts with the audience. Being Puerto Rican, Ayala said she wanted Javier to be a sexy Spanish character.

“If you’ve ever seen a sitcom or something, I feel like whenever someone gets a boyfriend, it’s always like a hot foreign guy,” she said. “So when I came on, it was very obnoxiously sexual and funny.”

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Daniel Preciado, performing as Sangria Salsipuedes, is one of the four finalists to perform at the finals on Thursday, February 20th.

Sangria Salsipuedes

Daniel Preciado

“So that’s what drag is to me: it’s the ultimate liberation of everything.”

Daniel Preciado’s fiery Sangria is an embodiment of his female friends here at Syracuse. Having a friend group that is mostly women, Preciado, a senior television-radio-film major, said he greatly admires certain character traits they share: their strength, loyalty, sass and resilience.

Sangria is modeled after these women who inspired Preciado. The name Sangria comes from Preciado’s favorite drink, while the last name “Salsipuedes” is both a place he loves and a term that translates to “get out while you can,” in English.

It’s daring and layered, just like Sangria herself. Coming from Panama – a country where homophobia is more prevalent than in the U.S. – performing in this year’s Drag Show feels liberating, Preciado said.

“Coming from Panama, which is a more conservative country than the U.S., for me drag is this idea of me being able to connect with a part of a culture that I’d never had until I came to Syracuse,” Preciado said, adding that this is also his first drag show.

“It’s a performance,” he said. “It’s queer people, for a moment in their lives, just forgetting about everything and helping other people forget about it as well by getting these beautiful, campy dresses on and just being someone else for a moment.”

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Vita Vanitea (Brian Chau) gave fortune cookies to audience members during their performance.

To see the finalists’ second performances and the winners, attend the Pride Union Drag Show Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Goldstein Auditorium.

Avatar for Grace Charles

is a reporter for The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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Avatar for Grace Charles

is a contributor to The NewsHouse.