“The Whole Me”: Dey Allen finds community in drag

"The Whole Me": Dey Allen's drag journey

A finalist walks through the transformation into Dirty Lucciano for SU Pride Union's 20th annual Drag Show finals.
Published: March 11, 2022

Dominick “Dey” Allen sat on his bed, pointing to the materials scattered around him that he would be using in the next week. A full black outfit, a selection of heels and makeup were carefully laid out. Allen, also known by his stage name Dirty Lucciano, was preparing for the Syracuse University Pride Union’s annual Drag competition. This year marks the 20th Drag Show hosted by the organization, which culminated on Thursday night at Goldstein Auditorium.

It was Allen’s second time performing drag in his life. The first was during the preliminaries in February, in which he advanced as one of four finalists. Performers Brian Chau and Ilsa Dohner also competed as Vita Vanitea and DILF Dangerbottom.

Allen is a junior psychology and television, radio and film double major from Brooklyn, New York. He explained that his stage moniker is a play on Lucci, his middle name. His appreciation for drag first started with RuPaul’s Drag Race, one of the most popular representations of drag queens in modern media. The show is his earliest inspiration, providing a reference point as Allen developed his own drag style.

“I watched them kiki and pull off these amazing sets. It made me want to do the same,” Allen said. Before the Pride Union event, Allen attended local drag nights at clubs like Trexx and practiced acts in his room.

Dirty Lucciano gets ready backstage during Pride Union's 20th Annual Drag Show Finals in Goldstein Auditorium at Syracuse University on March 10, 2022. (Photo by Emma Vallelunga)
Allen gets ready backstage with help from his friends.

Drag Race season two alumni Pandora Boxx and Kylie Sonique Love hosted the final. Maxi Glamour, Judas Joe Manson and Tenderoni judged and performed as additional celebrity guests. This year’s competition was the first one to be held with an in-person audience since 2020.

Finding family

Allen said the community within the university gave him the final push to enter the show despite having little experience.

“It’s because I know the people I love will accept me that I can put on the wig and the heels and not be afraid,” he said.

Allen specifically appreciated the diversity and flexibility within drag. He said it allowed him to be feminine and flamboyant in a safe environment with other queer people. According to him, his experience in high school theater refined his stage presence, but societal and familial pressures kept him from embracing new forms of his personal expression.

“The drive was always there, but I had these expectations placed on me to be masc, to hide the parts of me that didn’t ‘fit,’” Allen said.

He also credits his close friends Candace Keith and Kayla Turner with his performance. Keith is in charge of hairstyling while Turner handles makeup. Both fellow students also help to organize and support Allen throughout the process.

“He inspires me to explore my own identity,” Keith said as she helped Allen pull his hair back into a ponytail. “Watching him perform, seeing his energy is just so great to witness.”

According to the three of them, the preliminary look— an homage to Beyoncé — took over a day and a half to prepare for. Allen and his team of dancers used the full week they had to practice choreography, a mix of signature moves from songs like “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies.” He promised an even more exciting routine for the finals.

Allen, in character as Dirty Lucciano, on stage at the Goldstein Auditorium.

Allen said his drag is inspired by iconic women in the music industry, including artists Tina Turner and Alicia Keys. He also pointed to well-known drag queen Shangela when it came to his sassy, almost tongue-in-cheek persona on stage.

“When those lights hit me, it’s like I click ‘on’,” he said. “Of course there are nerves and anxiety, but I can’t remember it once I’m in that headspace.”

The big night

Pandora Boxx started the show with an upbeat swing to Donna Lewis, reminiscing about her lengthy career within and outside of Drag Race.

The lights dimmed as she announced Dirty Lucciano as the first act. Near the front of the stage, a large group of students cheered and clapped louder than the already roaring crowd. Fellow members of Allen’s fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, were there to champion Allen’s performance.

He paid tribute to Tina Turner’s hit “Rolling in the River” in a sparkly white mini dress and matching pumps. Allen garnered major applause when he transitioned from a graceful sing-along to the promised high energy dance routine consisting of twists and dives. He only stopped moving to lean down to an audience member offstage, beaming as they danced in unison.


Performer Vita Vanitea went next with a routine of props and dance techniques that honored his upbringing in Hong Kong culture. The audience and judges were particularly wowed by the brightly colored ribbon poi Chau weaved to S.U.E.’s “Moment.”

“My drag is a love letter to Asian-American kids, and always striving to be myself,” Chau said. This was Chau’s third and last year competing in the drag show.

Dohner completed the student lineup, strutting onto the stage in a velvet robe and sunglasses to Silk Sonic’s “Smoking Out the Window.” Dohner is a senior environmental studies major at SUNY-ESF.

Their classmates, as well as their mother, jumped up to chant and shout support while they executed reveal after reveal. The crowd grew louder when Dohner pulled out a swatter to end the performance, playfully tapping people as they made their back onstage.

More than just a performance

Allen paused, bringing a hand up to his face while he steadied his breath. Here in his dorm room a week before the finals, the gravity of what the show means to him sets in.

“If I could go back, I would tell myself to come out sooner,” he said. “That I was ready to show the whole me.” Keith and Taylor move to stand beside him, hugging him.

Allen said he plans on continuing to perform and incorporate drag into his everyday life once the competition is over. He also looks to apply what he learned throughout the experience to his work in counseling, specifically creating resources for LBTQ+ people of color.

“I want to give back to my community,” Allen said. “Whether that’s through therapy or my involvement in the scene where I can uplift other young people like I was inspired.”

Allen peers through a door before going on stage.

The grand finale

The celebrity kings and queens each performed their own routines following the students. Maxi Glamour showcased their distinct absurdist style, going from playing the flute to doing handstands and dramatic drops in quick succession.

Lady Gaga impersonator Judas Joe Manson belted along to “Teeth” before jumping into the aisle to interact with audience members. Chicago-based Tenderoni danced to the beat to a mix of classic 90’s R&B that had the other performers grooving along. Kylie Sonique Love enchanted the audience as she spun and swayed to “I Will Survive” in a flowing white gown.

Performers, judges and hosts gathered together to announce who won. Love crowned Dohner as this year’s winner, who immediately went to hug their fellow contestants.

Backstage, the contestants ran between collecting their belongings and talking to friends. “I’m just so glad we were able to come together and have fun,” Dohner said. “My friends and family inspired me to do what I love to do, and it brought me here.” They revealed that the competition was also their first time performing drag in front of an audience.

“I’m sad that this is my last show, but I have too many wigs to stop doing drag completely,” Chau said in between taking pictures with fans.

“What matters most to me is that my brothers got to see this side of me,” Allen said with a smile. “This isn’t the last you’ll see of Dirty Lucciano, that’s for sure.”

Allen throws off his heels to perform an energetic dance routine.