After cutting her teeth in Atlanta with some kid named RuPaul, the queen of trash talk hopped up to NYC in the mid-’80s and quickly became the driving force behind the pioneering Wigstock festival. Her gravity-defying hair and ultra raunchy song parodies (she works dark blue) have helped shape a generation of cross-dressing comedians, to whom she remains the unofficial fairy godmother.
With his unique combo of outlandish couture-fetish costumes, potty-mouthed patter and Billie Holiday–channeling vocals, Arias has been an unhinged fixture of the East Village scene since the late ’70s. His peaks include backing up David Bowie on Saturday Night Live, hosting Cirque du Soleil’s risqué Zumanity and starring in his own phantasmagoria, Arias with a Twist. He returns regularly to spread his legend at venues like Joe’s Pub.
A devoted flame-keeper for classic silver-screen camp, Busch specializes in peerless embodiments of tough-as-nails Hollywood dames. After writing and starring in such downtown hits as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party, he’s enjoyed crossover success as a playwright (Broadway’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife) and was the subject of the 2005 film documentary The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch.
Bianca Del Rio
New Yorkers have long known this New Orleans import for her hilariously cruel humor and flawless aesthetic. But when she appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race—a contest she seems all but certain to win tonight—we learned that behind those massive lashes and acid wit lies an incredibly sweet, generous and (yes) kind performer.
The long-standing class clown of NYC’s drag scene, Sherry Vine takes funny very seriously, striking viral gold with parodies of Lady Gaga, Adele and Madonna, among other pop icons. Vine got her start performing alongside Joey Arias and Raven O at the era-defining Bar d’O in the ’90s, the inspiration for a thousand drag careers.
Though she doesn’t lip-synch, sing or dance, the quick-witted Simpson has been a fixture in NYC’s nightlife circles for more than two decades, thanks to her work as a journalist (she’s a former Time Out staffer), photographer (her 35mm photos were recently on view at Chelsea’s ClampArt gallery) and writer-star of her own Off Broadway shows. These days, you can catch her pulling balls and cracking jokes at bingo nights around town.
Drag ain’t always pretty. Gender-fucking icons from Leigh Bowery and Divine to Sharon Needles have shunned girly (or “fishy”) looks in favor of arty, creepy or downright icky. And a new breed of north-Brooklyn queen is taking that baton and running with it. Leading the charge is House of Bushwig cofounder Horrorchata, who tortures and delights boozy gipsters (“gay hipsters,” you squares) with her punk-rock freak-show antics.
The demented alter ego of ballet pianist John Epperson, Lypsinka raises lip service to a dance form in rigorously assembled collages of songs and spoken word, mouthing along to sound clips drawn from deep within the banks of collective camp memory. At her awe-inspiring best, she doesn’t just own her material, but seems possessed by it.
Bob the Drag Queen
Until last year, Bob went by the stage name Kittin Withawhip, but her new moniker is typical of the irreverent humor and sass that has made her one of New York’s faster-rising new stars. At her late-night shows all over town, she lip-synchs an eclectic repertoire of show tunes and pop, showing off a mix of sparkle and shadiness.
Some queens lip-synch and some queens sing, but Shequida sings. The classically trained, Jamaica-born diva attended Juilliard and has parlayed her four-octave range into everything from an Off Broadway show called Opera for Dummies to an appearance on America’s Got Talent. But she’s not all about glass-shattering high notes: You’ll find her camping it up at plenty of parties around Hell’s Kitchen and beyond.