By Benvolio Nichols
All other four interviews from Ben's main article are linked below!
The following interviews contain explicit language. They have been edited for length, clarity and content.
They/them in and out of drag
Since their debut in May, Youngstown-based drag artist Malacvnt LaFoole has made their mark on the scene, performing and hosting across northeast Ohio. Their cohesive looks and striking performances earned them a top-three ranking in Kingpin week five. Malacvnt builds a powerful stage presence from their experience as a professional clown.
I’ve been a clown in haunted houses since I was 13. I’ve been onstage performing my whole childhood. That, together, has given me, like, the best advantage in drag, specifically. I learned a lot from choir and band and musicals, how to capture an audience and really make them feel like they’re in that performance. People say that I’m really theatrical in my drag, and I try to come across as super dramatic.
One thing about my drag that’s notable is that I try not to repeat a look, and I also try not to repeat makeup, like, ever. I have never repeated a single look on my face. I want people to come back and see the art, the costumes, the props, the makeup — like, the songs might be the same, but the whole number is different every time.
And the Malacvnt face? It takes about two hours to do everything. I do the same base, but the eye is usually different, every single time. How I make them different is I usually just coordinate the makeup to the outfit. So, I’ll usually just do the black and white base that you see, and sit for a minute, and really think about what color scheme I want to do on my face today, and then I’ll do that.
One thing about me that’s like, “this is a Malacvnt look,”’ is the glitter on my nose. A ton of fucking glitter on my nose. Somebody came up to me and pointed out the glitter in my look, and it made my day. I have a huge glitter collection! My signature thing is mixing different size and shape glitters, so they’ll catch the light differently each time. I always go with the glitter. And — it can hide so many mistakes.
At the end of the night, whenever I’m taking of all my makeup, my partner [drag performer Luci Dreams] is just taking off foundation and eyeliner, and it’s taking 20 minutes. And I’m done in 5. That’s where being a clown comes in handy. I can take that shit off in 3 minutes!
Malacvnt made their drag debut at Club Switch in Youngstown, where they immediately felt the love from the crowd.
The song that I chose was “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake” by Doechii. The lyrics to that song? I wanted to choose a song that, as soon as people heard it, they would understand who I am. The lyrics have to match me as a person really well. I chose that song because it’s very much me, like, every single lyric in that song is my life. It went extremely well, people loved me, and I got invited to be in a show literally that night, like my first night. Somebody grabbed me and was like, “do you wanna be in a show?”
After that, the rest is history. Everybody really liked that there was a new AFAB [assigned female at birth] drag artist. Everybody really liked the fact that it was a new concept, because a lot of the drag at Club Switch is like, your typical “RuPaul” drag. And if it’s not that, it’s real weird drag. So I was trying to find a middle space between what’s really weird and that high-class, fancy, bougie drag. I was trying to change how people view drag kings. I was trying to mix in a lot of genderfuckery to my drag and also combine every single thing that I love.
Malacvnt’s unique drag persona brings in all of their passions, showcasing Black culture and pop culture in theatrical rock numbers.
This is literally embarrassing but when I was a kid, I was really obsessed with an online webcomic called Homestuck, and if you know Gamzee — I really loved him when I was a kid. Every time I dressed up as him, I was like, “gender, yeah. I’m a clown dude.” So I basically took that, and I mixed it with what I would consider more like an edgy style, alternative, Black alternative styles. So I try to mix those together and make an alternative Black weird rave clown that also really really wants to be a king, but he’s like, a court jester.
Usually my shows are like — I wanna completely captivate the audience and bring them through a story. I perform a lot of Set It Off. They usually tell stories in their songs, it’s pop punk-y music. I just recently did a number to “Partners in Crime” by them, with my partner Luci. I also really use alternative rap music. I really, really, really love doing “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” but I don’t want to run it dry. I do “Emperor’s New Clothes” by Panic! At the Disco, on repeat. That number I found a great concept and outfit for, and I just don’t want to fuck it up. Every other number I do is completely different from the last one, because I really want people to be entertained.
For Malacvnt, Kingpin is an opportunity to keep pushing the boundaries of what king drag means.
I really love Ryder Slowly, so I follow him pretty closely. I saw that he was doing a competition and I immediately was like, “I wanna be in that,” because I haven’t competed in anything or been in a pageant or anything, obviously, because I’m like, really new. And I kind of feel like the drag that I do isn’t “competition-worthy.” I don’t even do traditional “drag king” drag.
So when he casted me and gave me the list, I, like, shit my pants. Because the amount of people in there that are just like me? Me, Bigtop and The Twisted Transitioner — all three of us do really similar drag. I was worried that I would be surrounded by a bunch of people who look like Ryder Slowly, all put-together and fancy. All my drag is from the thrift store! I can’t afford to buy, like, tuxes and stuff.
The thing that Ryder wanted to do with this competition was basically just show the world that drag kings are more than just people who dress up like a dude. They can host, they can make costumes, they can dance, they can make mixes, they can act — he’s trying to show everybody what drag kings can do. People think a lot of negative things, and there’s a real negative stigma on drag kings because it’s just been so slept on I guess. So Ryder’s trying to make a platform for drag kings to basically get known and show what they can do. We’re here, and we’re not going nowhere, so you gotta start respecting us as artists too, because we deserve just as much booking and respect as drag queens get.
Malacvnt was excited to discover that they already had friends in the competition.
Right when I started drag, I made a friend in the Drag Kings Unite group chat on Facebook. He’s been supporting my drag literally since the day I started, but I never got to see him because he’s based in Cleveland. Then I saw that R.J. [tha King] was in it, and I went — “ahh, that’s my best friend!”
Malacvnt takes pride in cultivating chosen family and supporting their fellow performers.
I’m part of the Bounce Haus, and I also have my own little house. My own tiny little house is called Cirque De Tarot. It’s basically just a house that’s based on tarot cards, and like, I’m The Fool card, and Luci is The High Priestess, and Persephone’s Daughter is The Devil card. I have somebody who is the Strength card, and somebody who is the Death card, but he’s kind of out of town right now. It’s all AFAB artists right now, but that’s not, like, the motive. I’m really, really proud of them.
They’re all newcomers. It’s not like an official drag house, I would say. I always explain it as an apartment. It’s a bunch of little artists trying to help each other — that’s literally it. I’m the person who puts it all together, helping with costuming and makeup. I let my little babies borrow full costumes that I’ve made! They can do whatever. As long as you have the confidence to get up on stage — I’ll support it.
You can catch Malacvnt at their regular haunts like Club Switch, Westside Bowl and Pittsburgh’s P Town Bar.
Malacvnt LaFoole. Courtesy of Malacvnt LaFoole.
R.J. THA KING
He/him in drag; she/they out of drag
R.J. Tha King is one of the eight exciting new artists competing in Kingpin, known for his swoon-worthy stage presence. In a text interview, we discussed his drag career so far, starting off with his debut at CODA’s Casting Call — which he won.
It was fun! I have always been a natural performer, so it was like coming back home to the stage. I did “Freek’n You” by Jodeci, which is one of my father’s favorite songs. My concept was simply to enjoy it like how I performed as a child, acknowledge my attraction to women, and make fun of my being born a girl. My parents were hoping for R.J. (Rodney Jr.), to be real, but got Rodd-Nita instead. I wanted people to fall in love with my entertainment style more than anything.
Fun fact: my first appearance as R.J. was Halloween, my eighth grade year. My cousin and I played in my father and brother-in-law’s clothes and drew on facial hair, and we got hit on. There’s a lost picture somewhere on the internet if you can ever find it.
R.J. was crowned Casting Call co-winner alongside The Twisted Transitioner. While the open stage hosted by Pineapple Honeydew-Delight and Ryder Slowly has ended in two winners (“twinners”) before, this was the first time two kings won together.
That was a shock honestly! I just wanted to have fun, I didn’t expect to win. I’m excited to work with other Kings because I don’t think that anyone can grow in this profession/lifestyle by not networking and learning from others. Competition is supposed to be fun and invigorating, but overall it’s a learning experience.
R.J. draws on the masculinity and sexuality of ’90s R&B to craft his slow, sensual audience appeal.
6lack is my male alter ego manifested in today’s terms, but R.J. is what it’s like if Jodeci and Dru Hill OG members all somehow had a baby. He is the R&B King of Cleveland with a specialty in ’90s baby-making and club bops from the ’00s to make you feel good, because that’s what the culture was all about … Love and acceptance of sexual awakening and exploration. Freaknik is our Girls Gone Wild College Edition.
The ’90s, man. It’s nothing like the Black ’90s experience, and I’m grateful to have experienced and be a part of it.
The night of his win, R.J. learned that Ryder planned to organize Kingpin. He immediately knew that he needed to compete.
Literally, I went to my family after my first set and they just so happened to sit next to Monica [Lexin], Ryder’s partner. They grabbed me by the arm and said, “Oh my God! That was so good. You see that guy, Ryder, with the hair and speedo, he’s holding a competition and you need to apply!” I was like, okay. Then Ryder actually chose me to compete against Twisted and that solidified what Monica said to me.
R.J. entered the competition after building a close online friendship with Malacvnt LaFoole.
Yes! That’s my Cvnty Poo! I added a bunch of random Drag Artists before my debut and they [Malacvnt] posted this picture of them playing the game in their drag beat and open shirt. The energy I got off of the post was Masc Energy and I was gagged by their makeup skills. I commented my adoration and we kinda clicked. When Ryder posted the question of who the audience wanted to see [in the competition], I mentioned them because they have a unique style of entertainment. It’s still so classic, but it’s new and I love that! I’m psyched to be competing with them because I hear about drag bringing people together. We can be friends IRL now! My first internet friend that I met in person 🏾😂
R.J. thanks his family, his community and his drag parents, Distraxxxtion and Hickey Hun, for their love and support as he steps out on the scene. You can catch him and Malacvnt competing for the Kingpin crown every Saturday at 9 p.m. at Muze Gastropub, through the finale on December 9.
R.J. Tha King. Courtesy of R.J. Tha King.