Definitely the Gal about "town" here, she's a singer, songwriter, pianist, performer, actor and an MC who's been delighting audiences for years!
"Whenever Drag is mentioned in the Twin Cities, the one name that immediately pops into the conversation is "DELLA CATESSEN! ". Definitely the Gal about "town" here, she's a singer, songwriter, pianist, performer, actor and an MC who's been delighting audiences for years! This self-professed "late bloomer" swears that she started doing drag professionally a few years ago, as the result of a friends dare. Now, beauty queen hopefuls tremble at the mention of her name."
I have never taken any offense to being called a "drag queen" (depending on if it is said in a mean way or not), but it all depends on how you emphasize the words. For some people "drag queen" conjures up some negative images. On the other hand, there are those who feel that "Drag Illusionist" or "Female Impersonator" sounds a little hoity-toity, as if somehow elevating themselves above the rest of the crop. There are a lot of different "levels of drag", from casual "street drag", to the professional performers (Illusionists, female impersonator, etc.) that make a legitimate living at it. Using some of those fancier terms does add more legitimacy to what a performer does and thereby making it more appropriate to use. Hmmm, that's always been a bit of quandary for many of us. It is surprising how touchy some people can get about this topic. I guess that it really depends (like so many labels), on who is saying it and in what context. For myself, I am glad if they call me at all! I guess I just like to be referred to simply as a "performer", or "impersonator", because that really is what I am and what I do. However, I suppose that "Professional Glamour Puss" would also be appropriate!
I think that this was something I was born with...like being gay. I never tire of of the audience and they give me so much more than I could ever possibly hope to give back. One of my early distinct childhood memories was as a toddler. I was a very shy and rather lonely child. Mom was a beautiful and charming woman, with definite glamour all her own. I would sometimes lie on the sofa with my head in my Mom's lap and watch her read. She would also read the old "Photoplay" magazines aloud to me sometimes. I would see pictures of the glamorous female movie stars and ask all kinds of questions about their lives. I was mesmerized, as she would relate to me the stories and trivia about these glamorous icons. She loved it too. Often we would chat for hours about Hollywood and movies, and music. She had a beautiful voice too, like a young Rosemary Clooney, and she would sing popular songs and show tunes to me. Then I would sing them back to her. She would applaud and delight in my antics. I think that Mom was my first real audience, and it helped give me confidence. Little did she realize that she was sowing the seeds that later would take root into the entertainer I am today.
Unfortunately, most of my family is gone now. We were a very small family to begin with. My younger (and only) brother died suddenly almost 3 years ago at a young age. I am sorry to say that my father was an alcoholic and physically and emotionally abusive, and my parents finally divorced after being married way too long. My Mom is 80 and has had a couple of strokes and other health problems. But she is very young acting and looking for her age, and she has an amazing attitude about life. The last 2 years she has lived the majority of that time with me, and then gone to her condo in Florida for the winter where she had some other help. She and I are so fortunate to have a very unique and wonderful relationship. We are much alike in many ways, and fortunately we enjoy each other's company as well. I came out to her when I was 20, and there were really no problems. Her biggest issue was that she wanted so much to be a grandmother to my children, which didn't happen. I can relate to her disappointment because I have always wanted to be a parent myself. I believe I would have been a good parent, but I think it might be too late for me now.
I am lucky, and proud to have the kind of open and honest relationship Mom and I do. I really believe that I was blessed to get her as a mother. She is a totally accepting person and knows all about Della. In fact, she helped me make my first Pageant gown! When she was living with me last year, I would come upstairs to say goodbye before I would leave for work, and she would give me the once over and critique my look. Sometimes she would say, "Oh, I just love your hair that way", or, "are you sure you really want to wear those earrings with that outfit"! I would just crack up!
As for any love relationships, it has been a little while since I was "in" love. I do date when I can, and am open to more. I am very pleased that I have had two wonderful men that I have deeply loved in my life. If it doesn't happen again for me, then I am very grateful for having experienced true love, even once. If it happens again all the better! But one thing I have learned is, you can't make it happen. When it is time, it will come to you. Jeez, I am being awfully philosophical!
I was performing vocal solos in an adult choir when I was only eight years old and been performing professionally in nightclubs since I was seventeen, as my alter ego "Chaz". I have sung and played piano in nightclubs and supper clubs right up until I began working as Della almost eight years ago. I also have a very strong theater background, and had performed in lots of shows, including a season in repertory at the world renowned Tyrone Guthrie Theater. I have also written, performed, and produced several local and national radio jingle Ad's. Plus when I was thin, (yes, I really was thin), I did a lot of fashion and catalogue modeling as well as some packaged products that were nationally distributed. So as you see, the performance arts have always been a huge part of my life.
I am limited because of my size and stature as to whom I could realistically impersonate, plus I sing live. That is my "gimmick". So I purposely decided not to mimic anyone else. That is why I have taken the time to develop the character and personality of "Della". What you see is what you get with me. The truth be known, Della is really just a more glamorous extension of Chaz. Della can get away with a LOT more that Chaz ever could and look a hell-of-a lot more glamorous doing it!
Doing a real celebrity impersonation is something you need to honestly take stock in about yourself before attempting to create a living memorial to your favorite icon. Just because you like Madonna, doesn't mean you can be Madonna! However, I definitely am an appreciator of those who can do the job, and do it well. It really is an art form. I have seen enough bad Cher, Bette, Dolly and Madonna impersonators to fill a small ocean. The worst part is, that they continue to do it relentlessly. Like some kind of horrific Chinese water torture! My final word on the subject of impersonations is "if you can't do a really credible representation of your chosen celebrity, then save yourself and everyone else the embarrassment".
Being a very large person I originally would never have even considered trying to get into "serious drag" for fear of embarrassment. It seemed everyone else was a size 2. So way back (around the time I planted the giant redwoods), I did a character on very rare occasions that I called "Fatsy Cline". I would be introduced "Ladies and Gentlemen, that Large and Lovely Queen of Country Miss FATSY CLINE!" People would roar as I came out with a full beard and mustache, big hair, classic Patsy gold lame Capri pants with matching gold cowgirl boots, and gold fringed black denim western jacket (with gold sequined music notes and guitars), plus a hidden extension cord connected to 150 chase lights blinking all around my sleeves, lapels, and cowboy hat!
I would do my own live parodies of Patsy Cline's songs such as "I call for Pizza's" (sung to the tune "I fall to Pieces"). People would just double over, as the pizza delivery boy and I would walk off the stage together arm in arm at the end of the number! To make a long story longer one day a very good friend of mine with the Imperial Court system was doing a big fundraiser. He wanted me to perform, but he insisted that I do it legit no beard, or any of the comedy trappings. I was 40 years old with little drag experience, and I was petrified! I went home and worked furiously on 3 very classy live numbers and costumes, but all the time I was afraid the audience would laugh at me and not because I had intended to be funny! The night of the fundraiser came and nobody recognized my transformation as they announced the "new gal" Miss Della Catessen. That evening was a blur for me and all I can tell you is, the bar manager (a past drag queen himself) said to me later that night that I had made "drag history" at the Brass Rail. Never had he seen such a reaction by an audience...ever. Needless to say, I was hooked, and it was the beginning of my drag career.
Two weeks later a friend entered me in, and I won, my first pageant title. It was just good instincts, some talent, and dumb luck! The rest, as they say is history. This October 22nd Della will celebrate her 8th birthday. From the looks of it, you would think it must have been a very rough eight years, for being such a "tender age" ha ha! Having begun my drag career at 40 years old it's safe to say I was a "late bloomer" (you do the math!).
I have been performing a live piano and vocal's cabaret act for the past seven years at a club here in Minneapolis. I always perform live vocals. Ballads show tunes, popular, country, comedy, I do them all. I have on rare occasions lip-synched when I have been ill or doing something more physically demanding like trying to sing and dance (it's not a pretty sight)...and you need your breath control. I can move well, but I am not a dancer! Fat girls...contrary to popular belief...cannot do it all...nor should they try. It can be embarrassing!
My first adventure in the recording studio was when I was in my early 20's to demo some of my own compositions. My first solo album was as my "male self" Chaz, It was called "Dinner at Eight", and it was a piano & vocal collection of nostalgic favorites kind of like romantic dinner music. Then as "Della", I did a CD called "Night Life songs of Love and Angst, by a Drag Diva". That's sort of self-explanatory, and it ranged from very torchy to very campy, with some classic songs and original material as well. It was a good and bad experience for me. I was not totally pleased with the outcome, because it was not what I had originally envisioned as a concept, and my sound technicians messed up some things. It was a definite learning experience, and I know exactly what I would do differently next time. However some of the songs turned out great, and I still have some people say that they play their favorite tunes regularly, which is always nice to hear.
I have been planning another CD, but the next one will be a "LIVE" album, and will be a compilation of the choice picks from several different nights recorded performances. Then I have this "other" idea that dates back to my "I call for Pizza" days. It would be my own humorous parodies of famous songs... ala Weird Al Yankovich" except in drag. I just love doing that stuff it just comes to me out of nowhere, and I start to giggle like an idiot! The last time one of those parodies came to me, I was in a funeral chapel, and I am sure I must have appeared to be a complete mental case! It was a very Mary Tyler Moore "Chuckles the Clown's funeral episode", kind of moment!
For the past eight months I have been traveling the nightclub circuit in the five state area doing my "One, uhhh Woman Show". I bring my electric keyboards, some other back-up orchestra arrangements on CD, and a little stand up comedy. Sometimes I get some of the local girls to do a couple of 20 minute "drag breaks" between my sets. It makes for a nice intimate variety show, and I get to interact with the audience, which makes it all the more fun for everybody. My life has been very full, and I have kept quite busy, but there are other venues I would love to do also. One of the things I have not investigated yet, but would love to do, is some of the gay cruise ships. I think that I would be perfect for their piano lounges and what a fabulous working vacation too!
I have so many very special memories of the places I have performed, and much of it has to do with the people I have met there and gotten to know. I really enjoy meeting nice people and sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It is what gives life balance and dimension. Some of those national pageants are very memorable, but incredibly fast paced and nerve-wracking as well. Some of my nights doing my cabaret thing, as the room would burst into spontaneous applause during or after a live performance would leave me with a very satisfied and warm feeling. Especially when you have really put your heart into it. When we go home and scrape off our make-up and glitter, we still have to look at ourselves in the mirror and hopefully like what we see. I have known too many people that hide behind drag because they don't know who they really are, or can't deal very well with reality. I have always said that some of the very nicest and most decent and some of the bitchiest and most conniving people, I have ever met were drag queens. At my age, I have developed a sixth sense to be able to see trouble coming and I just steer clear, but I always give everybody a fair chance at first, just as I would want to have given to me.
I have had some really positive, joyful, experiences, as well as some disappointing and hurtful moments in my relatively short career. The highs have come from that amazing adrenaline/endorphin rush during those memorable performances when you know you have done a great job and the audience is totally with you. The lows have mostly come from some of the bitter or jealous people who try to stab you in the back for whatever their personal problems or insecurities are. I like to focus on those positive experiences and release the negativity. It will only eat away at you. But all in all, I have to say that the total experience has been a very positive one for me, and I am better off for having done it. I believe that seeing the world through "Della's" eyes has actually made "Chaz" a better and more confident person. I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to see life from so many different perspectives, and look forward to the future whatever it may bring.
I was approached by the president of GuysAsDolls, Lauri Flaquer, to do a photo sitting for her after she had seen me do my cabaret act at the Gay 90's. We hit it off instantly, and one thing led to another. She was also starting a line of humorous drag greeting cards, and since we worked so well together, she asked me if I was interested. Being the photo-shy little flower that I am, I leapt at the chance! They are very fun and beautifully produced cards. Sold at finer gay emporiums nationwide. I believe you can also purchase them separately, or in a mixed variety box through their website. I think I am featured on three different cards. My particular cards are also displayed on my website.
Another project that I did with Lauri was a new book by Honey Van Campe, "Adventures While A-Broad a travel companion", which is a satire on gay travel. Again, that was another lucky break, in part because Lauri was doing some of the photography for this book. I got to chatting with Honey, and it all sort of came together. Her first book was a best seller called "The Drag Queen's Cookbook (and guide to sensible living)". She and Lauri asked me to pose for some humorous set-up shots dealing with "travel trauma" (God, could she have a field day if she was writing it NOW!). We had a great time doing it. I know I am in the book in different places, but I have not seen Honey's final draft. She claims I am in the book more than she is! It is scheduled to hit the bookshelves early next year. The cheap bitch has never sent me the autographed copy she promised me ( just kidding!).
When asked about her 'Movie Career'...
Well I don't know if I would go so far as to say that I have a movie career...yet! Your not referring to my old porno days...I hope! (just kidding folks). Honey (Van Campe) approached me a while back about taking a featured role in an original screenplay she was writing. But from what I understand, there have been a number of setbacks, which is nothing unusual in this business. We had discussed me playing the role of a tough lady warden in a women's prison...and most of the main prison characters are drag queens! It would be a parody of those old black and white women's prison movies...like Eleanor Parker in "Caged"! I guess you could say it would be something like "John Waters" meets "Beaches", meets" The Shawshank Redemption"! The project sounds like a HOOT...and I would of course LOVE to do it when it is finally ready to shoot. I was just in touch with her, and she says that it is still a "go-ahead'.
Aside from that I have been working on a screenplay that is actually based on my own autobiography. I have had quite a lot of things happen to me that most people would never guess lots of drama, girl! It has a nice mix of some very serious issues and humor, not to mention a good ol' "rags to riches" story (that's where my poetic license comes in ha ha). I think it will make for a compelling story. If it were ever filmed, I would love to be able to play the "adult Della" near the end of the movie, if at all possible.
As I mentioned before, some of the people you work with can be the best and the worst part of the business. Too many people are doing drag for the wrong reasons, in my opinion. Power is not a word you would usually associate with drag, but it really does have its place in this business. There is power in creating an illusion, and all the attention and/or celebrity you can pull from it. But unchecked, it also can be a dangerous thing, just like some of the movie stars that you hear about who get caught up in their own publicity. Some people handle it well, some don't. Some crave it, and will go to any extremes to get it (or maintain it). But it also can ultimately become destructive as well as hurt other people in their way.
I am, so grateful for the fact that I did not start doing drag professionally until I was older. It allowed me to have the maturity I needed to see certain things for what they are, and not let it go to your head. I have a real contempt for people who try and build themselves up at the expense of other people. I have never had respect for those who abuse power on any level, but aside from that potential drawback, the glamour and attention really are some wonderful perks of the job. It makes all the time and expense that we put into it worthwhile! Some of the good performers make it look so effortless but anyone who has really done this for any length of time knows it's not. It can be a very enjoyable and satisfying job most of the time, if you have your head on straight.
I have had a couple of people that were minor mentors to me, but no one that was a so-called "drag mother" who helped bring me up through the ranks. I have learned mostly by my own trial and error. I have learned a LOT just from watching other performers, especially in the national pageants. I have learned most of my make-up tricks from watching other people who are good at it and adapting the technique to myself. There are a number of people whom I admire in the female impersonation industry. Devine, RuPaul, Charles Pierce, and Jim Bailey obviously come to mind. There are also a number of less famous names and National Title holders that I have admired for years. Through their hard work, and talents, they have achieved a certain status in the industry that I have a lot of respect for, and consider them role models as well.
For those of you out there that are just getting started in this business; watch, listen, and learn, because you don't just start out with the "world by the tail". I love to see new talent, and encourage it. However, nobody likes a know-it-all coming in and trying to just take over. It is the fastest way to cut your own throat. The established drag queens are still here because they do know something about their craft. We all can learn from each other. Be willing to ask for, and take, constructive criticism. But also remember that not all the queens who say they like you and want to help you have your best interest at heart. Be honest and don't screw over your fellow performers, because the ones who get known as "shady" will never completely shake that old reputation. Stay off the drugs, and avoid cocktailing too much. I have seen it ruin way too many people's lives. Also, many of the "Snow Queens" out there who say they only do "it" to help keep their figure, wind up screwing up their minds, their jobs, and their friendships. I can't stress that enough. Take my word for it, I'm as old as dirt honey and I have learned from the best and worst!
I have a world famous (Ha ha) fashion designer "Omar the Tent Maker" who would kill me if I gave away any of his secrets! But seriously, "classy" and "figure flattering" are the rules when choosing my wardrobe. On occasion you may see me wearing something on the more outrageous side, but that is usually for a specific purpose, onstage. I have single handedly revived the "caftan" as a fashion statement only much more glamorous and appealing than the one's Aunt Effie used to wear around the house! I really have spent an incredible amount of money on all kinds of evening gowns, stage, and casual wear not to mention the jewelry, wigs, shoes, purses, make-up & perfume, etc. I'm sure I will never make as much back as I have invested in all that stuff! I do have a silver & white fully beaded and fringed gown that had belonged to 2 national titles holders, which for sentimental reasons I will never give up (I won my first Tri-State title in it sniff sniff). Because I am a big girl, I also design and make some of my own costumes. I do have a pretty huge wardrobe, and had to have a separate room built in my basement just to hold it all. I very seldom just shop "off the rack", because you just don't see this kind of stuff at Layne-Bryant.
My hair color changes from a two-toned blond to bright red, depending on my mood. As far as my hairstyles go, my motto is "big girl big hair". But I always try to make it on the classy side. My favorite outfit is a hot pink watered moiré "fish-tail" dress and a matching A-line swing jacket with black satin accents and linings. When I designed it, I never realized it would be such a flattering look on me. Everyone who has seen me in it said it makes me look like I actually have a figure! Throw on some fabulous jewels with that, and the whole effect is very "glamoo"!
First, three words about make-up BLEND, BLEND, BLEND! OK? now here's a few more. Remember trendy looks are just that trendy. A "look" was not meant to remain totally unchanged for the next 20 years! As we age, our make-up has to change along with us, or we just end up looking ridiculous. Also dress appropriately for your body type. PLEASE don't try to dress in tights, micro minis, and 6-inch thigh hi stiletto boots, unless you have the kind of body that can get away with it. I know a drag queen that everyone here jokes about and says they want to "have whatever mirror she's looking in, because she really must think she looks damn sexy" as she slithers out in her leopard tights all barrel-chested and her generous waistline cascading over her way too tight belt! (You will never see me wearing something belted!) There are other ways of looking sexy without looking slutty or making a fool out of yourself. Try stepping back from yourself and see yourself in true perspective. If you have any doubt that something does not look appropriate for you, I can guarantee you that others will notice it too. I have always found that going for a classy image usually works well for most people, unless you have a special gimmick you want to follow. The drag queens that have had longevity in the business, and stand out in my mind, all have two things in common glamour and class.
I have never been a "label" freak about clothes. If you find something that looks really good on you buy it! Too many times I have kicked myself later for not getting something right then and there. Then when I go back, it's gone! Also, if you can find something good at thrift store, you can glamorize it and make it fabulous. Knowing how to sew even just a little can be tremendously helpful. The Internet has almost unlimited sources to draw from. In fact, e-bay is a great place to shop for clothes, wigs, jewelry, and accessories! Actually, within the next month I am going to open my own e-bay shop! Please look for me and say hi!
After living in Minneapolis for the past 25 years I know this town like the back of my hand. I have some wonderful and irreplaceable friends that I love dearly. They have become my extended family, and I will miss them terribly when I move to Clearwater Florida in the coming month. On a purely selfish level, I have been very involved with the local GLBT community and I have been blessed with tremendous community love and support, I will miss that SO much. I really want those folks to know just how much, and that the feeling is mutual. They will ALWAYS be in my heart, and I am grateful to have been a part of that experience. I am a very fortunate person to have been so supported by my community.
On the flip side, I am looking forward being in Clearwater to help my Mom. I think about her all the time, plus I miss and worry about her. She really does need me now. I could not live with myself if I were not there for her at this time in her life. I really want to make whatever years she has left as happy and productive as possible.
I must admit I am a little terrified of the prospect of moving to a place where I do not know another soul, and starting from scratch at my age! It is a little daunting to say the least. However, I have recently met a couple of totally adorable partners named "Steve & Sammy who are also the owners of "myGayWeb"" in St. Petersburg. They have offered to show me the ropes down there (thanks guys!), so I am very hopeful, and looking forward to many great new experiences and memories.
It is hard to know whether my experience in Clearwater will be similar to that of Minneapolis without knowing the "lay of the land", so to speak. But I know that a sense of "community" is a very important thing to me. I cannot deny the gay side of my personality, and have a need to become involved with the GLBT community there in whatever way they will allow me. I know I have a lot of experience in a variety of settings and good ideas to offer. I just need to "network", as they say. I sure hope that anyone reading this from the area will not hesitate to contact me and get to know me (especially any cute chubby chasers...lol). I have a lot of experience with organizations and fundraising, I would like to ease back into that as soon as I get settled.
I'm afraid this might be a little hard to swallow for some of the folks from Minneapolis that are reading this, but I am afraid the drag community has really changed around here the last few years and not for the better. It used to have a kind of innocence and positive direction to it. But now it has gotten a bit of a hard, bitchy, edge. It is not fun for me when everyone is in such "competition" with each other. Leave that stuff for the pageants. Also, when I started out, there were many different shows going on in the various clubs, but now there are only a couple of places that are doing regular shows, and one of them is VERY cliquish. I don't know why everybody can't just get along. I guess that is the "mother" coming out in me. I have traveled quite a bit and done out of town shows as well. And no matter where I have traveled to, they have been great to me. But then after the show you always hear from a couple of the local queens about how nasty some of them are to each other, and all the local politics. I guess where ever you go there are always a few who ruin it for everybody. There is nothing I hate more than "drag drama", and avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, there is always someone trying to suck you into it. I am like Switzerland, I try to remain neutral! I have heard from a lot of people that the showgirls in the south have a stronger camaraderie, and that the community "loves their drag queens" down there. I guess I'll find out!
"This gal has won more crowns than I have in my mouth! ... Miss Gay 90s' over 35, Twin Cities Fire Goddess, Miss Gay Great Lakes USofA At Large, Miss Wisconsin Continental Plus, Miss City of the Lakes, Miss Minnesota USofA at Large, etc. ..."
You know honey, I am a little embarrassed when this topic comes up, because I think titles are a little silly. They don't really change who you are, or make you a better person. I have about 20 State, local, and regional pageant titles. The most recent honor/title I received was from Lavender Magazine. Each year they put out a special issue listing the best of everything in the Twin Cities called "The Crème de la Crème" issue, and I was voted "Best Drag Queen" 2001/2002. I guess that particular one means something more to me, because it was voted upon by the people in the community. But on the whole, titles do not mean that much to me, and should not be the measure of a person. When I did those pageants, I did them to challenge and improve myself...not for "the crown". I also did them to prove something to myself. I needed to prove that I was capable, and could hold my own with some of the best. That may sound a little strange, because by nature I am not at all competitive. The crowns are pretty, but I never wear them (they are uncomfortable, and mess the hair!). What is nice however, are the quality people I have met in some of those pageants. They have helped raise the standard for me as far as improving my "look", and also as a professional in the impersonation and entertainment business.
As far as Miss USofA at large goes I love that system! Many of the former winners, and the owner Jerry Bird have been extremely supportive and helpful to me. As I mentioned, it has been an outstanding forum to learn from. When I look back to my first national pageant I now know what the queens mean when they use the term "booger bitch"! However, the last time I entered, I was one of the top twelve finalists in the country. I have not done the pageants for a couple of years because of various scheduling conflicts. But I SWEAR, I am going to be a Miss USofA at Large one of these days, if I have to do the frigging evening wear competition with a walker!
Della has been extremely active in the local chapter of the Imperial Court system. Most of her charity work benefits Aids, but she's also a champion of Gay Youth, Children's Camp, and Breast Cancer events. This charity maven sights a strong need to give back to the community that has embraced her so phenomenally.
I think that the quote pretty well sums it up. I have always felt it is important to give something back to your community in whatever way you can. I am a firm believer in "What goes around comes around". I will always continue to do whatever I can to make a difference. It is also amazing how doing something for someone else can make YOU feel good too. You can't loose.
It might sound silly to some people, but I think my career has been a great gift to me in many ways. I won't say it has all been absolutely fabulous, but how many things are in this world? I have had unforgettable moments that will sustain me long after the crowds stop coming to see me. I believe that I have been presented with an opportunity to create an illusion, and hopefully entertain a lot of people. To lift them out of the humdrum and ordinary for a little while. I get to see the world though different eyes, and often times touch people's hearts through music and laughter and a healthy dose of glitz. What could be better?
Where do I see myself in the next ten years? Hmmm, do they have nursing homes for elderly drag queens? If not, I would still like to be performing on some level. I hope that I can be doing something that is creative and satisfying, and will make people smile and feel good. That means so much to me. The rest is all just window dressing.