Reigning Miss Gay USofA Jenna Skyy answers the hard questions, and leaves us searching for an umbrella.
A five year veteran of the Rose Room cast, Jenna Skyy is certainly no new comer. Her accomplishments are many, and her daily routine would leave most addicted to Ritalin or red bull, or a combination of both. But somehow this local #dragstardiva keeps it all together, and delivers to the crowd each and every time.
Ms. Skyy sat down with DragStarDiva to gives us some insight into how she keeps it all together.
DSD: Are you originally from Texas? How long have you been working here in Dallas?
Jenna: I am originally from Arlington, TX – home of the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys, Six Flags & Hurricane Harbor, my virginity, my alma mater and my parents…married 50 years. I moved to Dallas almost 12 years ago and have been entertaining in Dallas for nine-and-a-half years. I joined the Rose Room cast officially five years ago.
DSD: Tell me about a typical day-in-the-life of Jenna.
Jenna: I hit the snooze button half a dozen times…never been much of a morning person…to get myself to SMU (Southern Methodist University) Monday – Friday where I’ve been for 13 years (cue Dolly Parton…9 to 5). I am the Director of Graduate Admissions for the performing, visual and communication arts programs, and I spend my week managing data, communicating with prospective students and processing admission information. Having been here this long, my days move pretty regularly and fortunately my position is pretty autonomous so I manage myself and my time which makes for a more productive schedule for me. SMU is pretty awesome about that.
By 5:00 pm, I’m on my way home and quickly find my way to the couch. This old man needs a nap most days. Depending on the day, or what’s on my mind, I can get anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours in. On bad days, I’ll sleep until it’s time to go to a booking…I hate that. Fortunately though, I mostly work Thursday – Saturday nights. So early in the week I nap a bit, then watch TV, sometimes catch my sisters at their Monday or Tuesday night shows, see a movie or grab dinner with someone…or sit at home alone feeling sorry for my single ass watching some Universe show or How It’s Made.
Nights that I have a show, I’ll grab something to eat and get to the bar around 9:00 pm. I’m a creature of habit so I like to set things up, get myself organized, pick my music, then paint! I try to be done in an hour or so to give myself time to “tribble” as we call it. Krystal Summers invented that term when she was screaming at me for “trifling” and “dabbling” in a private conversation…in her frustration the two words became one. From then on…I “tribble.” Basically it’s just mixin’ and minglin’ now with the crowd, and getting started on drinks. Nights that I don’t get to do this…I feel off. When I “tribble,” I get a chance to sense the energy of the room and make some kind of initial connection. Makes the night easier for me. Our shows move pretty consistently so once the show starts it’s going until it’s over. After my last set, I’m washing my face with the fine quality foaming substance that comes out of the hand pump in the dressing room bathroom and bar toweling myself dry…for extra exfoliation. I’m home between 1:45 and 2:15 am, usually and in bed shortly after.
During times of pageantry, I nap less, sew more, spend time in the car listening to talent mixes and visualizing myself on stage. I map out my rehearsals, communicate with dancers as needed, and make sure I’m planning ahead calendar wise. Drag never stops during those times…and then when you win…you spend those moments trying to learn new gigs (which is difficult when there’s nothing worth learning on the radio these days), shopping ideas for costuming, and managing your travel. Siri helps me stay organized…so far.
In my downtime. I’m on Facebook. It’s how I stay connected to everyone. I’m really just a workaholic I think. My goal this year as Miss Gay USofA is to make preliminary travel…vacations…because otherwise I’ll be yet another year without one!
DSD: What’s the “state of drag” in Texas? Tell us a little about the scene.
Jenna: Drag in Texas is pretty heavily saturated. We have a solid mix of everyone: boy queens, lady boys, rising stars, phish, pasty queens, pageant queens, comedy queens…you name it. We’re also saturated with pageants, which makes recruiting girls for the city pageants difficult. Austin is an interesting scene to me. It’s hard to get promoters there because most of the venues don’t allow promoters to charge cover at the door. This basically means that those promoting have to foot the bill entirely out of pocket. Those that do promote are more often Austin entertainers…or from my perspective…Austin Superheroes! They manage to forecast and plan and build shows specifically designed to generate cash flow to put toward their preliminary competition. Not only are they promoting the system they represent, they are fostering a healthy experience for up and coming queens to grow and improve. They’re remarkable for making that kind of contribution to the art form while also being heavily invested in their own careers. I see a lot of non-pageant queens making a name though for themselves in Austin. Alyssa Edwards is always commenting on the personalities in Austin when she comes back from a booking. You’ll find though that each city has its gig…the kind of show the audience likes and wants and you learn to adjust as you travel to make sure you fit, as best you can, their expectations.
DSD: There has been a remarkable new wave of alternative drag (gender-bending, non-traditional). What’s your take, and will it last?
Jenna: Art is constantly in a state of evolution…or it should be at least. I like the non-traditional aspect of drag…I love when sexy men go androgynous and have memories of some my favorites in the day pioneering these trends. What often happens though, is the audience may not appreciate it…because they don’t recognize it. And the entertainer begins to shift toward a more standard or widely accepted style of drag. In some instances you’ll find girls trying to justify their shortcomings by calling it alternative, or gender-bending…when really they just don’t have pads…or tore their tights, after which they ripped a dozen more holes in them, pulled a wig out of the trunk and turned in Ke$ha. 😉 I appreciate when someone OWNS their style and my take on if it will last or not….absolutely! Evolution will never stop…it’s eternal so we should expect to see constant reinvention from this industry. The rules are no longer what they were either…social media has made it possible for us to be celebrities without having to leave home. My response to all this though…be able to sustain…and back up your craft. If you’re going to aspire to celebrity…be famous for something. If you’re going to make a name in one of the more obscure styles…again…OWN it! Set the standard for it! Don’t use it as a crutch, but be empowered by it! And most importantly, inspire your audience to appreciate it…so that it has the opportunity to last.
DSD: Many times, the art of drag is broken into showgirls and pageant queens. Which do you say most favor as your own art?
Jenna: It’s sad that often that’s all that is seen of this industry. It’s somewhat like “masculine” and “feminine”. I struggle sometimes with having to categorize everything to justify why we do or do not get to like each other. In this regard though…I’m both. And I can’t say I favor one or the other. I’m a working showgirl, so I know about having to sometimes make accommodations to your craft to meet your audiences’ expectations as much as I know about being loved for the right song. But I love the energy and instant gratification of being a showgirl. I also love the effort, work, planning, discipline, strategy, and commitment it takes to compete. And then to win…the amount of work that is involved during your reign. It’s contribution to a niche of this art form that has a large and loyal audience. Granted, we make accommodations in this regard too. Each system has its style and aesthetic. Ideally though, whatever we do or prefer, showgirl or pageant queen…we’re all just trying to find our place – to belong. You want to be a part of a legacy and a sisterhood and so perhaps this is why I don’t favor one more than the other. They both, deep down, provide me the same thing: a sense of belonging.
DSD: You have quite a few pageants under your belt, not to mention crowns. Tell me what the hardest part about the pageant scene is and why.
Jenna: Winning. The most critical judgment takes place once you’ve won. How you enter and leave a room, what shoes you’re wearing with what dress, your style of entertainment, the way you talk and present yourself…does your cocktail have a straw. We live in a day where we love to glorify a person’s faults…let me rephrase…where we love to make what someone does, a fault. Something you’ve always done is suddenly wrong, a number that moves you and people who have seen it…that gets requests…will be scrutinized. And then there are your promos. You will work so hard to get to a place you’ve only dreamed about…where so many have dreamed about…only to find out how ugly and untalented you are. It’s meant to be discouraging I’m sure…for whatever self-serving reason people feel the need to say these things, but 1.) I never claimed to be the most beautiful, and 2.) I never claimed I was the most talented. So calling me ugly and untalented are things I’ve already said to myself…and ultimately learned to compensate for with education, strategy, discipline, ethics, integrity and manners. I didn’t win by being pretty or talented, even though I have those two plaques. I won because I studied and prepared…and because I refused to think…despite the nay-sayers, that I couldn’t. So definitely the hardest part of the pageant scene is the “noise” that comes with winning…getting there…and being there.
I do want to note though…so not to mislead…there’s far more positive from this than negative. We’re just human so it’s our nature to more often only hear the negative…and trying to filter past all that and just push to do your best…is the hardest part.
DSD: The pageant scene is incredibly tedious. How do you accomplish all that do, while maintaining a full-time career?
Jenna: How odd…I just started considering how I wanted to answer this question…and started crying. Thank you for wording this question using the word “accomplish” because I often don’t feel as though I’m “accomplishing” this. I don’t have that creative down time to invent and conceptualize new performances like I once did. It’s a struggle to find the energy to be productive when you are only afforded maybe one full day off every few months. I feel like a newcomer again in the sense that I’m having to pull together on my own because things are moving so much more quickly now. Last night I was fixing costumes and sewing a gown getting ready for this and that…how I managed to stay so productive for so long last night surprises me to be honest. You spend years building a network of people to hire to make you costumes and then suddenly you lose that time (or I’ve lost that time) to map and plan out what I want or need. I spend more time barking instructions at Siri than I do talking to my friends. And when I do find time to spend with friends, I’m often interrupting them mid-sentence to have Siri remind me to do something later. I’m grateful though because I worked hard in college and I was able to have options when pursuing a full-time career and I’m unique in that I had this career before I started performing and competing. My colleagues are also fans and we’re all artists so they appreciate my craft and so I’ve been fortunate to have support from my employer and professional team. I keep up my communications before I’m out of the office so there are no surprises and thankfully we’re in the digital age so I can easily keep up while out. Three hours layovers aren’t always a bad thing for me on Monday travel days. Not saying I want more of these! But I’ve used that time at the airport to check work email and stay in touch with the office. I guess the short answer to this question is that it’s just efficient time management. Being a drum major in college taught me how to maximize my time, to organize, to prepare and to execute within a limited time set. You make the most of what time you have available…this is my only life so I’m going to do the most with it.
DSD: Are the drag community members a close-knit family, or fiercely competitive?
Jenna: Depends on who you ask and which members! And you should probably add fiercely critical and make that an “and/or.” I was talking with someone about this the other day…how when you’re trying to “get there”, the community can be very supportive to help guide you and steer you in the right direction. They’re generous with both critiques and compliments and usually from a constructive standpoint. Then as you’re “getting there”, it can change. On one hand, they resent you for “getting there”, but on the other, you make sisters, so in this sense it changes for the good. The sisters that will love you the most…and hate you the most. But also the ones that forgive and forget. They’ll always have your back when someone is coming for you…and quite possibly have knife in hand behind your back when they aren’t ha ha. But nonetheless…sisters. Those that have “gotten there” often aren’t competitive at all. They’ve earned their place so they’re confident in that…but the lesson I’ve learned is to be mindful of your place…in this industry we often reward “time” before “effort”…I’ve been making up for lost time, having started my career in my late 20’s, with more effort…and my close-knit family has welcomed me but also reminds me often that I just “got here”.
DSD: How has your painting evolved over the years? More? Less? Less is more?
Jenna: My paint is still evolving…I just fell in love with the faded brow! I don’t think I use less makeup than I did before, it’s just that now the idea is to appear to have on less makeup. The right equipment is critical…and the right product is essential. You can’t blend gravel with a feather duster. I’ve also learned to KNOW why it is you are doing what you are doing. Understanding why you highlight a certain place or certain way…understanding the “trick” someone taught you and what it’s actually doing…helps you modify that element to your face and structure. That’s been my evolution. Actually becoming an artist as opposed to paint by numbers. I have angular features so I’ve got a lot working against me but I’m proud of what I’ve learned to do and while I don’t claim to be the most beautiful…I think I’m beautiful. And while my sisters in the show give me shit when I look into my magic mirror and appreciate what I’ve done…that’s really just me shutting my own critical side down for the night. You have to find beauty in yourself…and you have to trust it. That too has been my evolution. In life, not just in drag.
DSD: Favorite makeup? Shoe designer? Wig or hairpiece vendor (if you ever use any)?
Jenna: Not sure I have favorites…I’ve tried lots of products and I tend (being a creature of habit) to find what works, and stick with it. Everything in my kit has a place and when that space comes open, I fill it with the same thing. I will say that I had the hardest time finding a replacement for Max Factor but fortunately it’s been re-released (though I’m now struggling to understand the new color palette). Nothing else did it for me. I love MAC shadows, have a mix of NARS and MAC brushes, and NYX has the best pressed black shadow for me. If you want pigment…Bitch Slap! Shoes…cheap. The only shoe I’ll invest in will be for gown. We don’t make enough in this business to twirl around and scuff $1,000 hooves. I almost treat shoes like tights…you expect them to run and to be replaced. I don’t have a favorite wig vendor but I have two favorite wig stylists that I’ve used. Sweet Mark and Coco Van Cartier. When it comes to my own gigs though…I go the ponytail route. I’ll make wigs from them or piece them in.
DSD: Who or what inspires your looks?
Jenna: I find myself inspired by the song or what the artist wears. Being a visual person I tend to get an image stuck in my head associated with a particular song. In fact I have a hard time wearing a costume I’ve worn for a certain song…for a different one. This is terrible to have a wardrobe that you feel like you can’t wear when the song gets tired! I’m also inspired by what looks good…and I love to shop off the girls back. When a costume twirls on stage or comes alive in the light…I’ll want it! And will often ask to buy it.
DSD: Who are some of your favorite drag performers, and why?
Jenna: Every member of the Rose Room cast. They all offer something very different, have a wealth of history and insight to this industry, and have built a career off that talent. Part of why I get ready early is so that I can watch some of the show. Outside of our show though, my favorites are ladies like Mimi Marks…striking and commanding. Sasha Colby, effortless movement on stage…also very commanding. Catia Lee Love…I love a girl that can twirl out of a cover up. Candis Cayne…hairography! Will Ryder…another effortless performer. Chevelle Brooks’ energy, Tommie’s poise, Aurora Sexton’s costuming, Coti Collins’ Judy, Dee Ranged’s twistedness…I could go on. Some of my favorite performances though have come out of rising star shows though. It’s less about the performance itself though but more about that moment when you see the person find themselves on stage. When suddenly you realize…and they realize…”this is what I bring!”
DSD: As a long standing cast member at the Rose Room, you have undoubtedly seen it all. What’s been the most awkward thing to ever happen during a show?
Jenna: WOW! This happens a lot. When one of the girls are reading someone THE HOUSE backstage…and then that person comes out of the bathroom. Strangely, I’ve not seen it all. The stories I’ve heard…!
DSD: Is there a bond between all the cast members? Sisterly love, or push-you-down-the-stairs rivalry? Or a little of both.
Jenna: We have a bond. We also love to hate on each other. But as stated before…while we can say what we want to or about each other…the moment someone else does…look out. Our cast is built around our individual strengths so pushing someone down the stairs would only be for a good laugh…not for any sort of promotion.
DSD: As of late, there is a lot of fuss over the term tranny. Thoughts?
Jenna: I experienced “fuss” when our movie “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives” hit the film festivals four years ago. My thoughts since then haven’t really changed…only you can give words power or let other peoples’ words have power. Just because you’re being offensive in your speech doesn’t mean I need to take offense.
DSD: What’s next for Jenna Skyy?
Jenna: I’ve got seven months of my reign as Miss Gay USofA left so I’m going to make the most of this experience! In the immediate though, our sequel “Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus” is scheduled to premier this October. Also, and this is more Joe, I’ll be graduating with Master of Music in Music Education this December.
You can catch Jenna for yourself most Thursdays through Sundays at The Room Room in Dallas. Keep in touch with her on Twitter @JennaSkyyTX or Instagram @JennaSkyy.