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The entire world has had to find a way to rethink the way they work through this pandemic, and since then, most of us have reorganized our schedules, our homes, and our daily routines. This has been especially true for drag performers, many of whose livelihoods exist and flourish in the realm of nightlife. Now, the tightly-packed bars and clubs where we used to congregate sit largely empty or at best, partially filled.
But even though many bars aren't as open as they used to be, drag is still thriving. And if you think about it, it should come as little surprise. Drag queens have a knack for making something wonderful out of nothing and in true form, the art and its artists have used the pandemic as an opportunity to make drag more accessible than ever — and earn some coins in the process.
"At first, it was actually really tough," says Bob The Drag Queen, star of HBO's We're Here series, co-host of podcast Sibling Rivalry, and host of YouTube show Purse First Impressions. We are on a Zoom call together. "I remember my assistants here who would do these shows in my living room in Washington Heights." In addition to this long list of projects, Bob has also teamed up with International Delight — yes, the coffee creamer — and a bottle of the stuff is placed prominently in frame during our interview. Needless to say, in spite of the pandemic, mama is booked and busy.
Five years ago, Bob (Caldwell Tidicue), won season eight of RuPaul's Drag Race and obviously has enjoyed a great deal of success ever since. But even though she was in a great place with plenty of opportunities once the pandemic hit, there were still several adjustments to be made.
“I was doing everything. I had a talk show I did on my Facebook. I have gone up to two episodes a week for Sibling Rivalry," she says. "I have done two seasons of The Pit Stop. I did my own review show on my page. I've started releasing weekly content." See? I wasn't lying when I said she was busy. "I decided to dive into it instead of being like, 'it's all going to end soon.' I was like, 'let's adapt to what's going on here.'"
And Bob has been seeing the fruits of her labor. The art form she loves appears to be touching more people than ever before. "People were telling me, 'I have seen more drag now than I ever have [and] I'm disabled.' or, 'I live in a small town,' or 'I don't have enough money,' or 'I have five kids, I can't go to drag shows,'" she says. "But now because everyone's online, we're able to actually see a lot more drag and I'm happy about it. I hope that we're able to incorporate some of what we have now, once we get back to life as usual."
Of course, dragging from home doesn't come without its share of adjustments. Especially when so much of your job relies on some serious, high-octane, face-changing makeup. Bob, who has also moved from New York City to Los Angeles in the past year, had to at one point change up her signature makeup look because of it. "When I first got [to L.A.], all my stuff was in storage. I had a hard time finding my eyeliner and I could not find my signature black eyeliner," she explains. "If you look at when I first moved to L.A., right around September, I went through a whole phase where [my makeup] was all smooth and soft, no hard lines. That was because I could not find makeup. It wasn't out of me trying to change."
Storage has also been a major issue — and as a beauty editor, I can relate. The process of storing copious amounts of makeup, skin-care, hair-care products, plus a bevy of tools for all three has been a battle of wits between myself and the layout of my one-bedroom apartment. For a drag queen, take all that and add a collection of giant wigs — that is, if you've been able to get them this whole time. Indeed, Bob's wig options have taken a hit since moving, and according to her, she's not the only one that's been feeling the strain.
"There's also this thing called, if you talk to any wig designer, the Wig Famine," she explains. "I have had four wigs for the whole pandemic and I had a hard time getting makeup. So I had to make do with what I had."
When I ask if that scarcity of wigs is the reason she wore the much-maligned red-and-blonde unit for several episodes of Purse First Impressions, she mentions that one is a special case. "I wore that wig on one episode, and everyone came for me," she says. "I was like, 'You know what? I will wear this wig no matter what.'"
To her credit, she was able to create a lot of styles with it. "Listen, I will bust it out now. Don't threaten me with a good time," she half-jokes. "It is in the other room. She's always on standby. This wig is now a legacy piece — I'm going to frame it, I'm going to have a dipped in resin."
While she's settling into Los Angeles and doing drag from home, Bob shares that her hair and makeup space is not yet as grand as she wants it to be. "Right now, it's all just in my medicine cabinet," she says. It's quite a downgrade from the setup she had back in New York, a six-foot-long desk one of her drag daughters built for her, repurposed from a loft bed. Bob's drag storage game is on the road to improvement, though. She says that she's planning on converting a bedroom into a "drag lab," which should fit all her stuff.
But for now, Bob's making do with what's available. Some of the makeup she's been reaching for a lot lately include Anastasia Beverly Hills products, with a partiality to the brand's Glow Kits. "I got that supply from Drag Race [as a prize] years ago, and, honestly, I got hooked because it's genuinely good," she shares.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Sun Dipped Glow Kit
Ben Nye Lumière Grande Colour Palette
She's also been using products from her drag sister Kim Chi's makeup line, noting that she had on a golden-bronze shadow from the range on her eyes. She mentions that some of her favorite brands to support are boutique brands. "Sugarpill, Trixie Mattel Cosmetics, One/Size by Patrick Starrr — you're really helping out a lot of amazing independent business owners," she says. "A lot of them are people of color."
One brand near and dear to Bob's heart is Ben Nye. "This company never gets their flowers! Ben Nye is a stage makeup company," she explains. "[People think that] unless you're painting for Cats, you wouldn't wear Ben Nye. Ben Nye is bussin'. Bussin'! It is genuinely great makeup, but because people think that it's just for plays, they don't consider it." Look, if a queen says it's good, it's good.
For now, Bob is continuing to create her art, and the rest of us are happy to consume it — and if we do it with a cup of coffee sweetened with some branded creamer, that's a bonus.
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