Greeted by the event’s largest crowd to date, drag kings and queens took to the stage of the Main Auditorium for Drexel University’s fifth annual drag show April 22. Featuring Jujubee of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and hosted by the Drexel Foundation of Undergraduates for Sexual Equality (FUSE), the show gave both current students and interested individuals a platform for performance.
Boasting 18 acts and featuring 15 performers, students seemed to agree that this fifth round proved to be Drexel’s biggest and best yet. The crowd of more than 500 consisted not only of Drexel students, but those from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania as well. Others still were not college students but area residents, who came to see the event.
Performers, too, were a mix of Drexel students and area drag artists. Kemar Jewel, a visiting performer, particularly enjoyed the show this year.
“I believe that as events go, people start to recognize how professional and how dedicated those putting together the event are,” Jewel noted.
“I was here last year and as impressed as I was at how well done everything was, this year has even managed to top that,” they continued.
Jewel was on stage twice that night: first donning a golden fitted gown and lip synching to the late Whitney Housten’s classic “I’m Every Woman” and later wearing a glitter-covered fedora to jazz it up with fellow performer and friend Dalyla Mizani to “Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag” from the musical Chicago.
In addition to providing entertainment, Jewel aims to prompt conversation with their performance. Many call Jewel’s style of drag ‘genderf–k’, a name that captures the confusion and shock many will have when they first come out not only in heels and a dress, but sporting a full grown beard as well.
“Last year, I performed ‘Random Black Girl’ which is, of course, a song about being a random black girl in a casting call. But this year, I did ‘I’m Every Woman’ when, of course, I’m really not like every woman,” Jewel said with a laugh.
“I love doing songs that call into question what gender is about and ask ‘So what is this, really, this thing we call gender?’ but still want it to be entertaining,” they continued.
Much has changed for Jewel since they started performing nearly two years ago. The Drexel drag show last year was one of their first performances in front of a large audience and helped teach them a lot about professionalism, dedication and style.
“I’ve learned to be a more serious performer,”Jewel said of their experience evolving as a drag artist.
“I think a lot of people, including myself some years ago, thought that drag was just about putting on a wig, some lipstick and a dress to parade around and act like a woman. But now, I see drag as an art form, not unlike singing or dancing. It has this breath and life to it and is such a beautiful culture. Because I like to honor culture, I now really try to do my research: I watch videos of other performers, I look up makeup tips, I study dances and choreography and buy new dresses when I need to,” they continued.
Though drag as an art form on its own has only been largely recognized since the ’80s and ’90s, acts heavily reliant on drag, such as opera, can be traced back to the 18th century. Recent pro-LBGTQ+ movements and cultural shifts have offered the performance style more exposure and popularity, with one of the largest sources for such attention being the reality competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It was there that the Drexel drag show featured act Jujubee found her fame as a competitor.
“Work your a– off and be proud of what you do,” she said, speaking to the Triangle backstage after the show about advice she has for current students. “And that’s the thing: I feel like when you are so busy studying and working, you lose yourself in that. So live in the moment and know exactly why you are here. There’s always a reason, you know? Always a reason,” she emphasized.
“It was the best night of the year and it was such a great experience. It really put me in a great mood. I can’t wait to see what next year is like,” Mary Faron said, a junior student at Temple University.
Drexel student Michael McGarry agreed, grinning. “I thought Jujubee was amazing and the student performers really gave it their all. It was amazing to watch and such a fun night,” he commented.
Many other audience members said they were looking forward to next year’s show, excited to see what performances the future will hold.