Story by Brianna Willis, Staff writer and Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer
Murray State Alliance hosted its bi-annual Drag Show Thursday in the Curris Center Ballroom, embodying this semester’s theme: glamour.
Performer Brad Fennel, from Paducah, took the audience by storm with renditions of Reba McIntire’s and Carrie Underwood’s top hits, clad in full drag.
“I’m a huge country music fan and I connected with Reba,” Fennel said.
Fennel said he has been in several celebrity look alike contests as McIntire, but Underwood is a newer character for him and he is still working on his impersonation.
“She is famous for country songs,” said Allison Caudill, senior from Louisville. “And when she [McIntire] dresses up like Reba, she looks just like her.”
Fennel has been involved with drag shows for over 20 years.
Junior from Glasgow, Kentucky, Matt Allen, strutted down the stage last night as Rhiannon Vandoren.
“When you’re in drag,” Allen said. “Your alternate personality takes over.”
The audience erupted with the start of the music. People crowded the stage waving money at the queen.
This event is held as a fundraiser for Murray State Alliance therefore every dollar counts. The Glamour and Fame Drag Shows are more than an opportunity for a good time, said this year’s emcee D Andrew Porter.
“It is an opportunity for the LGBT community to open its doors to allow heterosexual folks to come in and enjoy themselves, but also learn about some important issues,” he said after this semester’s Glamour Drag Show ended Thursday night in the Curris Center.
Drag has a rich history that Porter said is important to remember when discussing drag culture and why drag shows are entertaining yet powerful tools to drive messaging.
“Drag is one of the art mediums that has always been owned by our community,” he said.
Typically at the drag show buttons and concessions are available for purchase with money raised going back into the Murray State Alliance to fund further programming. This semester, The Change Project had a “pop-up” shop featured at the show.
The Change Project works to create “a society that accepts all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” Porter is the development organizer and acting Kentucky field organizer for the organization, and said he saw an opportunity to forge a partnership between The Change Project and Alliance.
“A lot of the work for LGBT communities that is coming out of west Kentucky is coming out of this institution,” he said. “Murray State really is ground zero for the work and that is incredibly powerful.”
The pop-up shop offered shirts, totes and other wears for students. One of the designs, which Porter was wearing, had the phrase: “Be Fearlessly Authentic.” The shirt advocates for LGBT students and those participating in the drag show to be true to themselves.
Porter said it is important for drag to be brought into normative spaces. By pushing topics that are seen as taboo and creating theatrical and engaging performances, those who normally would never come to an Alliance meeting, or engage in the LGBT community can be entertained and still get involved.
The drag show is a crucial part of Alliance programming, Porter said. He said it is going strong, and having seen it grow from 2010 when it celebrated its tenth anniversary, he is excited to see it grow.
“I hope to the see Murray State own the show and say this is a cultural flagship in our university that everyone should attend,” he said.
Ultimately, Porter said that drag isn’t always for everyone. However, everyone should come to at least one drag show in his or her lifetime.
“It is an eye opening experience, one that is beneficial for the university community and really anyone,” he said.
Morgan Randall said the money – including profit from sales to tipping – goes to Alliance and allows the organization to continue their community support and activism.
Michele Sumner, sophomore from Humboldt, Tennessee, was one king who stood out, swaggering onto stage in the character of Jay Byrd.
Byrd said being on stage at first was very nerve-racking but in a good way. He said as Jay he likes to be carefree.
“When I’m up on stage it’s like a high,” Byrd said. “You are getting up there and people are falling in love with you.”
Each time a king or queen would emerge from backstage the crowd would erupt with cheers.
During each set, audience members who wanted to tip surrounded the performers on stage.
The performers were interactive with the crowd throughout the event, as the kings and queens gave out lap dances and kisses to their adoring fans.
Attendee Brandy Stevens, from Murray, was waving money at the performers and dancing with them throughout the show.
“I have been coming to these for years,” Stevens said. “I like to come and support everyone.”
Jody Cofer Randall, Alliance adviser and LGBTQ program coordinator, said she could remember a very different drag show that was held in the Curris Center Stables 10 years ago.
This year marks 18 years since Alliance has been hosting the bi-annual drag shows. The year of the first drag show is unknown.
“The community was underground back then.” Randall said. “And it wasn’t as accepted as it is now.”