It’s hard to explain the energy last Friday night at the Reading 3 club in the Tel Aviv Port without using superlatives that sound a bit like clichés. Women, men, and drag queens and kings arrived in their finest attire to see Alaska Thunderfuck: runner-up of the fifth season of the American reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” back in 2013, and the big winner of the second season of “RuPaul’s’ Drag Race All Stars,” three years later.
Adorned in sequins, high heels, serious makeup, colorful prints, wigs and fans in gay pride colors – everyone in the audience was all smiles, excited and worked up, as if no less than Madonna or Cher had come to Israel.
About an hour before the lights went down, things began to heat up as the DJ got everyone dancing to the hits of the gay pantheon: from Lady Gaga through Katy Perry and RuPaul’s songs. As selected clips from the different seasons of “Drag Race” were projected on screens, the younger members of the audience, who had begun crowding together near the stage hours before the show began, screamed with such excitement that everyone thought Alaska had appeared without any warning. The screaming went on for a long time, until midnight.
When the warm-up acts began, the crowd was already hot to trot. One after another, local drag queens took the stage: Talula Bonet, Kay Long, Suzi Boum and Joanna Russ. The next generation of Israeli drag was there too: Anton, King Fluid Snow and many others. Over-the-top shrieks were heard when Ziona Patriot and Kimberly Swan took the stage, all dressed and made-up – one looking like Israeli superstar Netta Barzilai and the other like Greek performer Eleni Foureira – and reprised songs from last year’s Eurovision Song Contest final with the clip of Barzilai's big winning moment shown in the background. The hall was on the brink of exploding. And then Alaska appeared on stage.
With a shining crown on her head, a tight vinyl dress, long blonde wig and a squeegee in her hand, the American-born singer, 33, opened her act with one of her best-known hits: “Your Makeup Is Terrible.” Just when the volume and the octave of the screaming reached new heights, she suddenly stopped in the middle and froze, mouth open and mic in hand. Out of the speakers came a personal monologue about performing this song on stages around the world for over five years and maybe the time has come to change the opening of her show. And that's how, in the very first minutes, Alaska presented the most outstanding characteristics of her stage personality: breakout charisma, well-honed musical talent and above all a sophisticated and clever sense of humor, based to a substantial degree on the acting courses she took at the University of Pittsburg.
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When Alaska (real name: Justin Andrew Honard) showed up during the fifth season of “Drag Race,” she was known mostly for being the partner of Sharon Needles, winner of the series' fourth season. She had big shoes to fill and almost impossible expectations to meet, but slowly Alaska succeeded – overcoming all the challenges and winning the viewers over with fast and dirty humor, accompanied by meticulous punk looks, all the way to becoming one of the show's three finalists.
She arrived for the second season of the all-star TV series after a highly publicized breakup from Needles that broke her fans’ hearts. From the beginning of the season, as if she were just waiting to be free of her winning partner’s shadow and the burden of expectations surrounding the royal couple – she fired up her afterburners and conquered the competition, winning it hands down. That show, one of the most successful reality series, turned Alaska into a superstar in the world of drag. She is aware of this status: Throughout the entire show on Friday she did not stop showing her thanks and deep respect for RuPaul and the fans of his show, without whom she never would have had such a magnificent career.
To date Alaska has recorded two successful studio albums, in addition to participating in another artistic project with her good friend, musician Jeremy Mikush, who joined her on the stage at one point during the show. She has gone on global tours, both solo and with fellow contestants from “Drag Race,” and acted in theater and films, and there's more to come.
About half an hour into the show at Reading, Alaska brought on stage – to the happy cries from the crowd – a devoted fan who came dressed up as “Lil’ Pound Cake,” the character of a deranged and angry young beauty-pageant contestant that Alaska created for “Drag Race,” and later developed in a song on the album bearing her name: “Poundcake.”
After that came the traditional costume change and Alaska emerged in a leopard-print dress that was quickly torn off her in the finest tradition of drag by a diligent stage hand, leaving her in a skimpy bodysuit and leopard-y thigh-high boots – while performing her new single: “Everything Must Be Leopard Print.”
The audience went crazy.
It only lasted just over an hour, but Friday’s performance was exciting, made you laugh, dance and mostly created an air of euphoria. Alaska’s material is mostly composed of self-conscious humor, jokes about herself, the world of drag and the characters that make up that world. Hers is humor that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is occasionally accompanied by political garnishes such as a demand for fair wages for women (which received roars of support from the audience), along with touching revelations about her private life and the difficulties of dealing with success and people's expectations of her.
Alaska is a singer and performer with a rare star quality, but she is still funny and accessible. The way she electrified the audience at Reading 3 left no doubt: My name is Yael and I’m in love with a drag queen.