Every queen who’s appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race is a fan-favorite to someone, but Chi Chi DeVayne’s following is so broad it’s difficult to measure. Originally appearing on Season 8 of the show and then returning for Season 3 of All Stars, Chi Chi warmed hearts with her humble, genuine personality and her ambitious dreams. But behind her big smiles lay a tumultuous past.
Chi Chi DeVayne was my guest recently on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast where queer people share stories of the entertainment that changed their lives. Her life was completely turned around by music — particularly the songs she’d hear in nightclubs.
“We would open the side door and pile in,” she recalls. As an underage high school student, she had to be sneaky to access queer nightlife in her small Louisiana town.
She knew she was gay in her early teens, and so did other people around her: “People’d roll down the window and just scream,” she says, remembering the harassment she endured. “I can recall being followed through the mall by a group of guys who wanted to fight.”
Fighting was a constant presence in her life. Every week there’d be some violence at school that she had to endure, but she learned to defend herself. “Don’t mess with the gay guy,” she laughs, looking back, “because he can fight.”
But music and dance provided a more peaceful outlet. Long before she stepped into drag, she’d sneak into clubs and dance with friends, dressing in more feminine attire than she would ever dare be seen in elsewhere. That eventually led to an outing when Chi Chi’s brother spotted her out with friends and told their mother. It was a difficult conversation that followed, but eventually Chi Chi DeVayne was accepted.
Initially she had no interest in drag at all, and she resented the queens who took up time and space in the clubs. “I used to hate when drag shows would be on,” she says. But then on Halloween of 2010 she got into drag for the first time and entered an amateur lip sync contest. The song was “Bulletproof” by La Roux, and she won. From then on she began thinking about how she could make drag a full-time career.
But opportunities in the economically neglected South were few. Chi Chi DeVayne was going to college to study technology but dropped out, finding the structure too unpleasant to bear. For years she drifted without much direction to her drag — but then she sent in that fateful audition video. She was at her dead-end food service job when she got the call that she’d been accepted to the show, and from then on her life was completely changed.
Her years-long dream of being a full-time drag queen was finally coming true.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I still can’t believe it to this day.”
Her mother, who had never come to a drag show before, came around and lend Chi Chi her support. And after appearing on the show, she could finally quit her boring job and devote her career fully to performing.
“I cried every night,” she recalls of her first time on the show. Sometimes it was tears of joy, other times of stress. She feared she wasn’t worthy of the attention, and that she didn’t measure up to the other girls. But her ever-growing fandom is a testament to her talent, her drive and her determination to be a superstar.
Listen to the full hour-long Chi Chi DeVayne interview here. And let us know what you think in the comments!
Featured image by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images
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