Britney Spears has been a hot ticket in Las Vegas since 2013.
Soon, she'll light up the Logo network… or, at least her drag queen counterpart will.
Derrick Barry is a Spears impersonator and a regular on the drag show scene in Las Vegas.
On March 7, he'll appear -- in all his Britney-fabulous glory -- on the new season of RuPaul's Drag Race. On the way there, he joined us on KNPR's State of Nevada.
What is drag?
Drag for me as always been celebrity female impersonation because that is how I got started was being a Britney Spears impersonator on Halloween. So it wasn’t until I watched Drag Race that I realized drag could be any form of dressing as the opposite sex.
This started out as your Halloween costume?
Yeah! I was 20 years old and living in L.A. and I was living with a girl going to school for makeup and said, ‘I’ve been told I look like Britney in the past, so can you make me look like her?’ She just ended up doing regular makeup on me. And I walked Santa Monica Blvd like a street walker and people were reacting like crazy.
How does that become a career?
The night that Britney was on the “Tonight Show” I went dressed up and she talked to me on the show, when I was in the audience. So I thought, ‘if I have her attention and Jay Leno’s attention and all these people in the studio audience couldn’t believe it either then I have to see where this could take me.’
My first idea was to go to Santa Monica Blvd. again where I got all my attention and I met Chad (Michaels) and he is a famous Cher impersonator… He just told me, ‘you got the look.’ He really initiated my start in the career. He got me a job there at the club [Micky’s Nightclub in West Hollywood].
Have you meet Britney Spears?
I have not had a situation with her yet where we’re doing an actual meet and greet photo or having a conversation. So, things have been like her talking to me like this and signing a poster for me. I’ve been in photos with her and other fans. I have yet to do the actual meet and greet.
Do you model your costumes after the things that she wears?
I’ve always loved her style. Anything she’s ever had adorned with Swarovski crystals I’ve liked to recreate. The ‘Circus’ jacket is one of my favorites and I had that redone in the exact design that DSquared did. And the Blonds have created outfits for her that I’ve had modeled after. Half of what I wear is always a replica and then the other half is just inspired by something Britney would wear.
Give us a sense of RuPaul’s Drag Race is about?
I’ve always seen RuPaul’s Drag Race as a combination of “America’s Next Top Model,” “Project Runway,” and a beauty pageant. So imagine of “Toddlers and Tiaras” grew up and they were in a drag show competing but they had to make costumes and they had to do challenges.
You’re not just going on the show and competing, you’re creating a character from the ground up?
That is something very different for me because most of the people that go on Drag Race have had a career doing drag and they have a drag name and persona. I’m known for doing one person and now I’m going to have to break out of that box.
How do you take on a character that is alive and still going without making it a caricature?
That is the hardest thing I think in a show like “Divas” or “La Cage.” You have to portray these people at their best. We don’t make fun of them. There are things that are in there that are funny, but if Celine Dion hits her chest, then that’s something that the Celine Dion impersonator will do and they can heighten it and make it funnier.
I just never wanted to make fun of them or poke fun at low points. I think by watching their performances and getting a sense of who they are and their stage persona, it is easy for me to adopt all of that.
Drag used to be something that was mocked, but now it’s not only acceptable but it’s cool. Why?
I guess all those drama freaks turned into cool kids. Lucky for me! I think something can be said about something being on television. When it’s in your face, when it’s accessible, this isn’t a show online where you have to look for it this is show where you turn on the channel and it’s on. I think it makes people aware of it.
Are there people who are transgender who use drag as a way to transition?
It is extremely common. That is way for someone to transition with a feeling that it is okay to do because they’re not coming out to the world saying, ‘I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body or I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body.’ They get to dress up and feel like themselves but they can get away with it because they’re doing drag. And plenty of people have transitioned and gotten out of entertainment because they’ve said ‘I am who I am now. I don’t need to be performing in drag because I’m not a drag queen, I’m a woman.’
When someone asks you why do you do this, what is the most important thing you want them to know?
That I’m a performer and I’ll find anyway to perform on a stage for a living. That was my goal out of high school. My drama teacher said, ‘you know you’ve made it when you’re being paid to entertain and that’s your only job.’ That was goal in life: how do I find a stage to perform on every night and get that energy from the crowd.
Derrick Barry, Las Vegas-based performer