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NUNN ON ONE Sasha Velour talks RuPaul, family and Chicago
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2017-10-18

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Sasha Velour is a gender-fluid artist making a living in Brooklyn, New York and is currently the artistic director, and co-founder with partner Johnny Velour for Velour: The Drag Magazine!

Also described as a coffee table book, it is published twice yearly, with over a hundred pages and is advertiser free. Her illustrations and comics have been published in QU33R, Posture and Cicada, among others. She has also created a series based on the Stonewall riots that heralded as "an artful take on a difficult historical event."

Velour took home the crown after winning RuPaul's Drag Race season nine with a heated lip-sync battle on the finale that astounded many.

She currently produces the drag show Nightgowns in her hometown. Upcoming projects include a children's comic starring her dog and a House of Velour app that spotlights her merchandise and performances.

This Russian doll sat down at Roscoe's Tavern after a recent appearance to undress and let her hair down. ( Note: Velour will be in Chicago on Oct. 21 for Howard Brown Health's Big Orange Ball. )

Windy City Times: Where are you from originally?

Sasha Velour: My whole family is from Northern California. That is where I was born. I was a child of hippies and feminists!

I was raised in Urbana, Illinois. I lived there from age nine to 17. That was the majority of my life in becoming a young drag queen.

WCT: When did you come out of the closet?

SV: I came out at age 13. I had been doing drag since I was four. My parents let me express my gender how I wanted to and as a result I have always been a gender fluid little freaky kid.

WCT: What pronouns do you prefer?

SV: I use "they" out of drag and "she" in drag, but I only do drag so everyone, my boyfriend and friends call me "she." It is not the complete truth, but works well. Words are only a poor approximation anyways so…

WCT: Talk about your name.

SV: My name is Sasha out of drag as well. That was the name I was given as a little kid. It is technically Alexander. Sasha is a Russian nickname for Alexander. Growing up people always said I had a girl's name so I always loved that a little bit.

Velour is an imitation fabric. I prefer velvet, which is my favorite, is luxurious. Velour is a cheap imitation that is easier to find and easier to use. I thought it was an interesting metaphor for drag so I went with it.

WCT: Did you always sew?

SV: More like pinning and draping. i don't know how to construct clothes if I am honest.

WCT: How did you get on RuPaul's Drag Race?

SV: I auditioned two years in a row. I have been a fan of the show since the first season. I felt that the type of drag that I did didn't have a place on television, that I wouldn't know how to fit in. I put a lot of thought into the audition. I wanted to represent myself.

The number one advice for people going on the show is that you need to know how you want people to see you. Once they see you on television that is who you are. Thankfully I was really at that moment in drag, where I knew exactly what I wanted and what I wanted the message to be.

WCT: What was that message?

SV: Beauty and ugliness combined. It is playing and pushing people's boundaries of what they are comfortable with. I think that has always been a little bit of what drag is.

I am a child of intellectuals and over thinkers. That has been shown as a weakness on television. My family over thinks but we think of it as a tool for success. It is using it to know just how to strike. Being someone intellectual is not about being elitist, but about love and passion.

WCT: Did you experience bullying growing up?

SV: Yes, for everything. People love an outlet to make people feel less than, unfortunately. It comes from a bad place.

WCT: Has social media been difficult to navigate?

SV: It is an interesting return to being talked to that I haven't experienced since I was a little kid. it is a good test to my becoming an adult and dealing with it by laughing at it. I will agree with them when they are right.

WCT: What has been the meanest or nicest things people have said?

SV: The meanest thing is that I don't deserve the attention of the show. The nicest thing is that I have changed someone's life.

I think a lot of us never thought we would hear that doing what we do and love.

WCT: You just performed Kate Bush at Roscoe's. Is it about finding unique songs for your drag?

SV: I love Kate Bush. My taste in music is really strange. I don't let other people tell me how to do drag or influence what I do.

WCT: Is there a musician you want to perform that you haven't yet?

SV: I've been working on a Siouxsie Sioux number for a really long time. If I can get it together it will be on my monthly show Nightgowns.

I created this night to be nonprofit so every cent we make goes to the LGBT community. The vision of show is to be about the community and eventually take it on the road. I try to make sure the spotlight I got from RuPaul's Drag Race is shared with other people. I wouldn't be near the queen I am without them.

WCT: Did you gain friends from RuPaul's Drag Race?

SV: I got a ton of friends from the show. You know Shea Coulee. We instantly connected. We discovered that we narrowly crossed past in high school theater throughout Illinois. We have a love of fashion. It is amazing to find someone you can creatively collaborate with.

It is hard with two egos but this was a peaceful process. It made competing against each other way more difficult. We cared about each other's feelings.

WCT: How was the preparation for the finale?

SV: It was grueling and short. We had only a couple of days notice. We had a day to prepare the songs. We had costumes already so we had to hope they would work with the songs. I had a story to tell and wanted to use rose petals. I ran out to Michaels and got my fake rose petals in bulk. I tried it once in the hotel room before going on.

WCT: It is interesting that RuPaul focused on lip-synchs this season.

SV: They were very clear with us that they were not happy with the lip synchs over the season. They wanted the finale to redeem the performance aspects of the show. That is the art of drag to be able to work up a crowd.

WCT: One thing you learned from Drag Race?

SV: Don't take yourself too seriously.

WCT: That's a tough one.

SV: It is because at the end of the day we all do so much!

WCT: What did you do with the prize money?

SV: It is going into some costumes.

I got myself a little puppy; he is now an Instagram sensation. Vanya Velour is a little Italian greyhound. I selected her because Catherine the Great of Russia had a pack of Italian greyhounds. If it is good enough for the czar, it's good enough for me!

WCT: You are returning to Chicago for the Big Orange Ball?

SV: Yes, I am so excited. It seems like a really rare costumed event in the city. It is just like my show in New York. It is not just fun but we are raising money for an organization that really needs it and knows how to use it. We need more places like Howard Brown Health who give services for LGBTQ people.

WCT: I have worked for Howard Brown and Carnival, so my worlds are coming together.

SV: I saw picture of the staircase in Carnivale, so I will plan my numbers accordingly and have an entrance.

WCT: Don't break heel.

SV: Or do? [Laughs]

Velour headlines Howard Brown Health's Big Orange Ball on Saturday, Oct. 21, at Carnivale, 702 W. Fulton Market, 8 p.m-1 a.m. Visit HowardBrown.org and SashaVelour.com for more information.


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