The May 6th competition at First Avenue beautifully showcased the talent and inclusiveness of the Twin Cities drag community.
It was described as the biggest Flip Phone event of the year.
Upon arrival, it was immediately obvious how excited everyone was; the line to get in was stretched long down the sidewalk on both sides of the iconic First Avenue venue. People of all ages were there, including a group of moms with their daughters, and cross-generational drag families. Minneapolis-St. Paul event promoter Flip Phone had another success on its hands.
The pre-show meet & greet with singer and RuPaul's Drag Race judge Michelle Visage included excited hugs, conversation, and autograph signings. When my husband Jacob and I had our turn, I thanked her for inspiring this blog's creation; I made it using SquareSpace after hearing advertisements on "RuPaul What's the Tee with Michelle Visage." Ru & Michelle later featured DerekPlease.com in a SquareSpace ad on episode 54 of that podcast.
Thanks to all that, I'm attending RuPaul's DragCon as press on May 11, 12 and 13. Michelle was a sweetheart and invited us to bring our copy of her book to her DragCon booth to be signed. She also complimented Jacob's Todrick Hall hoodie, describing "Toddy" as being like an adopted son to her.
Flip Phone Superstar 2018's large, diverse crowd included beautiful people of all varieties. There was a friendly atmosphere that seemed perfectly in line with event sponsor ThisFreeLife, an initiative working to end cigarette smoking in young LGBTQIA+ adults. Representatives from ThisFreeLife were on site offering free Michelle Visage posters, prizes, drink tickets, face paint and photo opps in exchange for a simple email list sign up.
Gigi Berry's Cherry Moon pins had a booth on site selling a variety of fun, pop culture-inspired pins. This included pins inspired by Rihanna, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, '90s boybands, queer culture and Beyoncé.
Dragula season one contestant Meatball opened the show with a seriously impressive lip-sync performance. It began with a scathing spoken word clip from Designing Women character Julia Sugarbaker. The classic sitcom rant ends in the declaration, "that, just so you will know, and your children will someday know, was the night the lights went out in Georgia!" This led into an exciting performance of the country classic "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia."
Hostess for the evening Michelle Visage then walked on stage to thunderous applause. It was the type of reaction only a true LGBT icon would get at a queer event. Her hilarious opening monologue explained how the competition would work. 20 contestants would be scored based on one performance each; two finalists would later lip-sync for their life for the "Flip Phone Superstar" title and prize package.
Visage joked that the prize package reminded her of RuPaul’s Drag Race season one; it included a $1000 cash prize, a $500 gift card for Sigma Beauty, a $100 certificate from Midwest Makeup, a beautiful Casa Glam wig worth $250, and a pair of luxury eyeglasses from Eye Bobs at Mall of America.
Visage introduced the judges panel: Meatball; GO 96.3 radio host Giselle Ugarte; fashion designer Samantha Rei from season 16 of Project Runway; and Julia Starr, the 2017 winner of the Flip Phone Superstar title.
The contestant performances began with Lala Love-Iman performing a high energy Missy Elliot medley in a pink glitter jumpsuit. Mercedes Iman Diamond wore a gorgeous shoulder-padded costume while tackling “Bitch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna and “Blow” by Beyoncé. Local moon-pop musician Symone Smash It gave an amazing performance of her original song “Meet Me Online,” featuring live singing. Her LED eyelashes and rhinestoned... strap-on... gave the crowd life.
Drag king Dexter Maine-Love did a rousing lip-sync performance of Adam Lambert's Glee cover of "Marry the Night." Later, Rosie Bottoms came down a staircase to Lana Del Rey's cover of the Disney classic “Once Upon a Dream," before launching into Avenged Sevenfold's “Nightmare" - a first for Michelle Visage, who said she hadn't seen a queen perform a Sevenfold track before.
Utica Queen stunned the crowd and judges' panel in full rag doll drag. Wearing a massive patchwork gown with her lips sewn shut, Utica conveyed the emotion of Sanna Nielsen's "Undo" completely non-verbally before finally ripping the stitches off her mouth for a ferocious lip-sync. There were major Sally from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas vibes as Utica teared at her rag doll limbs to expose her insides.
Another showstopper was local favorite Tygra. I even saw people wearing her merch. She drove the crowd wild in a flawlessly executed, physically demanding rendition of Todrick Hall & RuPaul's viral smash "Dem Beats." Considering Michelle Visage considers "Ru" and "Toddy" family, it was a ballsy move for Tygra to do their current single in front of her. The risk paid off! Tygra's backflip and death drop-filled number only got one critique: the fact she was wearing sneakers.
Other gag-worthy moments included Lila Vera performing the brand new track “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - on roller skates - and Puffy rapping the Ja Rule classic “Always On Time (feat. Ashanti)” live.
Judging was mostly positive, but some constructive criticism and playful shade never hurts. The audience lapped up all those moments.
All told, every performance was interesting. Performance styles ranged from classic solo numbers to layered choreography with dancers. There wasn't a dull moment in the night, which is quite a feat with so many acts in the mix. CIS queens in the lineup received special shoutouts from Visage, who admitted she's never identified as a CIS or "bio queen," but simply as a drag queen.
While the judges' final scores were tallied, Julia Starr gave her Flip Phone Superstar title step-down performance to a seriously underrated song, "Controversy" by Natalia Kills. Although released in 2013, the pop banger hauntingly fits Trump's America. It's a song truly ahead of its time, perfectly performed by Ms. Starr, who made it clear she is a force to be reckoned with.
After that, the final two was announced: Utica Queen and Tygra. This made total sense, as they were the obvious crowd favorites of the night. It all came down to their epic “lip sync for your life” showdown. Song selection? Taylor Swift's "Reputation" album deep cut “I Did Something Bad."
Tygra served confidence with a tight lip sync and classic drag dance moves. Utica Queen performed as a murderous bride, and made her performance memorable. Shocking moments from Utica included slowly destroying a bouquet of flowers, pulling two bloody meat cleavers out from inside her dress, and revealing a blood-splattered outfit under her gown.
After the song ended, Michelle Visage humorously confessed she is not a Taylor Swift fan. She then asked the audience to cheer for the winner. Flip Phone used a decibel meter to accurately detect this, but the deafening cheers for Utica made it obvious - she stole the show, and the crown! After she received her title and prizes, the judges and competitors celebrated to "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston.
All in all, Flip Phone Superstar 2018 was an inspiring live experience that left me already looking forward to next year’s edition.