The juicy panel was presented by Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and moderated by Patrick Crowley, founder of Billboard Pride.
This article is a part of Derek's ongoing series on RuPaul's DragCon LA 2018.
A sizable crowd of RuPaul's DragCon attendees arrived at the "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Presents: Seeing Stars: Cher & Madonna & Britney & Tina... Oh My!" panel Sunday morning. Every audience member had a free gift on their chair; a glossy Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again-branded selfie light to clip on the front of a smartphone.
Moderator Patrick Crowley, founder and editor of Billboard Pride began by introducing the panelists; Chad Michaels (RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4 contestant & All Stars winner), Derrick Barry (Season 8 and America's Got Talent contestant) and Larry Edwards as Hot Chocolate (star of Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas). Coco Montrese (Season 4 & All Stars 2 contestant) was originally scheduled to appear, but could not make it.
The fun moderator and talented trio immediately played the crowd a new Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again trailer featuring - gay gasp - extra Cher clips! Let’s just say there’s a reason Cher was asked back to film more scenes for the summer sequel. Not much was said about the trailer after it was played, but it primed the audience and set the tone for the rest of an exciting panel session.
"Seeing Stars" was themed around the three panelists' experiences being world-famous professional celebrity impersonators. The lineup was ideal, as each panelist is the most well-known impersonator of their corresponding diva: Chad Michaels is officially recognized as the best Cher by Cher herself; Derrick Barry is Hollywood's go-to Britney Spears; and Hot Chocolate was thanked by Tina Turner herself for his respectful, fabulous portrayal of her.
Lauded by his Michaels and Barry as the hardest worker in their community, Hot Chocolate admitted she had just performed in Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas the night before. The show was mentioned several times throughout the panel, as all three queens have appeared in one of its incarnations.
The trio was asked to choose a favorite era of their diva's career. Chad Michaels said his favorite Cher eras have been any time she's blonde, like during the album campaigns for Believe, Living Proof and the recent Closer to the Truth. He explained he feels a certain joy portraying blonde Cher, likely because Cher admitted she had always wanted to be a blonde. However, as the public mostly knows Cher for her black hair, he admitted he isn't always able to rock a blonde lacefront. Hot Chocolate chose Tina Turner's 1993 What's Love Got to Do With It era, specifically calling out moments like her cover of "Disco Inferno." Derrick Barry labeled the maturation between the Britney and In the Zone albums as his favorite Spears era.
Michaels revealed the trinity of best impersonation looks he can pull off is Cher, Celine Dion, and Marilyn Manson, since they all share a similar facial structure. Barry relieved that he became Britney Spears one Halloween, after a friend noted their similar facial structure. Michaels later helped a 20-year-old Barry crack into the drag scene, getting him gigs and connections.
A fan asked what career path the panelists would've chosen had they not become drag queens. Chad Michaels said he would have chosen a polar opposite profession; something completely outside himself and his own appearance, as he spends 9 hours a week in the mirror. Michaels mentioned his passion for gardening and landscaping as a possible career in another life.
Larry Edwards AKA Hot Chocolate revealed that he also serves as VIP director of Piranha Nightclub in Las Vegas, setting the atmosphere for events there. Edwards explained if he weren't a drag queen, he would produce events full-time. It's something he'd like to devote more time to going forward. Derrick Barry humorously suggested the company’s name be “Proud Larry Entertainment," in reference to the iconic Tina Turner song.
The panelists were asked what the biggest misconception about celebrity impersonation is. Chad opined that people wrongfully deem impersonators as “not cool,” including some of his Drag Race sisters that look down on them. Michaels said impersonators are often told they “don’t have their own character,” but that he is "always Chad on stage," even when performing Cher songs. On that subject, Derrick Barry called out fellow Season 8 contestant Naomi Smalls. Barry called Smalls “the Raven impersonator,” and said Smalls discredited him on Drag Race.
The trio agreed that impersonators are the most down to Earth group of drag performers. Barry explained that when they take off their drag, they are not as focused on being celebrities in their daily male lives as other queens tend to be. Barry pressed the fact that steady audiences pay Las Vegas Strip-pricing to see Frank Marino's Divas Las Vegas, but you can see drag queens "death drop" for free in any gay bar. Michaels complimented Barry for being well-spoken on this matter.
Derrick Barry and Hot Chocolate touched on being in Katy Perry's “Waking Up in Vegas” music video, which was directed by Joseph Kahn. Barry dished on later being cast by Kahn for Eminem's music video "We Made You." Barry had a preconceived notion of how Eminem could act, and was even concerned about safety; once on set, he was blown away by the rapper's respect and generosity. Never judge a book by its cover.
Super fans of Hot Chocolate were in the front row rocking matching Tina Turner-styled wigs. Hot Chocolate revealed that if he were to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she would portray Patti Labelle in "Snatch Game" as to not be pigeonholed as Tina Turner. The crowd cheered a few times at the thought of Hot Chocolate being on Drag Race, and he seemed to be into the concept. The moderator asked if he had auditioned yet, and Hot Chocolate confessed he has not. Barry said Hot Chocolate wouldn’t need to audition, as World of Wonder would cast him on the spot.
Later, Chad Michaels and Hot Chocolate reminisced about performing at one of Elton John’s birthday parties. The party had a guest list featuring gay icons like Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) and the late Carrie Fisher (Star Wars). Chad revealed he told Carrie Fisher, "when I was growing up, I wanted to be Princess Leia," and Fisher replied, "that’s funny, because growing up I wanted to be Cher.” It was a memorable exchange Chad said he holds dear to his heart.
There were other touching moments, too. Chad Michaels frequently reflected upon lessons from his drag mother Hunter, who passed away years ago. Michaels' friends who also knew Hunter were sitting in the front row of "Seeing Stars."
Moderator Patrick Crowley gave mention to the meme of a confused Derrick Barry discussing the Stonewall riots during a Billboard drag roundtable discussion. Crowley works at Billboard, and revealed he has just shot a "jush"-filled new roundtable starring Drag Race favorites.
After Patrick Crowley concluded the panel, the queens were generous enough to take photos with attendees who asked, and Hot Chocolate gave away free tickets to Divas. My husband and I were able to thank Hot Chocolate for sharing his talent with the world, and told him we have seen him in Vegas four times. Hot Chocolate couldn't have been more lovely about it; it was one of those face-to-face exchanges that makes RuPaul's DragCon such a special opportunity.
Special thank you to RuPaul's DragCon and World of Wonder for giving us the opportunity to cover this year's Los Angeles event. Buy tickets to RuPaul's DragCon NYC 2018 here.
What was your favorite revelation from this panel? Tell us: @DerekPlease across social media.