An Afternoon of Opulence with Bebe Deluxe!
Interview by Ari Laren | Photos by Josh Wessolowski
A large relief painting hangs in the living room of the Queen Bebe herself A matador with cape in his full display of power and grace is the perfect representation of the delicate line Bebe Deluxe walks in achieving her persona each time they dons their precious wigs and essential glitter. Strength and beauty are one in reference to Jacksonville’s most intriguing up-and-coming Drag Queen.
You haven’t experienced opulence until you’ve spent an afternoon with up-and-coming artist Bebe Deluxe in their dapper dwelling. Rife with vintage goodies hand-picked from their family antique store or flea finds discovered with hubby, Aiden. Pup Newman and Kitty Wolfie round out the cute and cuddly crew at their humble Avondale abode.
When the person you’re interviewing answers the door in a black silk robe it’s a good sign that things are about to get opulent. Alex Palmer aka Bebe Deluxe delivered in excess, exuding elegance and magnificent grandeur. During the interview Bebe eagerly dispensed their views on “[designing] looks of luxury, cheap make-up tips and tricks and [how to] try very hard not to talk shit. Read on to learn a little bit about the history of drag from the perspective of a Queen doing things her own way. Bebe also gives us an introspective view on the future of Drag culture and gender roles.
I am so excited to share this beautiful being with you through this inspiration filled interview! Once you’ve read Bebe Deluxe’s pearls of wisdom you will be dying to see a live show! Luckily you can catch the opulence of Bebe Deluxe and friends at a monthly drag night called GlitterBomb! hosted in the back room of Raindogs! The inaugural night begins on December 4th. With friends GeeXella , April Rition , Junie B. Jones , Dwight Robinson , Bebe Dee & Gerry Lee, and special guest DJ Alex E. of TOMBOi!
Interview with the Queen!
Important note: throughout the article you may notice that the pronouns used for BBD change from they/them to she/her. As a part of my interview process I ask people how they identify so that I can be respectful of the way they feel and want to be perceived. I encourage everyone to implement a practice of checking in with folks about how they wish to be perceived even if you think you already know. Bebe Deluxe /Alex Palmer Prefer they/them and she/her pronouns and Identify less with he/him but will accept he/him as identifiers even though the former terms are more accurate descriptors of how they feel and want to be portrayed. If you don’t get it, google it (Gender pro-nouns). More education = More love!
The interview opens with a little candid tet-a-tet as Bebe Deluxe sets up her make-up station in the front window of her home. Glorious bear chest and hair pulled back ready to do work to create the persona that is Bebe Dee!
BBD: I have never put my make-up on with the blinds wide open.
AL: What would you neighbors think?
BBD: I’m lettin’ Miss Avondale have it, Darlin’!
AL: How did you learn the steps you use when transforming from Alex to Bebe. Who were your influences? You don’t become a fashion icon overnight or without influence. Name style icons to whom you attribute your distinct mode of dress.
BBD: A majority of my education specifically on this brow cover came from YouTube. I would see a thing that I liked on a drag queen and would Google-search ways to do it online, and that’s kind of how I operated before I had a “Drag Mother”.
I always say that you have to look like shit ten to fifteen times before you look good in drag. I met Trinity Baker maybe the 3rd time I got in to drag. She gave me little tips here-and-there about matching my foundation and how to apply my eyelashes. She would give me little things. Then finally [two years] in to doing Drag she officially did my makeup for me. She taught me all about certain techniques. Where to apply your foundation and how to do it.
AL: You were talking about Trinity. Do you consider her your Drag Mama?
BBD: Absolutely! Absolutey! Trinity is a biological female. I met her through a friend of mine who knew her. She was running this gig called Art Friend’s Electric where a bunch of artists got together in San Marco, would sell art and it would be a function. [One time] she told me I should come and dress up. It was at Art Walk and I showed up. Oh! I was wearing some bookie drag! Oh, I looked so stupid! I looked a damn fool, but she really saw something interesting in it. She would just invite me to go out with her and chill with her.
AL: Bebe Dee is self-made but hails from the House of Deluxe. Describe the process of finding a home that helped nurture the growth of your inner Queen? Was it filled with all of the glitter and glory you dreamed it would be?
BBD: [Trinity] has been really good about teaching me not only technique about how to actually make my face look good. She’s taught me a lot about attitude. I think when a lot of Drag Queens start out they [feel they] must overcompensate. You have to let people know that you’re badass and you get lots of stares. You’re still getting used to people acting funny when they see you in Drag. You can get really defensive. She taught me to chill out and enjoy the moment and be the glamorous creature and not have to fight over it.
She also taught me I don’t have to follow a ‘Drag Queen kit’. Because lot’s of Drag Queens you see they all have the same look. It’s a sickening look but they all got the same eyebrows, the same cheeks, and the same porn-star lips. You start to loose a bit of yourself when you follow that mold too extensively. She taught me to do what worked for my face and she’s been a great guiding light for me.
AL: Tell me about your your extended Drag Family. I want to know more about how you developed the persona of Bebe Deluxe.
BBD: As for my extended family I have sisters that I roll with. There is my good friend Nick who is Miss Didi Boniva. She did Drag way-way-way-way-way-way long ago in the 90’s because she’s old, is the joke! She did club-kid Drag as Didi Seven. We were kiki-ing one day and I said Didi Seven? More like Didi Boniva! (Yes, like the bone supplement.) She loved it and now she plays this old lady character. She has encouraged me to appreciate Drag as a cultural heritage because Drag was a direct root to camp which is Queer Society making fun of upper echelon, high-end society and lampooning them.
AL: You live in a very stylish home with a super dapper husband and two ultra sweet fur babies. How does your personal life influence your style?
BBD: I consider Hayden, [my husband] a piece of my Drag Family. Not so much because of him getting in Drag because that’s not really what he does. He is very smart about these sorts of things and he helps me to be this persona. We bounce jokes off of each other, we kiki. I like to call him my manager.
AL: Let’s travel back in time to learn about your roots. A Jacksonville native, you attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in High School and grew up with a father who did stand-up as a road comic. How did this shape your progression as a performer? Were there any other influences you feel helped you develop your style?
BBD: My dad was a stand-up comedian for [about] twenty years. He was a theater major at Auburn University. He dicked around forever and realized he enjoyed telling jokes on stage. I always enjoyed telling jokes like my dad but stand-up comedy was always something (releases deep sigh). How do I say this without offending anyone? I always thought that stand-up was kind of gross and male dominated.
Getting to do comedy and jokes, crowd work with the audience is something that comes natural to me. I grew up in comedy clubs watching my dad. When you’re a comedian you have a set you do that’s 30-45 minutes. When it’s not working or the audience isn’t responding, you cut it and you do crowd work. A lot of comedians are going to say that’s not real stand-up. I think for road comics, which is what [my dad] was, crowd-work is how you get asked to come back. You make a good impression on the crowd [and] get them to like you.
AL: Most drag queens lipsync or cover popular music. Your act incorporates live vocals and even original songs that you wrote along with partner Gerry Lee. How did the two of you meet and How would you define your style of performance?
BBD: Sooooo! BebeDee and Gerry Lee is a project with myself and an astounding pianist from Tallahassee Florida named Gerry Nielson. We met at a day program for Adults with developmental disabilities. He taught music and I taught Theater darling! It was a stressful job. After work we would get in to a music room together. We’d stay for an extra half hour and jam out with music. Then I moved back to Jacksonville and these people I know were having a drag show and they offered a position to me to host and do musical performances. I asked Gerry if he could do some piano music for me. The rest just fell in to place. [Gerry and I worked a few drag shows where] the theme was soundtracks so we did a bunch of songs from movies. We had all these themes that we had to do together.We basically just try to go for an old Hollywood golden-age musical sound but with contemporary music thrown in.
AL: It can be a beautiful challenge to collaborate with other. You and Gerry seem to have a good thing going. How do you sustain your friendship while conquering musical feats.
BBD: Gerry Lee is such an amazing special piece of the puzzle because I was always of the school of sell it and he is of the school of do it right! Our rehearsals are more tense then you might imagine because what’s good for me isn’t always what’s good to Gerry. I’m sure that TOMBOi (Jacksonville-based Queer indie-electronica female trio) doesn’t always get along.
AL: TOMBOi are very much like sisters in that way. It’s very intense and personal.
BBD: That’s the thing about making music you don’t think about. You basically have a connection with someone that isn’t romantic and it isn’t sexual It’s very intense, Its very symbiotic. It is very personal. Music is one of those things that can make you cry, laugh , it can heal you. So, sharing that with someone I’m learning is a challenge and it’s different than just hanging out with your friend.
AL: At recent drag events i’ve noticed more families with young kids supporting the performers. I think one of the most heart-warming things to me is watching a child mesmerized by the glamor of a Queen! Do you think drag is becoming more family friendly? What do you hope is in store for the future of public opinion about drag culture?
BBD: My favorite part of it isn’t that I get to sing these songs, but the sense of community is great! I try to sing songs that I feel like the audience would have resonated with at [some] point. I try to do things that are personal like ‘Unpretty’ by TLC which everyone really felt. Basically just taking an era where we were most emotional. My era where I was most emotional was between 1998 and 2004 because it was the beginning of my plus sized queerdom. Lot’s of Brittney, Destiny’s Child, Kelis. Things that I grew up with at the time. We are doing some old school stuff too, like ‘True Colors’.
[The show] is basically a homage to people that helped us discover parts of who we are and people who laid the ground work for what we can be.We talk about history. My favorite part of the show is getting to tell little stories in-between each song. I am just surprised and tickled each time people sit and listen to what I have to say.
BBD: This has been Bebe Deluxe giving you looks and luxury, cheap make-up and tips and tricks and trying very hard not to talk shit. I hope you enjoyed it!