When the Zoom screen changed to add Erica I immediately felt under-dressed for the occasion. There was sparkle, purple, black curls, twinkling earrings and a bright energetic face. I was beginning my interview with Charlotte, North Carolina's Drag Queen, Erica Chanel.
Many people don't know about Charlotte's drag world, and that's why she and I came together. When she is not Erica, she is Emory, a black, gay male (he/his/him) who has become accomplished enough to afford to live off his drag performances.
When I first came out as gay my parents were like 'uhh not really with it but whatever'.
"One of the first things they said when I first came out was ' Do not dress like a woman'....but then when I started to do drag my mom absolutely loved it. She was like 'oh let's go pick out wigs now', and my dad absolutely hated it, he did not understand it, he did not think it was a career or anything like that. Recently he's been coming to my shows so he's seen it in person and he's like, in awe."
Erica Chanel worked hard to get where she is. From making a decision at 18 to go to the only gay bar around in Greenville, South Carolina to traveling all over the east coast for performances in New York, Atlanta, Florida and of course, Charlotte.
"I've actually done a lot in my career that has like, been in the right direction. So I went to Drag Con, my outfit was top 3 out of all the drag queens there, and I got to work with some amazing Ru Paul drag queens."
One of those queens happens to be Trinity the Tuck, contestant on Drag Race Season 9 and winner of season 4 Ru Paul's Drag Race All-Star. Erica is also on the show, "Love for the Arts" hosted by Trinity the Tuck herself.
Erica also filmed a reality show called "The Queens in The Queens City". He was the only African-American drag performer in the cast, but she told me that that was the norm in Charlotte.
"In Charlotte I feel like we do have a lot of African-American drag queens, but I feel they don't feel like they can reach out and get the opportunities that say, I have had, because predominately the bars are white....I remember moving to Charlotte three years ago and I went into [bar] 316 and I'm like ' wow they're really not serving me a drink right now' like - this is kinda weird but all the white people around me are getting their drinks like left and right and I was like 'mmm, that's weird'.
It wasn't until I went there in drag that they started to give me attention, but like, I tell people, underneath this I am still a gay, black, man so like, that's who you have to respect first.
"The drag is just something that's like a made up character. But either way you put it, I'm a black man and I'm a black drag queen so it's like you can't choose which one of my blackness' you want to like because at the end of the day I am always going to be black."
Even though I've lived in Charlotte for 7 years, it never occurred to me that Charlotte would be segregated in drag.
"In Charlotte, there is "316" if you are a white, upper-class, high-class gay, that's where you go. And then you have "Snug Harbor", and that is if you are a white, weird, alternative, punk-rock person and then we have Scorpio and Chasers where predominantly our black people go...that's where they feel comfortable. "
Erica continued to share that as drag queen claiming one circle then meant you couldn't then go to another. People at Chasers don't go to Scorpio, people at Scorpio don't go to Chasers and so on and so forth. It seemed rooted in cliques and niches.
"I feel like that's a big thing about Charlotte where all the black queens only preform at Scorpio on Saturday nights. They feel like that's the only place they can perform, so when I moved to Charlotte three years ago it was like, 'Oh Erica's at 316' which is the white bar and ' oh she's over there working, oh, she must not like the black culture'.
And it may be a white club but hey, at least we have black entertainment in this place being celebrated. I am trying so hard to break that stigma and be like - we can go wherever we want to go. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, trans, whatever, it doesn't matter. I want everyone to feel comfortable at all these places, be accepted at all these clubs.
She explained to me that Charlotte was very much a popular place in drag. Despite the drama that comes with being a royal, Erica does think that the drag world is seeing success in Charlotte, NC.
"So I do feel like drag is up and coming and the people that come to these shows, um, a lot of times it's their first time and they keep coming....Now with the [Coronavirus] pandemic and with social media and these live shows, people are starting to see drag more and they're like 'oh wow, its an art form' instead of people thinking 'eww' it's just this weird thing that we do like we're freaks."
Until that time, queens like Erica will have to make due with the present. . Erica shared that she had lost thousands of dollars since the pandemic, but Erica thinks that being stuck in the house because of the pandemic will actually help drag.
"I feel like a lot of people are starting to accept it. And like Drag Race being out there, people can see it and stay in the comforts of their home, but now they want to experience it face to face. I feel like Charlotte has a long way to go but its definitely coming."
Though drag performance have stalled, Erica is continuing to do shows online, and Charlotte has even opened up their own drive-through shows. When the bars open up, Erica plans to come out swinging by producing her own drag show - Black Girl Magic.
"It's going to be a show where it's nothing but kings and queens of color so that we can have a show that's just for us and that we can be celebrated and show our black excellence."
I am grateful that Erica gave me a glimpse into the real drag world. It was a lot more than I imagined, but I left our meeting with full confidence knowing that some of the best queens would be found here in Queens City.
If you'd like to follow and support Erica Channel check out her IG @theericachanel and her website http://ericachanel.com/