Indianapolis drag queen Blair St. Clair is tired of labeling human beings.
“At the end of the day, I don’t look down a line of people and say, ‘You are a white, cisgender male, and you are a black, gay woman,’” St. Clair says. “All those identifiers segregate us and separate us as people.”
With this in mind, the Indy native and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum has vowed to make music that can appeal to anyone and everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Having recently released a brand new single titled “Easy Love,” St. Clair took time to chat with Seth Johnson about her latest musical endeavors, while also looking back on how she got to this point in life.
SETH JOHNSON: I always like getting a little bit of background on everyone I interview, and that’s especially the case with you considering you’re from Indianapolis. Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing?
BLAIR ST. CLAIR: I was born and raised in Indianapolis near Greenwood on the southside, so I’m a true Hoosier at heart. I grew up in a really conservative, religious home with very strict, conservative parents. I had two other brothers, and I grew up in the Perry Township school system in Indianapolis. In high school, I came out to my parents as being gay.
I had been performing in musical theater since I was 8 years old. But in high school, I really found my true passion and voice in performing on stage. Throughout this process, I had come out to my parents. I had a little bit of trouble with having their full acceptance. That wasn’t because they didn’t accept me or love me for who I am. But as I’ve matured more, I’ve found out that any difficulty they had with me coming out of the closet was due to their frustration with society, and that I may have a little bit of a harder life to live than my other two brothers. They were very hurt knowing that my life may be inherently more difficult as a gay man.
Throughout high school, I continued performing. I had intentions of going to college to be a musical theater major and quickly decided against that in the fall of my freshman semester. I was persuaded that having a degree in musical theater wasn’t going to be the thing that launched my career, and that working in the real world and having real-world experience was going to be more valuable. So I went to cosmetology school doing hair and makeup and was cast in a local [Footlite Musicals] production called La Cage aux Folles. That was my first experience with the art and illusion of being a drag queen in a musical.
After that experience, I learned there was a career for me in performing and doing hair and makeup on myself as a drag performer. So I quickly developed my talents into working full-time in the community, whether that was at a salon during the day doing hair and makeup on clients, working with wigs in a theater in the late evenings, or doing drag in nightclubs at night. It developed my career, and I harnessed all my skills to be doing what I do today.
JOHNSON: When you first started out as a drag performer in Indy, what were some of the places that helped you get some experience?
ST. CLAIR: Zonie’s Closet is a local bar in downtown Indianapolis that has an open stage night — it’s kind of like an open mic night. You can come and try out your talents on stage, and that’s where I really grew and evolved as a performer. I would come every Thursday and Sunday. I would perform a few routines that I had practiced at home in different costumes and outfits. I learned a lot working weekly there. Soon, I was able to get my first paid gig at The Monkey’s Tale, and then I started working more in the community.
This all was probably within a span of six months. I’m a quick learner, and I networked with a lot of people, who taught me a lot about how to be a great performer. During the fall of that six-month span, there was a yearly pageant called Miss Gay Indiana, which is part of a national pageant called Miss Gay America. It’s similar to Miss USA in heterosexual culture, but it’s for drag queens. I was like, “I haven’t been doing this for too long, but I think it’d be great to at least try.” Well, I won out of 10 contestants, and they were people that had been doing drag for years and years.
I was like, “Wow. I really have something for this. I feel like this is a real calling for me. I can put all my skills and talent to use, and I’m really passionate about performing on stage.” So after I won the title of Miss Gay Indiana in 2016, I reigned for a year, which means I held that title for the next year. I worked all the club circuits in the tri-state area: Illinois, Ohio, and all over Indiana. That really gave me a lot of exposure, just as a newly 21-year-old person.
JOHNSON: From there, how did everything with RuPaul’s Drag Race come into he picture?
ST. CLAIR: About eight months into me working as Miss Gay Indiana, they had an audition callout for Season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Drag on TV is different than what you see from drag in nightclubs. Drag in nightclubs is a performance, but on a television show, it’s a little bit more about personality. I said to myself, “I really want to be on that show. It’s going to give me the launch I need to take my career and do it on a national level.”
So I auditioned for the show by submitting a video application. I got a phone call and then a few calls back, just talking with the producers as they gauged their interest in me. I thought, “This is the year they’re showing interest in me, but my year to be on the show is really next year.” Well, they asked me to fill out a background questionnaire and sent me to a psychiatrist for a psych eval to see if I would be fit to go on national television. At this point, I figured, “Wow. This is really happening right now.”
JOHNSON: What are some things you learned from being on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
ST. CLAIR: Oh my gosh. It’s crazy. Filming for three months of on-air television happens for about four to six weeks in real life, so it’s very condensed. I did not think I would learn a whole lot in a month, but I cannot tell you how much I did learn. First and foremost, I had never been to California. I had never really experienced a lot of different aesthetics and types of drag outside of the Indiana community. I was just very young and hadn’t had that opportunity.
I learned so much about the world we live in and how drag communities differ. I learned a lot about opening up and being honest with myself. I learned that I had a lot of inner demons within myself while being on that show. As gay men, there usually are a few more struggles and inner demons than there are with regular people because we go through this time in our lives where we feel like we have to suppress who we are for society. Eventually, all people, but especially gay men, find these things within themselves that they’ve been suppressing. While on the show, I really learned that I was suppressing a lot of emotion within myself because I was under that pressure cooker.
JOHNSON: You mentioned learning about drag culture in other parts of the country. With that being said, how would you characterize Indianapolis drag?
ST. CLAIR: Indianapolis drag is more theatrical, and it comes from a root of pageantry, which means there’s a polish and tradition. There are different kinds of drag in the world. There was the movement in New York City with underground clubs and the Club Kid culture [mentions Party Monster film]. L.A. is similar. There are different smaller towns around the country, but Indianapolis specifically comes from a very strong root of what we consider “old-school drag.”
[It comes from] this movement in time of really big theatrical, over-exaggerated performance. These drag queens weren’t pretending to be women. It was a huge, costumed event with very crass humor and showgirl-type aesthetic. Whereas, today, drag is a little more fashion-based with a real feminine aesthetic. I grew up in Indianapolis having that real theatrical education.
JOHNSON: Since appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ve also released some music. When did music initially come into the picture for you?
ST. CLAIR: As a musical theater performer, I’ve been singing my entire life. I’m trained in classical voice and also musical theater. After doing RuPaul’s Drag Race, I realized that I had a really big platform. Basically, I was like, “Wow. There’s so much to capitalize from.”
My dream is to be one of the first drag queens to release music on a mainstream level that charts on the Billboard chart. There have been some drag queens that have done that in Brazil and other countries but never in the United States. We’ve had queer artists, of course, but we’ve never had a drag queen be the next pop star. So whether I’m the first, or one of the first, that would be amazing.
I started working on some independent music with some producers, and that developed my career as a musical artist. Over the past year, I’ve fine-tuned those skills, I’ve gone on tour, and I’ve really found my niche. I'm working on a collaboration between my label Producer Music Group with ADA Music and Warner Music Group right now as the first drag queen to release a single under that distribution, which is really exciting. I feel like that could be the beginning to a bridge of a new era of having queer artists accepted on a mainstream level.
JOHNSON: You collaborated with country artist Brandon Stansell on your latest single, “Easy Love.” Why did you choose to work with Brandon, and how did the song end up coming together?
ST. CLAIR: Brandon Stansell is one of the writers that I collaborated with on “Easy Love.” That song is really important to me. Inherently, I’ve released a lot of music that was more targeted toward nightclubs and gay people. But I had a really big realization this past year that music is music [at its] bottom line. There’s no gender, there’s no sex, and there’s no sexual orientation assigned to music.
I also don’t necessarily believe that all music should fit into a type of genre either. In politics and society right now, part of our demise as people is labeling and identifying everyone in certain boxes. I was like, “If there’s one thing I can do for the world, it’s that I want to offer my voice in an unlabeled, unidentified way.” I just want to release music to be celebrated.
It doesn’t have to be, “Oh, that music for gay people is great.” Or, “Oh, you’re a queer artist.” I just want it to be like, “Oh, you’re a great artist, you have great music, and I want to celebrate that.” That has been my main goal. Brandon Stansell has some of those same views because he happens to be a gay country artist. He and I shared some very similar discussion. It would be great to not say, “Oh, he’s a gay country artist.” It’d be great to say, “He’s a great country artist.” I feel like that is where we can take our next steps as people.
This song is called “Easy Love.” Relationships are not easy — there’s a lot of work that goes into them. But love is simple, love is easy, and love is effortless. There’s a lot that can be said about giving love. So this song is about those initial intimate moments when you first meet someone and how you feel loving feelings toward them. I feel like that can be synonymous with any other human being in the world.
JOHNSON: Now that the single is out, what comes next?
ST. CLAIR: I’m working on an EP that could also develop into a full-length album. That will be released in the coming months. The goal is to stagger the release of singles to then be re-released as a full EP at a later date.
The first song is more about feelings and emotion — it’s a very vibe-y song. It’s not necessarily for dancing at the club. It’s meant for a drive home from work on a Friday afternoon with the top down, just feeling those memories of summer, love, and happiness. It’s supposed to make you feel something. It’s not necessarily supposed to make you want to jam along. It’s kind of the bridge from my old music that makes you want to dance. The new sound I’m moving toward is more vibe-y.