Popularity is relative, and especially in the digital age. You could have hundreds of thousands of followers online, but be completely unknown in the streets — massively famous on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter, but lack any kind of real, authentic cool in person. For our new series, Coolest Person in the Room, New York-based photographer Megan Walschlager pinpoints all the people whose energy is contagious regardless of their following count or celebrity. Meet Kandy Muse (@thekandymuze) — the brilliantly funny drag queen and New York City It-Girl you need to know.
Are you doing drag full time?
Yes, I've been doing drag full-time for about five years now. In between that, I got kind of bored with drag so I started working at Sephora. Unfortunately drag takes over my life, so I wasn't able to do that, so I quit after 2 months.
Tell me about all of your shows — you have so many things going on.
I have a lot, a lot, a lot of shows in New York, I've been very blessed. I have a weekly Saturday party at Metropolitan Bar. I have a weekly Monday show at Pieces Bar. When Drag Race is on, I have a weekly viewing party at No Bar at the Standard East Village Hotel. I'm coming up with a new monthly party at Metropolitan Bar too — oh and I do bingo weekly. In between that, I'm doing a lot of traveling — I'm in Vancouver in two weeks and then after that I'm in Rochester. So, yeah. I'm blessed.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
So, how did all of this start? Walk me through your journey.
It's so weird because a few years ago one of my friends — his name is Airik and he goes by Prince Airik now — he did a lot of nightlife stuff. But before we did a lot of nightlife stuff it was me, DJ Pat, who I know as Paul, and Airik. We used to be friends way back in the day. And Airki one day was like, "You would be amazing for drag. Your personality is perfect." And I was like, "Ew! There's no way in hell I would ever be a drag queen. You're crazy." And this was before Drag Race was a big, huge thing.
I remember watching Season 3 of Drag Race and being like, "Okay, cute." Because I've always done like theater and acting and all that, so I was like, "Ok, I can do this!" I just didn't know how to do the makeup. At the same time, my friend was learning how to be a makeup artist and she was practicing the makeup on me. So, while she was practicing on me I would just sit there and pick up pointers. Then she got hired at Sephora and she didn't have time to practice on me, so I bought my own makeup and started practicing on myself. And then one thing led to another and I bought my first wig and I bought my first pair of heels.
At the beginning I was mostly just taking photos and posting them on Instagram. I was like a little Instagram queen. One day I showed up to this bar in Brooklyn — it's closed now but it was called TNT — and Aja had a show there. And I was like, "Hey, I'm just starting drag this is my first time—"
Was this before Aja was on Drag Race?
Yes, before she was on. So I tell her it's my first time and she was a little bitch to me and she was like, "Okay well I have to leave in the morning, so bye!" and I was like, "OOP! OK, work!" The first person to actually give me work in Brooklyn was Scarlet Envy — it was at her show "This Bitch" at TNT on Wednesday nights. And I remember it was the middle of January, so it was right after New Years, it was super cold, and there was no one in the audience. I performed for, I think like, three people.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Do you remember what you performed?
I did "Give Me Diamonds" by MNDR and I remember doing "Fergalicious." And I remember halfway through "Fergalicious" thinking to myself, "Wow this song is really long." Another first song I remember doing was "S&M" by Rihanna. I think that was actually the first, first, first song I ever performed because now when I hear it I just cringe.
What do you think makes a song good to perform? How do you choose?
I'm the kind of queen where I don't do mixes. There are queens that do like 7+ minutes of comedy mixes and that's cute for you, but I keep it real cute like 3.5 minutes. You gotta keep the audience on their toes and leave them wanting more. You never wanna have the audience going, "Okay, girl...That's a lot." You want them to be like, "OK, girl that was amazing! Will you do another one?"
There are two kinds of gigs. There are the gigs on Mondays where you can do whatever the fuck you want and then there are the gigs on Fridays where you have to pander towards the audience. I'm talking Top 40, popular songs. On Mondays, I can play around and do songs that people may not know or do ballads — like you would never do a ballad on a Friday night. Well, actually you never know because Celine Dion — the gays love Celine Dion. Just keep it cute. Around 3 minutes. 5 minutes tops. And the only reason you should be doing a 5-minute number is if you are doing the "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls with the monologue included. And even then, most girls can't even perform that correctly, so you shouldn't be doing that to begin with.
Keep it cute. Keep it fun. And keep the audience entertained. And when you feel like you've disconnected with the audience and they're bored, then... Well, I don't know what to tell you, you lost them, girl! Sorry!
Photo by Megan Walschlager
What do you do when that happens? Comedians always talk about how awful it is when they're on stage and they're bombing and they just have to keep going. Has that ever happened to you?
I don't think I've ever lost an audience when it comes to performing, but I will say there have been rough times when I've been hosting. It's the most awkward thing because you're on the microphone in front of the bar, there's no music playing behind you, so everyone's just staring. And there are days when I'm just not funny and that is the truth. I remember there was one time here at Pieces, none of my jokes were landing and it was the most awkward show. And there was no way I could recover from it. I just remember thinking I want this to end. I want to go home and I want to cry.
But as far as performing, I think I'm a good performer, and until this day, knock on wood, I have not lost an audience. You know what, now tonight's gonna be the night where I lose an audience. [Laughs]
Do you prepare bits to do while you're hosting or is it mostly improv?
It's mostly improv. I'm not a comedy queen, it just so happens that when I talk it's funny to people. I don't think it's funny, but... The way I like to do it is pander towards the audience and really make a connection, because when people leave my shows I want them to feel like we've been friends for 10 years.
You do do a lot of audience involvement.
Yeah! I find it's important. But not too much involvement where you annoy the audience, because I've been to some drag shows where it's like, "Okay, girl. Go do your damn show." But when it comes to asking questions and stuff — I love playing dumb on the microphone. I am the smartest bitch you will ever meet, I will tell you that right now, but on the microphone I love playing dumb.
There's this one running joke that I have here where I'm like, "We have this workshop where we all work together here at Pieces Bar and help each other learn things like: New Mexico is a state." Okay, well actually that was the truth, I actually learned that here, but I do like to play dumb sometimes. No one likes a smart drag queen. No one. People want their drag queens dumb and funny and that's what I do on stage. It's mostly about being involved with the audience and asking them where they're from and all those questions and having a good time. Especially if you're at a bar. We're here at a bar on a Monday. You're at a drag show at a bar on a Monday. So are you unemployed, are you bored with your life, or are you an alcoholic? Or all of the above? And I'm okay with that.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
So you said you did theater before — do you think that's helped with your career as a performer?
I did a lot of improv in high school and I think that definitely helped me. I learned how to be quick with things and with drag you always have to be on your toes. I did theater, I danced, I did cheerleading, I did step team and I think all of those things helped. At the time I didn't realize I was in boot camp to become a drag queen, that was just stuff I wanted to do growing up as a child. But all those things are really relevant because that's what I do now — I entertain. And as far as doing make up and sewing and all that, you learn it as you go once you start doing drag.
But in theater you learn how to interact with the audience and connect with the audience. With drag — most of the time, not all the time, but most of the time — you're on stage lip syncing to someone else's song. Sometimes people can't afford to go to a concert, so we bring them the concert. We give them the fantasy. And as cool as that is, it's also a weird thing because you're lip syncing to someone's song. I always say drag is fucking weird. You're always on stage lip syncing! But it's about really connecting with the song, and when you connect with the song and do it well, the audience picks up on it and they really enjoy it. I think that's what makes or breaks a drag performance.
A lot of queens have been making their own music — would you ever get into that?
Okay, here's the thing about the whole music thing. I don't know why, but when queens come out with music, at least I'm not into it. I don't know why. I'm just not into it. My drag mother [Aja] has come out with her own album and EPs and I actually do like her stuff — and I'm not just saying that 'cause she's my drag mother. Her EP was actually dope, it had a lot of house and vogue styles and stuff I enjoy. Alaska Thunderfuck has a lot of really good music too. And Adore Delano. Or even like Blair St. Clair! Fucking Blair St. Clair came out with that poppin' ass album and it charted and it was dope! But there are a lot of girls who come out with these little singles and I cringe.
I don't know, I guess I was raised listening to good music, so I guess when I hear something that's not good, I'll pass. If I was ever going to create a song — you know when you hear a song and you're like, "Damn. I wish I came up with that?" That's how I feel when I hear "Icy" by Kim Petras. Everyone knows I stan that song, so if I was to ever create a song it would be modeled after "Icy." I just, I don't know, I did come out with my own music — well, I was featured on this track that I will not name because I don't need anyone looking for the track. But, she was a cute girl. She charted on Billboard, on top 200s. [Laughs] But she was there! It's a chart! You can search Kandy Muse on Billboard! [Laughs] It really did though. It didn't get me verified on Instagram, but it charted, so it's fine.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
Would you ever go on Drag Race?
Uh, yes. 100% yes. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about Drag Race these days because we still haven't had an open trans contest on the show. I mean, there were girls who came out after the show, or like Peppermint was trans before the show. How do I say this? We haven't had a female presenting entertainer on the show which I would love to see.
That being said, the show now compared to what it was 10 years ago has really put drag in the mainstream and created a huge platform and provided a lot of income — because I live very comfortably off drag alone and I don't think that was the case even 15 years ago. I'm sure for certain girls, but not all of them. And Drag Race is now on VH1 which is a huge platform and gets broadcasted to millions. I've seen girls make a huge career even after the show. I mean, Aquaria was just in Rihanna's Fenty show! Rihanna tweeted about Aquaria! Girls can make a huge career out of it and I would love nothing more.
Don't get me wrong, Drag Race is not my end all, be all goal. I've applied for the show a bunch of times and I haven't made it on just yet, but I have ties to the show with my drag mother being on it twice and all that. Whether I get on or not, I'm still gonna do me and entertain and be successful. I will say I have made a name for myself without being on the show yet, but it is a huge platform and it is an amazing platform and it provides security — you know you can make a lot of money off that show. [Laughs] But it's also about, I started drag for myself. It was an ego thing. I've surpassed it, so now when I'm doing drag it's for other people. People tell me all the time how comfortable they feel because I'm really body positive. I love sex appeal, and I'm obviously not skinny, so people always feel inspired by that. So I just want to get on, just to say my message louder than I can now.
What is your go-to drink when you're going out?
It's so funny that you're asking me this now because I'm actually taking a break from drinking right now. For today at least. I'll be drunk in Vancouver this weekend. [Laughs] But I have three.
I feel like you have a layering process, because I've come to your shows before and I always think to myself like, "Wow, she's mixing so many alcohols."
[Laughs] For sure. And it's so bad because when I'm in drag mixing, I don't feel it. When I'm out of drag mixing, then I'm a mess.
That's when it hits.
That's when it hits. For example, at my shows I'll get a vodka soda because it's low in calories. Or at least some people say it is, I don't even know if that's the truth or not because I don't see the girls getting skinnier off these vodka sodas. But, I'll do that and then I'll do tequila shots. If I'm at Metropolitan Bar on Saturdays — I switch it up depending on the day — but I'll get a Henny and Coke, 'cause, you know, she's from the Bronx and she loves her Hennessey — or I'll get a whiskey ginger, still with tequila shots. That always stays the same. I never do Fireball shots. There was one time I did 25 Fireball shots in one night and it was the worst night of my life. So I try to keep it cute. Oh, and recently I got into vodka RedBull. But that's really bad because one, RedBull gets you really fat and—
Well, they make sugar-free RedBull.
They do, but sugar free RedBull is nasty. And two it's also the most expensive drink.
Yeah, 'cause they charge you for the RedBull too!
Right, right. Do you have a getting ready routine on nights you perform?
When I'm getting ready, at least for drag — well, actually not just for drag, but for everything — I have to shower right before I go out. I have to. There's just something in me that doesn't allow me to go outside without showering. And then I just put on a playlist. Usually it's my sad playlist because I love being sad.
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Oh, yeah I love being sad. I love conveying my emotions. Like at home, by myself just like crying — like the makeup won't stay on because I'm crying. I don't know why. I just love sad music. And then I just get ready. I know some people like to drink in between and all that. I just like to focus on getting ready because I hate getting ready. I hate putting on makeup. I hate doing it. So I just want to get it done as fast as possible so then we can drink and pregame. That's pretty much it.
I know some girls are like, "Oh, I have to get in my robe and do all this!" Oh no, girl! I am sitting there in my towel doing my makeup and calling it a day.
I love that. Where does your name come from?
So, before I had Kandy Muse, my name was Cherry Blossom and Lana Del Rey gave me that name — this was way before she became a sensation — because she was like, "I see roses and flowers for you." And after awhile I was like, "Wait, bitch! This is a Bath & Body Works lotion! No!"
That's exactly what I thought of.
Okay, so yeah, you see? So then I wanted to call myself Party Girl and my friends were like absolutely not that sounds so stupid. So then I was watching an Andy Warhol documentary and it was about the life of Candy Darling. She was this beautiful trans woman, platinum blond hair — and she was his muse. I just thought she was so gorgeous. I wanted to be like Candy. So I chose Candy, and then my boy name is Kevin so I was like, "Okay, Kandy with a K only makes sense."
For some reason to me, I love when drag queens have 2 names. We're in a new age now where drag queens have one name and it's dope. Which, you know, I missed that train, but I love when drag queens have 2 names, so I was like, "Okay, I need a last name." Then I was watching the documentary again and I was like, "Oh, she was his muse. Kandy Muse." And it just stuck.
Beautiful. How much do Kandy and Kevin have in common?
It's so weird because people always say when they're in drag they try to do this completely different thing, but I am exactly the same, bitch, in and out of drag. I might be a little bit cuntier because when I have nails and heels on I feel the full fantasy, but no, I'm the same. Ok, I do think I'm a little more sex-forward — does that make any sense? — in drag because I'm a little shyer when it comes to boys out of drag. But I feel like it's the same personality and any of my friends can attest to that. I'm the same loud ass bitch.
Photo by Megan Walschlager
What do you think are some of the coolest places in New York?
OK, do you really, really, really, really wanna know the coolest place in New York City?
The Williamsburg Cinema.
Is that the one that serves food?
No, they don't serve food. They serve popcorn. And they'll put a Hot Pocket in the microwave. BUT, I'll tell you why it's so cool. It's never packed. I love watching movies. In September alone, I think I've gone at least 16 times. And that's more than most people go in a year. It's also quiet and the tickets are half off always.
Why? I don't know. It's Williamsburg Cinema. It's not big.
It sounds so weird, but I love the movies. Whenever I can disconnect from the world and go watch a movie and be in my own space, that's dope to me.
What was the last good movie that you saw?
I was just gonna ask if you had seen Hustlers because I just saw it and it was amazing. I thought it was gonna be corny but it wasn't.
Hustlers was so fucking good. And I was getting ideas from the movie. Bout to start spiking drinks... just kidding. Style ideas. People get on women so much when it comes to being sexy and showing their bodies and I loved that in the movie. It was a stripper movie, obviously, but they portrayed it as this powerful thing, they were powerful beings. I love that. No one should slut shame anyone about their fucking body. Plus, J.Lo looked bomb as fuck. It was so good. And I was obsessed with her mink coat entirely. I would never wear it myself because I'm against real fur, but I loved that mink coat.
Totally. And the soundtrack was amazing and the Usher part was hilarious.
OK, for a second in the movie I was like, "What is going on? Why are they playing all these old songs?" And then it hit me the movie was based in 2007. Duh.
What is next for you?
I'm going on a European Tour. I'm doing a lot of shows. Maybe next year I'll be on TV. Who knows. Actually, let's speak this into existence. I know! I'll be on TV next year. [Laughs] I'm trying to do more things outside of the bar. I'm trying to do more things where I feel like I can really take Kandy Muse to the next level.
You said you don't consider yourself a comedian so what does that mean for you? Like there are looks queens, comedy queens, etc.? What are you looking at?
I think I'm a well-rounded queen when it comes to looks, performing, comedy — when it comes to all that. I think that I'm just an entertainer through and through. Just a New York City entertainer. But I think that just comes with the territory of being from New York. It's a dog-eat-dog world here and only the best survive, so you're trained from the time you're little to always be the best. I hate losing. I don't like second place. Second place to me is the first loser. I don't want to hear it. I will always wanna be first. I wanna be it. I wanna be the It-Girl. Actually, Aja the other day told me — I think she was in Europe or LA or I don't know where the fuck she was — but someone called me The New York City It-Girl and that is exactly the title I'm going with. Kandy Muse is The New York City It-Girl. That's who she is.
Do you have anything else you would like to get off your chest? Anything you've been thinking about?
Anything I've been thinking about? Yes. Protect your trans community, protect trans people of color, protect your immigrant friends and live your fucking life. Be happy. You could die tomorrow and that's it. Cry for three days and then get over it. Be happy now. Have a good time. Enjoy your fucking life.
Follow Kandy Muse on Instagram (@thekandymuze).