Countess Luann Sets Her Sights on LadyLand

Countess Luann Sets Her Sights on LadyLand

Jun 25, 2024

Luann de Lesseps lives and breathes cabaret. Catch her onstage, casting spells over girls and gays and its easy to see why.

I first spoke to the international cabaret star about five years ago, amid her first big swing at the world of nightlife variety acts. She was gearing up for another tour, hot on the heels of her widely buzzed about #CountessAndFriends tour, which premiered in 2018 at Feinstein’s/54 Below. At the time, I was a bit awestruck by the living legend, the force of her spirit so powerful, I was actually at a loss for words. (That, and I was quietly hushed by her publicist for broaching questions about her love life.)

Of course, she doesn’t remember a lick of our first encounter, which works in my favor, considering how much I’ve changed since 2019. That said, she has only grown more confident in her abilities since we spoke, more commanding, the force of that unmistakable determination solidifying with each new success she finds. “I think what hits my fans the most is perseverance, resilience, which is what “Viva La Diva” is all about. If you don’t think you’re great, nobody else will, and I say that all the time.” She laughs and adds: "I want my queens to feel great, and I think they look up to me for that, as an icon, in their terms, and I think they love how strong I am as a woman.”

It helps, probably, that she finds just about every reason to sing in our chat, busting out her repertoire of cabaret staples like “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” “Viva la Diva” (a personal favorite, and her new song, “Marry F Kill,” the video for which dropped earlier in June.

When she first stepped out at 54 Below for her #CountessandFriends show, Lu’s big move to the theatrical arts was just about the only thing her coworkers could run their mouths about. Would she rise from the ashes of her divorce and recent arrest and subsequent legal troubles, or would she flop in her Jovani dress? They were convinced of the latter, but now, a half-decade on, the Countess has surely put the naysayers to rest. She’s performed everywhere from California to London, with celebrity attendees the likes of the Haim sisters — “Are you kidding me, it’s unbelievable” — to Tilda Swinton, who popped up in London. “She stayed for the after-party. I love her, we’re bonded now.”

While there, the Countess also performed at London’s Mighty Hoopla festival, her first time in front of such large crowds, she tells me. Lu also has LadyLand Festival in Brooklyn on the books, which she muses might be her new favorite performance to date when all is said and done. Beyond the festival circuit and summer shows, the Countess has big plans in store with a planned Christmas LP and a tour to accompany it, which kicks off in November at the Sony Hall. “Hurry up and get your tickets, because Sony Hall is not big enough for me!”

Beyond that, we talk Charli XCX remixes, Julia Fox, the perfect summer wardrobe for aspiring divas, a possible Bachelorette stint, and more. Read all about it, and more, below. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Want to start by saying congratulations on touring your cabaret all over the world since we last spoke in 2019. Have you had a favorite stop so far? A favorite crowd?

Most recently, I did the Mighty Hoopla Festival in London, and I have never performed in front of that many people. It was unbelievable. It was very pop-star stuff. Everybody was like, they’ve been wanting and waiting for me to be in London for so long. As I say in my music, before I start “Chic,” it’s like, “Ladies and gentleman, the Countess is speaking. I’ve arrived!” It was magical. It was really magical. I just loved it. You know, I lived in Europe for a long time, so performing in front of a huge audience like that in London, there are no words.

There were always going to people that decried your career move when you started your cabaret, but all these years later, it feels like you’ve put the haters in the grave. No one can say you didn’t do it!

I just did an interview about season eleven of RHONY, when they were all hating on me about cabaret, like, “Why is she looking at her poster instead of bringing us truffle fries. Life is not a cabaret.” Well, I guess for you, but it is for me!

Life is a cabaret! Looking back at where you started in your cabaret journey to now, how does it feel to see how far you’ve taken it?

It was really just an idea from a friend of mine who said, “Hey Luann, you love to host parties, you love to tell jokes, you should be doing cabaret. And then he introduced me to Ben Rimalower, who I started cabaret with, that’s how I met Roger Dawley, who works with me now. I would pick the song, and then Ben and I would write it together, and now, I know the show like the back of my hand. It’s never the same show, but the point is, I put it together really myself. I do have an incredible director though, Richard Alexander, who’s worked with the biggest in the business. Barbra Streisand, just to name one.

That’s the only name we need to mention! It says everything.

Okay! So when he came to see my show, and it was Countess and Friends still, he said, “You know, Countess, you blew my mind. First of all, you can sing,” because they always made me look bad on the show. But I am funny, and I wear a dress like no one he’s ever seen. He said, “You’re going to be a big cabaret star. Give me two weeks and I’m going to find you the right agent.” From then on, it kept morphing, and I realized there was kind of a void in the cabaret world, cabaret meets pop culture meets comedy meets fashion show. I pick songs that I absolutely love. I know my very young audience, they come with their moms, so I pick the songs and build a story that goes into the song. That’s what my cabaret is all about. It’s a personal story and a personal journey.

You can see that in the show.

Right now, I’ve also started working on a Christmas LP for holiday touring. Tracy Young just remixed “Marry F Kill”, and she won a Grammy with Madonna. I get to work with the best in the business. During lockdown, nobody was doing anything, and I did “Viva La Diva”, which we all have deep inside of us, to get through it. The song was written by Desmond Child, you know, “Living on a Prayer”. I feel really lucky that I get to work with the bad ass bitches of the music industry, and of cabaret. It’s been such an incredible journey. I know that’s a very long winded answer.

It’s not long winded, you’ve done so much!

I say life is a cabaret because we write our own story. That’s what that means.

I think that’s one of those things I find captivating about your career, coming up on 15 years since people met you on television. Looking back at where your life was then, as a housewife, as a mom, figuring out what was next, to now, how does it feel?

Oh my god, I’m so much happier now. I was getting divorced. I was getting married again. That was a disaster. Then I got divorced, got into some minor legal issues. Now, I’m really living my best life. My 50s have been way better. I wouldn’t trade it, I mean, I’ve been there, done that. I put my blood, sweat and tears into that show. We had a great time, but it was a lot of work, and I shared a lot of my life, and now I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat, because I’m really doing what I love. I made it through, you know? I got knocked down, and had to pick myself up many times. Andy Cohen said to me, “You are the most resilient housewife I’ve ever known,” because I’ve fallen so many times. There was only one way to go, and that for me was up.

Listening to you talk about being in your 50s makes me think of how the Real Housewives led the conversation that your 40s were the new 30s, and now, I hear people say the same about your 50s. You don’t have to slow down; you can go for it.

It does! I’m lucky because I have good energy, and I’m a hardworking person, and people don’t realize that I work really hard on cabaret. I always say they come into Toyota and they drive out the Rolls Royce, because they don’t know what to expect. I put on a really good show, and people are always surprised. They’re like, “Oh my god, we had no idea.” It’s a walk down memory lane, it’s my stories, it’s a fashion show with lots of glamor and glitz and fun. It’s also how I write my music, like my Christmas LP. I don’t think there’s enough good Christmas music out there.

I mean, a Christmas album and Christmas tour sounds like it's right up your alley. You’ll also be at LadyLand Festival soon.

I’m very excited. I’m now totally into festivals, I’ve never played a festival before Mighty Hoopla in London. Isn’t that crazy?

I was going to ask about that. How does it feel being in front of that many people?

It’s a big change for me because I’m used to theaters, like the Chicago Theater and 54 Below in New York. The experience is totally different, with the amount of people. My theaters can only fit so many people. It’s cool, and has a different vibe. I love it. And I can’t believe I’m playing in Brooklyn. I can’t.

After all these years, the Countess is back in Brooklyn.

Under the Brooklyn Bridge!

It’s an iconic location.

I’ll also be in Baltimore, Maryland, Alexandria, Virginia, Tacoma, Washington, San Diego, Phoenix and then in New York at Sony Hall on November 15. Hurry up and get your tickets, because Sony Hall is not big enough for me!

You mentioned your young fans a few times, how they introduce you to stuff. But beyond that, Tilda Swinton is someone who just popped up at your show in London. Has there ever been other guests at your shows where you though, “I didn’t know they knew me, or they were a fan.”

In LA I had Molly Shannon, and Teri Hatcher from Desperate Housewives, who I had no idea was a fan. Madonna’s daughter Lourdes comes to my shows, love Lourdes. Lance Bass came to my last show in LA, and oh my god, the three sisters, the Haim sisters, came to say hi to me at one of my shows. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s unbelievable. Tilda just showed up in London, and I had heard she might be coming, but she actually came, and she stayed for the after-party. I love her, we’re bonded now.

Again, it puts to rest those naysayers. If Tilda Swinton is showing up at your shows, you’ve made it. You’ve crossed over.

Listen, I always say, “The minute you think you’re right, you’re already rotten.” You know what I’m saying? I never think I know enough, and I’m always surprised by the reactions of fans, and it’s mind-blowing to me. I’m just Lu, I’m just Nurse Lu, at my core. But Tilda said to me, “You spread so much joy to the world. It’s just so lovely to watch.” And she was hugging me for like, 15 minutes. “How is Sonja doing, Dorinda is doing Traitors in Scotland, she must come to my little humble abode.” Charming, lovely, a big fan, and it just blows my mind. Like woah, pinch me.

It’s also pride season, and Ladyland falls into Pride as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you for a little bit of advice, at the request of the PAPER staff. It’s June, and it’s hot. People are going out, and they’re afraid of being sweaty. What are tips you can share for beating the New York heat and still looking chic and fabulous?

Well you see what I have on! A hat is key, it’s the polish, you know? So comfortable. Open toed shoes, so your feet can breathe, right? The hat to protect your face from the sun beating down on your head, because that makes you really hot. Light clothing. I’ve got on a vest and a pair of linen pants.

That vest is everything! With nothing underneath.

Right? Just light, light clothing, and breathable clothing, obviously. Don’t forget your blotting papers. People put powder on their face but it gets cakey. And then have little perfume samples in your purse.

What’s a Countess-approved, staple scent?

I love Chanel No. 5 all over body spray. You can put it everywhere, on your hair. Everybody is like, oh my god, you smell so good, and I have on Chanel No. 5.

Speaking of Pride, you have a gay audience that probably rivals major-label pop stars at this point.

Fierce, they love it.

Do you have a favorite city or favorite crowd or queer space that you’ve performed in, whether in a club, party, theater?

I mean, I’m still blown away from Hoopla, in London. The gays there are just, oh my god! They go all out. I mean, they dress for success. I love how the English have a certain style, together and always over the top. When I’m done with LadyLand, it will be my new favorite I’m sure. I get videos of queens dancing to “Money” or “Chic” where they’re at the club and they’re dancing around, playing a video. I love the LGBTQ+ community. I think what hits my fans the most is perseverance, resilience, which is what “Viva La Diva” is all about. If you don’t think you’re great, nobody else will, and I say that all the time. I want my queens to feel great, and I think they look up to me for that, as an icon, in their terms, and I think they love how strong I am as a woman.

Another question, directly from the PAPER staff: Do you know or are a fan of Charli XCX at all?

Charli XCX?

There’s a song out, and we want to put it out there, “Everything Is Romantic.” It’s about falling in love in Italy in the summer, and we think you’d be really good for the remix.

Absolutely, amazing.

Onto Ladyland, there are so many great performers. Is there anyone that you hope to catch a performance from, if you have time?

Oh yes, Tinashe, “Nasty”! Who else is there, Bob the Drag Queen! Kandy Muse! And Julia Fox, who I’m really looking forward to.

Julia also feels like someone you should collaborate with. She just started putting out music too.

I can’t wait to meet everybody.

Last question, you told Life & Style earlier this year that you wanted to put your hat in the ring for the Golden Bachelorette. Have you heard back at all?

I have not, but there may be something in the works for me in terms of dating.

Is there an age range you’d want to work with, on your own dating show, or the Bachelorette, fingers-crossed?

I like to date my own age! I want somebody who’s in the same place, with kids, or gown. Who has free time to travel, has a good lifestyle, who’s fun but also elegant. I sing in my new song, “Marry F Kill,” “My ticking clock has stopped/ And now I’m feeling free.” I’m a hopeless romantic! I love love. What’s life worth living without love?

Photography: Mike Ruiz, Josef Jasso