Diva, the lead host at Wilton Manor's drag hotspot, Lips, thinks that calling this Sunday's dinner and show dedicated to Whitney Houston and Donna Summer a "dead diva's tribute" is a little morbid. But, well, sadly, these ladies are dead, and, man, were they divas.
The night's festivities won't be all wigs and boas just for the fun of it. A fundraiser for the national organization Women in Distress, the tribute is about more than the individual. Whereas every day at Lips promotes female empowerment (and female impersonator empowerment), this Saturday does so especially.
"After a couple of years at Lips, I really wanted to give something back to the community," Diva says. "So I talked to the owners, and we looked around, and Women in Distress really stuck out."
WID is a full-service domestic violence center in Broward County serving the community with counseling, emergency shelter, advocacy, and care. "Women tend to be our greatest demographic at Lips, so I thought it was a great paring," the generous Diva continued.
And as far as picking Whitney and Donna as the focus of the night, the performer admits that both were no strangers to the theme of women in distress. They're also such fantastic drag icons. And, he says, "It's the music that transcends everything. It breaks down the barriers."
The whole cast will perform songs related to or sung by these goddesses of popular music. This includes acts by Nicolette, Misty Eyez, Twa La Rouge, April, Alexis, Charlize, Champagne, Chocolata, Deja, Franchesque, Martina, Nicole, and Velvet.
"I allow all the girls to really put on their thinking caps and really exercise their creativity," Diva says of what to expect from the ladies. They won't be singing just the standards. At the time we spoke, Diva was looking for a Dolly Parton impersonator to belt out "I Will Always Love You," just to, he says, "bring the whole thing full circle."
We wondered how the man (Diva) originally got behind the woman (Diva) who is behind this giving affair. "I've always been a bit of a ham," he says. "When I was a little boy, most guys wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman. I wanted to be Johnny Carson when I grew up."
As a young man, he went to a drag show talent contest in Chicago. Thinking he should enter, his friends convinced him to do it, and he won. "I thought I'd just take the money and run," he jokes, but part of the win included coming back the next week and performing his winning number. That night, the hostess didn't show up, so Diva was handed the mic. "That was about 25 years ago," he reminisces.
Diva's been living in Wilton Manors now for 20 years. "It was really the gay people that came in and changed the face of Wilton Manors," he says. When he first moved to South Florida, he notes that this neat little corner of Broward "was a hole in the wall. Somewhere where you passed through to get to where you were going. There was a trailer park and a Piggly Wiggly. Now, it's become an entertainment mecca."
Diva believes Lips, which will be celebrating its fifth anniversary this November, unites us all in a common love of music. "These are songs that are the anthems of our lives," he shares of the tunes they perform. "When people leave our shows, and they're singing the final production of the night, 'We Are Family'." Regardless of creed or gender, they sing, and, Diva says, "it's a magical thing."
A child of the disco era, he'll be performing a less well-known Summer number "My Life" from the Broadway show Ordinary Girl. Here are a few of Diva's favorite songs to prepare you for this weekend's festivities.
Madonna - "Like a Prayer"
"I'm an enormous Madonna fan," he says of the songstress who he saw perform at the Copa with Jellybean Benitez. "My favorite era is Blonde Ambition Tour."
Pink - "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)"
"I absolutely love Pink," he notes. When he performs "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," Diva says, "Girls just go crazy. They absolutely love that."
Katy Perry - "Circle the Drain"
Kelly Clarkson - "Since U Been Gone"
"'Since U Been Gone' for sure!," he says.
Nicki Minaj - "Super Bass"
Dinner and a show "A Tribute" to benefit Women In Distress starts at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 23 at Lips, 1421 East Oakland Park Blvd. in Oakland Park, about one-mile east of I-95. Performances, a three-course meal, one complimentary glass of wine or frozen cosmo is included in the $50 entrance or $75 VIP package, with which you'll meet the cast. Proceeds benefit Women in Distress. Call 954-760-9800, ext. 1253. or visit lipsusa.com.
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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.