RuPaul’s DragCon LA 2018 – Last Day and Final Word

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Vancouver, BC (UhmazingPress) – RuPaul’s DragCon LA 2018 was massive and overall a great experience. Held at a bigger venue in Los Angeles Convention Centre South Hall, the drag (and anything related to drag) convention drew an impressive 50,000 attendees, a 25% increase compared to last year’s. This year’s convention operations was such an improvement from the previous years. There was nothing bad worth noting. Although, some changes or setup choices may make one ponder but it’s nothing critical. With that said, here’s my final word on the third and last day of DragCon and overall experience.

The Good Stuff

The venue and bigger capacity, and making the convention a three-day event instead of two-day are definitely very good changes this year. Even when the queues of fans of popular personalities ballooned, there was plenty of space for them to snake around without creating a congestion to foot traffic.

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The free WiFi for the attendees was a huge plus! Free connectivity is a huge help, especially for those who are from out of town (or from another country). Security was great, they were all over the place, which kept things going smooth and safe. There were plenty of metal detectors positioned at the entrance to the main lobby that entering the building was a breeze. 

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There were also plenty of stations where attendees can claim badges that lines were either brief or non-existent. Stations designated for talent, exhibitors and press registration were also well manned and professional. Most of the staff were cordial and well informed, they were so happy, and were all smiles, to help … like they’ve been paid really really well. The exhibit hall layout and naming of alleys were pretty sassy and fun.

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The compact guidebook was definitely an improvement too. It’s not cumbersome and the content was well thought out and well organized. There were plenty of information panels strategically placed at the entrance and aisles, showing floor layout, schedules and other useful information.

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There were plenty of exhibitors this year too, not just the Drag Race queens. Quite a number of them put a lot of work on their booth design and product presentation … and some went the extra mile and wore very elaborate costumes.

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Some attendees came in their best drag. It was obvious they put a lot of thought, time and effort in their costumes and look. And many were pretty damn good.

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The addition of photo op, pit stops, like the Andy Warholl Factory, Snatch Game set, 3D Everybody Say Love (placed in front of the South Hall near the entrance), RuPaul’s Drag Race Werkroom and Ru’s Covergirl convertible, to name a few, were fantastic and fun!

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The panels this year was also worth noting. Product placement, and sponsored panels was a trend this year. Although some of the topics were not as exciting as those about the show, cast or the LGBT community, but a gurl’s gotta make some coins too. Subject matter wasn’t really a concern anyway, it was all about panelist. I had to make an executive decision on which panels to go because a lot of them were going on at the same time. So I prioritize panels who had more Ru gurls, those who had more cast from the latest season whom I haven’t meet, those with queens I’m interested in or have established a rapport and those I truly support.

There were also other high priority programmes that I missed, like the winner’s walk on Glamazon Boulevard and Pangina Heal’s performance, because I was either in a queue or recovering from a queue. It was great to see one of my favorite Los Angeles emcees, Tony Moore. He used to emcee Micky’s Showgirls on West Hollywood. He sometimes does this posing demo, where he shows the children how it’s properly done. Of course, when I saw him, I asked him to do just that.

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And as if he just flipped a switch, he was in the zone. With a microphone in hand, he gave the audience a crash course on posing … bam, bam, bam, boom! He is so entertaining, the audience cheered. What’s amazing about his poses is that it’s so on point … attitude, the face and everything!  Other exhibitors worth noting, Mickey’s West Hollywood with their new Las Vegas-styled signage, and Hamburger Mary’s extra meaty showcase.

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The Tee

To be frank, I was going to cancel this year for logistics and personal reasons, much like when I cancelled DragCon NYC after buying the VIP pass. In last year’s DragCon LA, I overbooked and stayed twice as long as I should because I thought Drag Race finale taping was going to be filmed a day after DragCon, like the year before. My ultimate goal for DragCon is to meet RuPaul, listen to his keynote speech and watch him in full drag (during the finale taping). The rest are icing to the cake.

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And just like last year, the schedule gave me time do all these things and also go to Micky’s to watch Showgirls, which happens on Mondays, and mingle. Attending any of DragCon parties while doing press coverage is not physically possible. Micky’s Showgirls was a pretty good break for DragCon for me.

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Since the show’s move to VH1, the schedules have changed. I’ve been to the finale taping twice (season 7 and 8) and saw RuPaul in full drag with my naked eye twice. I’m truly grateful for that … I still get goosebumps thinking about it. This year didn’t gave me a compelling reason to cross the border and spend the time, money and effort taking into account everything else that’s been going on. However, upon learning that Drag Race Thailand hosts Art Arya and Pangina Heals were going to make an appearance, it was a no-brainer … that was the clincher I was waiting for.

Priority, RuPaul

Having spent most of my first two days to meet RuPaul, queuing to get a ticket to meet on the first day and then queuing to meet him on the second day — all VIP queues mind you, my time to do coverage after that was minimal.

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Even queuing early for the photo op on the second day, much of my morning was pretty much spent … and mainly because I needed the time to recover after meeting him. I didn’t realize it until later that I was overwhelmed by the experience, by his charisma … the best way to describe the feeling is, a peaceful conscious blackout. I didn’t convulsed nor cried, I was just in a total zen mood. I slipped my freshly printed photo with RuPaul in a protective folder … and then instinctively looked for some place quiet to sit down. And the press room was perfect for that.

Nick of time!

I almost missed the ribbon cutting on the second day, I would blame traffic – well, my Lyft driver, she really drove a tad slower than most and I don’t know what route she followed but it was not what I’m used to – but I slept an extra hour, intentionally. Luckily, as soon as I got to the press room, I asked the staff about the ribbon cutting and they directed me to Glamazon boulevard. I got there in the nick of time and managed to find a decent spot . I was able to take some good shots too, including a few of Art Arya and Pangina Heals. They moved the ribbon cutting inside the exhibit hall, which was fantastic … and I noticed there weren’t a lot of press photographers this time around … which was great. It was pandemonium last year. There weren’t a lot of Drag Racers too, but it was nice to see some familiar faces … like Dida Ritz (who recently resurfaced on social media, she’s making a comeback), Cynthia Lee Fontaine, India Farrah, Manila Luzon, Maria Balenciaga, Trixie Mattel, and of course, the diva herself, Michelle Visage. It was also great to see Art Arya and Pangina Heals, and her North America manager Sky Casper, attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.

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Hyperdrive! Panels, Panels, Panels!

Aside from meeting RuPaul, my main purpose for coming to DragCon was to meet Drag Race Thailand hosts. Luckily, on the Friday, as I was exiting the Werkroom, after I got my tickets to meet RuPaul, I spotted Art Arya and Pangina Heals emerging from the black curtains just a few yards away from the Werkroom! Serendipity? Their panel and table schedule was not until Saturday and Sunday. They just recently flew in from Thailand and were there, along with their entourage, to have look around.DragConLA-2018-05-201

And just like that, I’m was half-way my mission. I was so stoked to meet them in person. Both of them were so very gracious, gorgeous and really personable. I was probably the first press in the convention centre to snap some photos of them in the exhibit hall.

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Having done three panels on Saturday, “Billy Etchner Wants You … To Glam Up The Midterms!” with panelists Billy Eichner, Alaska Thunderfuck and Peppermint; “Werk It, Wax It, Tweeze It, Pluck It: Taking The Hair Off” with panelists April Carrion, Naysha Lopez, Sugaring LA and Josh Scherer, and moderator Christina Wolfgram; “Partners In Drag: Committed Queens” with panelists Chad Michaels, Ginger Minj and Dusty Ray Bottoms and their partners, and moderator Alexander Kacala (Hornet), for the third and last day, I planned to cover one more panel which included Drag Race Thailand hosts, and then work on the exhibit hall.

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The committed queens panel was very memorable, mainly because of Ginger Minj’s and Cee Jay’s announcement about having a baby through surrogacy, and a surprise engagement by audience members Christian and Alex.

DragConLA-2018-05-907I had to cut short my coverage of April Carrion and Naysha Lopez to catch the other panels. But it was great to mingle with them behind the stage, and to hear about their experiences about hair removal. I missed the demo, which was a bit of a loss in my part.

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The panel for “People of the World: Drag Up Your Life” with panelists Art Arya, Pangina Heals, BeBe Zahara Benet, Karen from Finance, and moderator Tre’vell Anderson of LA Times didn’t have as many attendees as I hoped like the one with Alaska and Peppermint, much like the rest of the panels that I’ve covered. Which is “unfortunate” because the talks covered very informative and relevant topics, like how is drag looked upon in different cultures, not just in North America, and the issues surrounding it, and to an extend, the state of the LGBT community in their respective countries – like Thailand, Cameroon and Australia.  “Unfortunate” because anyone who is interested to watch this panel will likely find the video either on World Of Wonder’s YouTube channel or through the paid subscription service, WOW Plus.

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Drag Race Thailand, More Than A Television Show and Drama

Art Arya and Pangina Heals talked a great deal about Drag Race Thailand during their panel’s question and answer portion. Art Arya, who is also a producer of the show, revealed that due to budget constraints they film each episode in just two days. She said filming days are long days. She’s really the Queen Mother of that show, rallying for cast’s management and future opportunities post-show with Katana Group, the production company who licensed the show from World of Wonder. She said, they want to take the cast on tour, but it’s all about sponsorship, bookings and funds.

I also managed to score an interview with Arya and Heals prior to their panel. So stay tuned for that article… I’ll discuss more about Drag Race Thailand topics and the release of our impromptu photo shoot in Los Angeles. The hosts and their team are so gracious and nice … they’re great ambassadors for the show and Thailand. I’m so honored to be able to have spent some time with them.

Some Things Worth Noting 

The convention was huge that I didn’t get to see so many personalities and other familiar people I was hoping to meet. I missed out on Ongina and Wendy Ho. Aside from that, there wasn’t as many social media producers roaming around scoring for interviews and doing event coverage like last year, or perhaps they simply blend in? I didn’t saw any current pit crews, but I managed to came across Shawn Morales, which was such a treat to finally meet him. I also didn’t saw some queens, like Adore Delano, Katya, Raven, Ivy Winters, to name a few. No Producers Entertainment Group booth, and no Robbie Turner (she cancelled after her Uber debacle), and no Tyra Scanchez – there was no tent outside like she planned on doing. She opted to get a refund of her exhibitor’s fee from DragCon because she didn’t want to apologize again to the other queen’s she was having a public quarrel with, per DragCon organizer’s instructions as a requirement of her admittance as a convention exhibitor. This is something other bloggers and media needs to clarify; she was not banned, she decided not to come and comply with what was asked of her as a condition to participate in the convention.

The photo op sets, I call pit stops, were an amazing addition. But it would’ve been awesome if they were strategically placed elsewhere, maybe closer to each other so they’re like one cohesive experience. Some of them just seemed lonely on their own, like the white horse or the cutouts. Some where easily overlooked just because they seem lifeless or become invisible next to a popular booth. The “Covergirl” convertible would’ve been more festive had they setup a monitor with the “Covergirl” music video playing in a loop. Obviously absent was the RuPaul Museum … her gowns are iconic, and should be a staple of the convention. The display wall and floor was underutilized… or at least, I don’t understand why it was there, aside from a great display for RuPaul music videos. It was a fabulous addition to the convention, but I thought it was lacking something … a gimmick or a talent. Perhaps combining it with the RuPaul Museum with footage showcasing each gown would’ve been fantastic and a huge hit! The talents whom I happen to photographed on the LED stage and wall was amazing!

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Minimize The Queues: Another thing worth noting is, why not eliminate the queues for meet and greets, photo opportunities, and merchandise by selling those online (with priority numbers for one-on-one, where applicable) before the convention? So when attendees show up, they don’t have to queue twice to do one thing? It’s a win-win situation. And what is with the “Fast Card” sold by talents? Isn’t that rather redundant with the VIP pass?

Trend alert: Corralled Queens: I understand the need to have a corralled booth for that personal experience and for artistic reasons when it comes to the set. But unless you’re as big as RuPaul, I don’t think it’s necessary to hide a talent behind closed walls just so you can charge each person who wants to see you. Stingy is not a good look. Bianca Del Rio is a huge Drag Race star and she had a table in the open.

And lastly, I also understand how some talents balk at press spending a few seconds with them for a couple of shots for press coverage and a write-up, because they’re going to lose thousands of dollars for that few extra seconds of interruption (sarcastic). But the time they spend complaining and scoffing is better spent posing for a break (maybe drink some water) and smile for press who will in turn write something nice about them… and not just pose for a photo that will end up on someone’s social media for bragging rights. Sure, it’s worth $20 and upwards for a photo op, but a good press write-up gets indexed on Google, that’s very valuable.

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Not all of talents even grace the press room, so meeting them in their booths was the only option. And there’s no need for handlers to act very confrontational or for talents to be act so smug when being approached on the aisle. There’s no substitute for professionalism and good manners. One silver lining here is, the show churns over a dozen queens season after season. There are more choices of talents to follow and write about every year.

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So the ones who are more professional and more accommodating will get more press coverage, will have better write-ups and exposure. I’m not going to name names, but the ones I’ve approached during crunch time on the last day were very accommodating. Well, timing is of the essence. Approaching them when their booth isn’t so busy was key, and if all else fails, familiarity was indeed helpful. And speaking of press room, some of the talents who did graced the press room had a completely different demeanor compared to when they were in the exhibit hall, they were such a doll and super nice.

 

Bluebay700 DragCon Awards

We started this convention awards in 2016 and this year it’s coming back! It’s just a way of highlighting people and memorable things at the convention.

Best Drag Race Exhibitor Booth: BeBe Zahara Benet - her wild Africa-inspired throne and greenery and her matching costume was a total trip.

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Best Non-Human Drag Race Celebrity: Werkroom - there wasn’t any prop from the show this year that’s worth noting. But the whole Werkroom set was amazing and it was swarmed by attendees!

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The Most Organized Drag Race Exhibitor: Bianca Del Rio – this was a tough one because there were quite a few busy talents but had a very orderly and well thought out booths: Aja, Chad Michaels, BeBe Zahara Benet and Alyssa Edwards.

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The Most Approachable Queen: Naomi Smalls – whether she’s patrolling the aisles or in her booth, she’s the friendliest and most approachable Drag Race queen you can meet. Very gracious and stunning. Coming in close are Alexis Michelle and India Ferrah.

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Best Drag Race Panel: “People of the World: Drag Up Your Life!” – granting I was only able to attend four panels, but from these four the mix of international queens paints a pretty good picture of the state of the LGBT and drag around the world. It was a very informative panel and a very lively one.

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Most Eye Opener Drag Racer: Art Arya – her revelations about the production of Drag Race Thailand gave me more reason to love and respect the show, that is, drama and personal choices aside.

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Best Drag Racer DragCon Drag: Latrice Royale – her majestic royal outfit is the most sophisticated I’ve seen on any of the cast that I’ve came across with. Coming close is Asia O’Hara’s period/Egyptian royal-inspired outfit and Aja’s costume that hinted a touch of “Alice In Wonderland“.

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And there you have it! As part of this coverage, we will be releasing hundreds of photos!

[ Updated 2018-05-28 ]

Please don’t forget to mention “Photo credit: © bluebay700.com Photography, #UhmazingPress” when you republish or use any of the photos in your blog or article or social media. Tag us where applicable. Please try to avoid cropping our watermark, see Terms of Use for more information. Thank you.

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Our RuPaul’s DragCon LA 2018 coverage is sponsored by K3OPS of Paris, France.

 

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