It’s 10:30pm on a Tuesday night at Statlers. The lighting is low, the beverages are flowing, and the place is packed for the Top Star Talent Contest. The host, a statuesque drag queen with shocking red hair and lips, grabs a microphone. “Welcome to Top Star,” says Jade Elektra. “We have eight contestants tonight, so let’s kick things off.” Then she launches into a rendition of an earthy Eartha Kitt song, and so begins a fabulous evening’s entertainment.
Jade Elektra is also known as DJ Relentless, Paprika Jones and, legally, Alphonso King, Jr. Alphonso is one of the busiest people I know. Aside
from doing drag and DJing, he is also a recording artist, having released two CDs, Proud Mary
(which features a killer track called “Bitch, You Look Fierce!”) and An Intimate Evening with Jade Elektra
. “I like drag,” he tells me. “People listen to you. But as myself, people are like, ‘Uhhh.’”
Alphonso grew up in Tampa, Florida, and had a troubled start. “I was raised by my grandmother. She kept my hair in braids, so most people thought I was a little girl. My mom got caught trafficking, so she was in and out of prison for most of my childhood. By the time I got to my teens, I just wanted somebody to like me, which led me to writing my own little books and selling them, which led to The Tampa Tribune
doing a story about me. When I went back to seventh grade in the fall, I was a superstar.”
But the first of two bugs didn’t bite him until his Uncle Herb, a DJ, moved to Tampa from Las Vegas. Herb was blind and needed an assistant, so Alphonso started DJing in 1980 and hasn’t stopped since.
The second bug bit when he started doing drag in 1985. Alphonso tells me the craziest story. “The thing with Florida, when you do drag there, especially if you’re young, is that they try to talk you into becoming a transsexual. They want you to get implants, and the bar will pay for it if they think they’ve found the next Miss Florida. They were trying to talk me into doing it, but I’m deathly afraid of needles and I enjoy being a boy. Once they figured out I wasn’t going to go that route, I was blacklisted and reduced to doing talent shows, which, interestingly, is what I mainly host now. So I gave up and traded all my drag clothes in 1990 for a 1972 Grand Ville.”
He moved to New York two years later, and his roommate, a queen named The Electrifying Grace, helped revive his interest in drag.
He continued to DJ, then a few years ago, while still living in New York, he met Toronto artist John Richard Allan (who goes by the name
Jorial). A while later Alphonso moved to TO and they got married.
They’ve worked together on a video for a contentious Jade Elektra song called “HIVogue.” “I’ve been HIV-positive for 23 years,” Alphonso says, very much the AIDS activist. But his attempts to use the song for fundraising were thwarted by political oversensitivity. He tells me that Black CAP dithered, not sure they wanted it, and AIDS Action Now requested that the lyrics be changed, but he refused. “I used ballroom language to inform the ballroom kids about what’s going on.”
But back to Top Star, which began last August. Alphonso came up with the innovative idea for choosing winners. When you buy drinks, you get tickets, which you can use as ballots to vote for the winner. So the biggest drunk can cast the most votes.
“I like Statlers,” Alphonso says. “There aren’t too many spaces on Church Street where you can perform live.” And not only can you perform, but you could possibly win $100. No wonder the place is so packed. See you next Tuesday, Jade. —Paul Bellini