Courtney Act: The American Apparel Ad Girl Gets Real

Alaska Thunderf*ck 5000, Courtney Act and Willem Belli

Alaska Thunderf*ck 5000, Courtney Act and Willem Belli

One of Australia’s biggest drag exports Courtney Act is returning to home shores to go on tour with fellow ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ alumni Willem Belli and Alaska Thunderf*ck 5000. The trio have been making heads turn across the globe as ambassadors of American Apparel with personalized T shirts and a song to mark the occasion.

Courtney has also been keeping herself busy with her one-woman show ‘Boys Like Me’ and a number of onstage collaborations with other ‘Drag Race’ girls. OUTinPerth caught up with the performer on the day of her first performance with her fellow AAA Girls.

How has your life changed since becoming an American Apparel ad girl?

Since becoming an American Apparel ad girl, I now feel the need to just walk in to every American Apparel store I walk past. Like today we walked past one and we all felt the need to just wander in, do a lap and then exit. I’ve become a lot more proficient at dressing with separates. Like before I was always much more of a costume kind of girl and they gave us a whole bunch of American Apparel clothes and I was like ‘Oh God, I don’t know what to do with these’ and now I actually love them, all these little cute velvet dresses and things like that, and I’m not even paid to say that, I actually- my whole taste in wardrobe has changed which is handy. It’s much easier to shop at girls stores than it is to get someone to make you a costume.

What’s it like to tour with Alaska and Willam?

So far so good. Alaska and I have similar dietary requirements. My assistant Mitch is vegan so we always eat at vegan places but when you’re travelling with people who aren’t vegetarian or vegan you don’t really want to force them to eat at a vegan restaurant, and you end up eating a plate of lettuce so it’s good that Alaska’s with me on this one.

Apart from working with Willam and Alaska, you’ve also done Rocky Horror with Michelle Visage and Bianca which is very exciting. You’ve just about worked with everyone, do you have any favourites that you’ve worked with?

I kinda love them all. Bianca, Adore, Darienne and I formed a very close bond during Drag Race and then it just got fortified after Drag Race, we did a lot of gigs together, pride gigs, World Pride in Torornto, New York Pride, Washington Pride, did a lot of things and I think that when you go through that shared experience there’s a real camaraderie. I think there’s about 70-something Drag Race girls now. When you’re with one of them there’s always this unspoken understanding, and that’s cool because it is kinda weird, when you’re on television and your life changes. It’s nice to have that group of friends who get it. I don’t know if I have any favourites but I do love Willam and Alaska. I love Adore and Bianca and Darienne, Jinkx is crazy but fabulous and Ben de La Creme. It’s cool because we all get to bump into each other here and there. Jinkx is going to be in Perth for Fringe, we’ll get to see her when we’re there as well.

The whole gang back together again.

Yeah! But this time we’re seniors, and we’re going to rule the school!

Do you think that kind of camaraderie is unique to Drag Race? Because usually on competition TV shows you have people coming on and saying ‘I’m not here to make friends’.

Well they said that on Drag Race. I think Season 6 was very unique from what I understand. We were very kumbaya. We were all such good friends, we all supported each other, we all helped each other. If somebody needed something it wasn’t like ‘Screw you bitch, this is a competition’, it was like ‘Sure, how can I help?’ I think that we just had such a fun time and we’re such close friends afterwards as well.

I think that Drag Race is unique. It’s really popular in America but the fans are like- it’s like cult status where, I think, if we were on, say, ‘American Idol’ or a show that’s much bigger, I think you would sort of have a dispersed fan base, like I think the top three of Drag Race have toured more than the top three of American Idol. Because we’re literally in four cities a week, just hopping on aeroplanes and performing at Prides and at clubs and at bars, it’s really cool.

I suppose you get a more devoted niche.

It’s really devoted. One of the things a lot of people don’t realise is that the audience obviously includes gay boys, but straight girls are an increasing niche. I know my demographic on YouTube has gone from like 20% females to now near 40% females. All the super fans, they’re all girls, they’re all teenage and twenty-something year old girls, they travel, they get in their cars and they drive from city to city and they make friends and there’s a whole gang of Courtney super fans that all came together because they were all atone gig together in New York or Washington.

Do you have a catchy name for them? A lot of people seem to have catchy names for their fan bases.

Well, you know what? Gaga I feel like was the first to do that and made it cool, but then it just- to me it seems a little trite, it’s a little patronizing or something to give your fans a name. Even the word ‘fan’ seems a bit weird because it sounds like they’re not real people. But I like it because like, whenever I’m at meet and greets I like to talk to people and I like to hear a little bit about them and see where they’re from and it’s kind of been fascinating, like a fascinating kind of social study experiment, getting to travel around America and around the whole world and just meet all of these people.

Have you discovered any wisdom?

Well, the surprise is that the super fans are female. The gay boys are there and they love it but the meet and greet tickets are the girls, they’re the ones who are really devoted, and they bring in gifts and they make you things, yeah, it’s really sweet. Gay boys are too busy looking for c*ck.

It’s funny because I know a lot of straight guys as well who are really into ‘Drag Race’, we’ve had a lot of the girls tour here, and I still see the same three dudes at every gig.

Are they cute? Introduce me. There’s three of us, Willem, Alaska, Courtney and three of them!

Tell me a bit more about the show, what can we expect?

Well, we don’t know yet, as tonight will be our first night, but we’re going to do a couple of our solo numbers, we’re going to do our American Apparel girls song. I want to do the Christmas song and Willam was like ‘Girl, it’s January.’ And then Alaska and I were on the Battle of the Seasons tour around America and Alaska said ‘Why don’t we do, like, a mashup of American Apparel ad girls and our Christmas song? I totally love doing a Christmas song, it’s so great.’ And I was like ‘Me too!’ I don’t think we’ll be doing our Christmas song in Perth but we’ll be doing some solo numbers and some general tomfoolery, I suspect.

It’s a shame this is a written interview and not radio because I’m quite enjoying your impressions.

[Laughs] I really love my Alaska impression.

So you were Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror, are there any other roles that you would be really thrilled to play?

Hedwig. I think John Cameron Mitchell is now back doing Hedwig on Broadway. Neil Patrick Harris is doing it and Andrew Rannell. They’re kinda changing them over every six months. I’m not quite sure if I’m up there with Neil Patrick Harris status yet, but Hedwig would totally be a dream. And do you know what else would be a dream? Doing it for just six months. Because the idea of doing musical theatre for two years just sounds dreadful. [Laughs] It just sounds so repetitive and monotonous. But I feel like six months would be kind of cool.

Do you like to keep it varied with your performances? Because you’ve got the ‘Drag Race’ tours, and then you’ve got your own show.

That’s what I like about it, is there’s so much variety. I’m doing the club shows, but then I’ve also got my one woman show which is a 90 minute show with a live band, I’m doing three weeks around Europe in March, I sang with the San Francisco symphony orchestra, I did Rocky Horror, I did like a month of my show in New York, I’ve got stuff with Willam and Alaska, Bianca and I- I won’t be in Perth with Bianca but I’m doing Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne as a special guest in her show. There’s so much variety which I really do love.

I chatted to Bianca earlier this month about touring together and she said that you two have got a bit of a Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett vibe happening.

[Laughs] That’s a good way of putting it. We have a lot of fun together. It’s funny because going in to drag race I thought about all the things that I would get from it, and most of them were like more gigs, people would know me better, I’d be able to spread my message further. One thing I didn’t think about was making three new best friends in Bianca, Adore and Darienne. It’s been really special because whenever we’re together it’s just so natural, so much fun, and Adore will be here during Mardi Gras and Bianca will be here so hopefully the three of us will get a night o the town, or maybe just a night in. Just to hang out and catch up.

What happens on a night out with you guys?

Well, that’s the hard part. Usually it’ll be in a green room, usually we’ll be working, we rarely get days off. I think the last night we were together was was Vancouver Pride and we had a big green room and we were just all in the Green Room, it was like somebody’s lounge room and we were just drinking and having fun and then we ended up somewhere and I remember there was a skunk and Adore tried to chase the skunk which I didn’t think was a good idea, thank goodness it didn’t spray her. Although I think it would’ve been funnier if it did spray her.

But we’re normally just hanging out in a green room because it’s a little bit hectic when you just go into a nightclub, when you’ve just been performing especially. And even just kind of going to a gay bar is something that’s not all that possible any more. I mean we go to gay bars four nights a week when we’re performing. But recreationally is a little challenging. I mean everybody’s lovely, like they just want to say hello and whatnot but it can be a bit challenging.

Now that you’re an ambassador for American Apparel, beyond that is there anything else that you’d love to model for?

You know what I would love? I would love to get involved with like human rights things, like the United Nations or something like that. I think Conchita Wurst- Conchita and I are friends as well and I saw that she’s doing some stuff with the UN and I think that’s pretty amazing. The charities in America are different to Australia, I used to work with ACON in Sydney working with 18 and unders, we developed an education program called ‘School’s Out’ which was for underaged kids to come along to ACON one day a week for like 12 weeks and it was more about networking and making other friends who are gay or queer and becoming comfortable and not so much safe sex at fifteen but health messages and things like that. That was always really cool, like I’d have dinner with them on the final night of their course and that was really rewarding and fun. So I’ve been looking in America to find out what I can do and how I can get involved because I’m really passionate about youth education, not necessarily just gay either but like inclusive youth education.

Lastly, if you were on a desert island with Willem and Alaska, who do you think you would eat first?

Well Alaska’s taller so I guess technically she’d have more meat on her bones although Willem’s thighs look like good eating. Like Willem’s thighs and arse, that looks like really good eating.

Courtney Act will be appearing in the AAA Girls National Tour with Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 and Willem Belli, visiting Perth on January 31st. Tickets available from www.itdevents.com

Sophie Joske

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