Music & Nightlife

Courtney Act and her ‘Drag Race’ besties return to Charlotte amid HB2 wrangle

Courtney Act performs during RuPaul’s Drag Race show at The Forum on March 25, 2016 in London, England.
Courtney Act performs during RuPaul’s Drag Race show at The Forum on March 25, 2016 in London, England. Getty Images

You might expect a gaggle of drag queens to opt out of stepping a stiletto in North Carolina given the state legislature’s digging in its heels regarding HB2. But pop singer and reality-TV personality Courtney Act has been to the area before and knows the N.C. audience.

“A lot of us have been to Scorpio before – a megaplex of homosexuality right in Charlotte,” says Act, calling from Dublin during the European leg of the tour – before HB2 was enacted. “I remember it. In places like Charlotte the gay community has such a strong bond. At the bar there were gays and lesbians and everybody in between and fans as well.”

Act and the cast of “Rupaul’s Drag Race: Battle of the Seasons 2016 Extravaganza Tour” return to Amos’ Wednesday.

When Act talked to the Observer, the transgender community was enjoying a higher profile and more acceptance nationally, but before the tour hit stateside, North Carolina shot to the forefront of a national equal rights debate.

“When the U.S. passed same-sex marriage last year, that was amazing,” reflects Act, who is from Australia. “Even though I’m not American, I live in America. We’d just landed in Mexico and the boy the ‘Ugly’ music video is about texted me: ‘Did you hear same-sex passed?’ I found myself standing there with tears running down my face. I thought it was about marriage and I realized it was about equality.”

Her home country has yet to follow suit.

“I see on my social media the same ridiculous arguments that aren’t relevant and aren’t true. Then you see people like Donald Trump. I know that probably most of the people who are interested in ‘Drag Race’ aren’t Trump supporters, but it’s fascinating such a large portion of America are; and I think everybody has been shocked,” she says.

It’s not Act’s gender that would ring bells if she passed you walking into a restroom anyway – it’s her striking looks that warrant a double-take.

Act (aka Shane Jenek) grew up performing in musicals in Brisbane.

“We’d do pantomime and musicals during the school holiday. The tradition in pantomime is the lead female villain is usually played by a man in drag,” she recalls of her first exposure to drag. “I was a mouse in ‘Cinderella,’ a dwarf in ‘Snow White.’ I was always wearing strange and funny costumes. It didn’t seem that peculiar to me.”

When she moved to Sydney at 18 and came out, it was a lesbian friend who encouraged her to go out in drag.

“I wore sunglasses all night and pretended I was Kylie Minogue,” she says. Not long after that, the friend introduced Courtney to “Australian Idol” where she became a semi-finalist. Over a decade later, she’s still singing. She performs her single “Kaleidoscope” on the Drag Race tour and maintains a heavy YouTube presence.

Her video for the song “Ugly,” an emotional, sexy and romantic clip based on a true story about a man she met on the road, has resonated more with fans than some of her slicker, dance and visual-heavy tracks. Maybe, she says, that’s indicative of disappearing gender lines.

 ‘Drag Race’ reaches such a wide audience that’s 16- to 25-year-olds. The kids are identifying a lot less with gender stereotypes. People are coming alive to the idea love and attraction doesn’t have to be about what’s between someone’s legs.”

‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St.

Tickets: $37.50-$42.50.