Local drag queen shares their 40 year long career story

By Sara Wangler, Staff Reporter

Blanche DuBois has done it all. From participating in beauty pageants all over southern Illinois to becoming the queen of entertainment and symbol of individuality in the local drag community, DuBois has become a staple of Carbondale’s entertainment industry.  

DuBois, who has been a part of the drag community for 43 years, has performed in San Francisco, won state pageant titles and participated in Pride parades. 

“I worked at a bar out there in San Francisco [2000] my sister got the booking from the bar she worked at,” DuBois said. “Most people just wore street clothes, meanwhile I packed every beaded and feathered thing I could stuff into a suitcase when I flew out there.” 

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DuBois said she began performing drag over four decades ago as the result of a breakup and broken heart.

“I dated this guy for a couple of months and when he broke up with me I was devastated,” DuBois said. “I went to the gay bar and met this drag queen named Ladonna Delmar who later became my drag mom.”

DuBois’ mentor Delmar promised to lift her spirits and help her get over the heartache. 

“She said, ‘Just wait until next weekend.’ That weekend, like she had promised, was unforgettable, brought me up a canary yellow dress with feathers, and did a great big hairdo. We went out in drag, I had a ball and haven’t stopped since,” DuBois said.

DuBois’ first show was at the New Yorker, a club in Carbondale, and the first song she ever performed was “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges. 

“That is from the disco days, drag was a lot more fun back then too,” DuBois said. “There wasn’t as much competition, everything is a competition now.” 

After all of her years in the drag community, DuBois has learned a thing or two about the makings of a good queen.

The makings of a good queen rely on persona, letting loose on stage takes time and consistency, DuBois said. 

“At first you can feel kind of standoffish or bashful, but it didn’t take long for Blanche to come out of her shell and become outrageous,” DuBois said.

“Personality definitely makes a good queen, and someone who listens to advice,” DuBois said. “There are so many new ones who think they know it all.  I’ve been around the block so I’ve seen it, done it, changed it and learned it.”

The mentality in drag is different now from the 70s, DuBois said. 

“There’s always the ‘I have to do something bigger and better than that queen’ mentality now, back then it was a lot more fun in general,” DuBois said. 

People were more helpful back then, and costumes were much more elaborate, DuBois said.

“Drag when I started out [1970] was more of a novelty, people were kind of fascinated by it,” DuBois said. “There were two sides of the story, you had people who were fascinated then groupies who didn’t approve of it.” 

According to DuBois, it was taboo; it was hard to find wigs, makeup and lashes. Now they’re available everywhere.

“Back when Madonna’s song “Vogue” was popular, I participated at a pageant in Indiana,” DuBois said. “I had made an outrageous version of her outfit with a corset, garters, and tassels. It was a comedy version of Vogue.”

After her performance, the crowd went wild, and she walked off stage thinking she had won the pageant. 

“When I got backstage my friend asked me if I knew If I had a costume malfunction, I had no idea that I had exposed myself,” DuBois said. “People still tease me about that, I guess you could say I had a Janet Jackson moment.” 

From the most embarrassing moment to proudest Blanche has performed in over 80 pageants and won over 50. 

“My proudest drag moment would be when I won Miss Illinois at large USA pageant [1990], I was so happy to win a state title,” DuBois said. 

Beyond drag, DuBois mentors younger LGBTQ youth as a volunteer at the Rainbow Cafe, a safe space for LGBTQ youth  in southern Illinois.They host events, fundraisers, and gatherings as well as Carbondales own pride festival. 

“My work with the Rainbow Cafe has been great, it’s a helpful and needed platform for the youth,” DuBois said. “When I came out, there wasn’t anything like that, so we would just hang out at a bar.” 

Board chair of the Rainbow Cafe Tara Bell-Janowick said DuBois has been helpful in fundraising, mentoring. As well as being an inspiration to the youth of the RainBow Cafe. 

“The first time Blanche worked with us was for a pageant for the youth,” Bell-Janowick said. “She volunteered to help them get ready and not really judge but observed the pageant.”

Bell-Janowick said in 2019, DuBois won the title of Southern Illinois Pride Queen. 

“We had a float for the pride parade last year but I also drove my convertible, we basically had a convoy,” Bell-Janowick. “Many of our youth were on the float, walking alongside were some of our volunteers and board members. I was driving my convertible with Blanche DuBois and Faim Lee Jewls.” 

Bell-Janowick said the float was to represent the Rainbow Cafe as well as celebrate the Pride King and Queen. 

“She went with us to the St. Louis pride parade and the Carbondale lights fantastic parade,” Bell-Janowick said. 

Along with Dubois in receiving a pride title is close friend and fellow drag performer Drag King Faim Lee Jewls has watched Dubois perform for 18 years. 

“The first pageant I did was with Blanche. I’m not a pageant King so I don’t normally do that kind of thing,” Jewls said. “I’ve seen her in pageants, the one that comes to mind is when she was in Cape Girardeau. She performed at a bar like she was in church, she even had a tambourine. It was really good.”

Jewls said he and DuBois have performed together so many times he’s lost count.

“If I have a show that I book and host I put her in it and vice versa,” Jewls said. “Since we won the titles we travel a lot with one another.”

Every time he’s travelled with Blanche has been memorable, one of the more recent trips was to St Louis, the hotel they stayed at wasn’t nice, Jewls said. Aside from all of the memories and trips, Jewls said Blanche feels like family.  

“Mama always needs help with something, and we’re always there to help her out,” Jewel said. “We all take care of one another, taking care of Mama is what we’re all there for.” 

Staff reporter Sara Wangler can be reached at swangler@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @sara_Wangler. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter

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