RuPaul’s Drag Race, so often touted as the Olympics of drag, has the ability to catapult local drag queens to international stardom. The Emmy-winning show is intrinsically linked to drag becoming more embedded in mainstream culture, with queens becoming celebrities in their own right. They’re charting on Billboard, starring in Oscar-nominated movies, launching brands, and beyond.
But the sudden rush of fame that comes from being on such a widely watched show, let alone walking away with the crown, can create an immensely steep learning curve, as reigning queen Yvie Oddly can attest.
“I’ve never cared about business, but I’ve had to find how to put value on everything I do, because it’s all a business now,” Oddly, né Jovan Bridges, told Fast Company at RuPaul’s DragCon NYC this past weekend. “That’s the hard part is it’s hard to sell yourself. But it’s hard having to think about yourself as a brand instead of just, oh yeah, this is just what I do.”
For Oddly, there’s added pressure not only to think about herself as a brand, but also the physical limitations of what her body is actually capable of.
Oddly planted her freak flag firmly in the competition with her offbeat and often garish style of drag. And a large part of what made Oddly stand out was her lip-synch performances, where she would contort her body into unreal angles.
However, those gag-worthy backbends come at a heavy price: Oddly suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a rare disorder that can cause the body not to produce enough collagen, causing loose joints that, yes, provide incredible flexibility but also an immense amount of pain.
Oddly caused a bit of a dustup back in July when she tweeted that she refuses to take photos with fans after a show because she’s so physically spent. Fans (and fellow queens) were quick to chide Oddly over seeming ungrateful. She later issued an apology but doubled down on setting boundaries for her physical wellbeing.
At just 26 years old, Oddly should be in her prime for all the twirls and death drops that punctuate a drag performance. However, her EDS is forcing her to reevaluate her art, in a way.
“I have to convince myself a lot more often to use my other skills to entertain, even though I loved the response that an audience has when I do a crazy acrobatic number,” Oddly says. “So I’m toning it down and trying to listen to my body more. I’m trying to find new and creative ways to make drag interesting and fun for me. I just can’t backbend around everywhere.”
A large part of Oddly’s reign has been managing what she wants her art to say with what she expects an audience wants to experience—at scale and with a debilitating disorder, no less. Oddly is gearing up for the massive RuPaul’s Drag Race Werq the World tour as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, a new Las Vegas residency featuring a variety of queens.
“It’s about taking a step back and having a conversation with whatever you’re doing. A lot of people are just go, go, go. But you need to see what things are working, what things aren’t working, and how to manipulate them in your favor,” Oddly says. “And think about the people that you’re actually making it for. Because of course you’re making it for you, but if you’re the only person who likes it, you might as well be masturbating.”