Robbie Turner has been a fixture in the Seattle drag scene for years, but now is her chance to make it big worldwide. She joins the cast of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” March 7.
It’s 2 p.m., and Robbie Turner is wearing a casual day look — a taffeta and lace turquoise blue dress, matching satin gloves and glitter-encrusted high heels befitting Cinderella. Robbie’s blond hair, a teased-up marvel of gravity, unfurls in outlandish waves. And the makeup — which “only takes four hours,” Robbie joked — is heavy on the eyeliner and light on nothing, certainly not the bright-red lipstick, overdrawn to give the lips a cartoonish pucker.
Of course, Robbie Turner isn’t a real lady — but a drag-queen character created by Jeremy Baird, 34. And on March 7, Baird will join the cast of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for its eighth season. He will be the fourth contestant from the city, joining Magnolia Crawford, BenDeLaCreme and season five winner Jinkx Monsoon in the show’s pantheon.
Though a reality show about drag queens, the stakes are high. Patterned on America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, the 12 contestants face off in various challenges (a photo shoot or costume creation, for instance) and must perform to save themselves from elimination at the hands of RuPaul. At the end of the show, the queen of the queens is awarded a cool $100,000 in cash and a one-year supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics.
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
Premieres March 7 at 6 p.m. on Logo TV.
Just being on the show can reap big benefits, said Jinkx Monsoon. “It makes you an international name in your community,” said Jinkx, who, like BenDeLaCreme, frequently performs around the world.
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For Baird, the roller coaster has just begun. “Within hours of the announcement, I went from around 4,000 followers on Instagram to 11,000,” he said.
Baird has tried out for the show several times before, but the audition tape he submitted last summer — complete with an endorsement from his friend Jinkx — did the trick.
“Her wit and intelligence leap off the screen. We never forgot about her,” said executive producer Tom Campbell. “This year, when we were putting together the cast, when Robbie’s name came up everyone gave a unanimous ‘yaaasss!’ ”
After he got the call, Baird had to keep his casting secret and claimed to have a broken ankle for several weeks while filming in Los Angeles. That didn’t stop the show’s fervent fans from speculating online.
“Of course all these queens around the United States disappear at the same time,” Baird said. “That seems a little bit like a red flag. And then you have to continue lying for a while after when it’s over.”
Baird has always been a performer. Reared in a Christian family in Centralia, Wash., both of his parents were Pentecostal ministers. “Ever since I remember, I had a tulip around my face and was singing songs about Jesus,” he said.
But he had never performed drag. It was by chance that he filled in at a party in Olympia shortly after moving there 11 years ago. One black glittery jumpsuit later, and he was Liza Minnelli; the organizers for Tacoma’s Gay Pride festival saw him there, and asked him to perform. One thing led to another, and “then I was suddenly in Seattle after a couple of weeks,” he said.
Baird has been a fixture in town ever since.
Since then, he’s worked regularly — remarkably drag is his only job — performing several nights a week at R Place, and staging a more ambitious variety show called the Robbie Turner Revue at the Hard Rock Café every six weeks.
Though he grew up in a strict household, his parents were accepting when he came out to them as gay in high school. “My dad was really calm, he said, ‘Just so you know the world isn’t going to give you a fair shake in life, you’re going to have to work harder.’ My mother was like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ ”
But he said, “She’s completely come around.” Now, they come to see him perform.
Well-mannered and polite, Baird’s character Robbie has crisp diction, and dresses like his Old-Hollywood muse, Norma Shearer. Her look, which Baird creates with 80-plus wigs, rich with beehives and bouffants, and racks of clothing which take up the living room of his one-bedroom Capitol Hill apartment, spans the 1930s-1960s. She wears classic red coats with fur collars, sparkly Dreamgirls-inspired gowns, polka dot pumps, and no shortage of rhinestones. Take vintage Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, and Betty Grable, add a dash of his performing icon, Carol Burnett, and voilà — Robbie Turner.
“He does his research,” said Mark Zappone, who designs some of Baird’s costumes when he’s not working with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. “He’s very invested in this whole genre, and the whole look itself.”
Baird is professional and meticulous; he keeps a log of every outfit he wears on his calendar so as not to repeat them. At a recent show for R Place, he wore four looks in one night alone: a Shirley Temple-inspired baby-doll dress and matching oversize bow; a slinky gold number with an Ann-Margret-esque wig; a black sequined dress with a blond bob; and, for a finale, Robbie sported a rocker look with a white leather jacket and hot pants.
“I think he’s brought the level of performance in Seattle up as far as the drag scene,” Zappone said.
And unlike many drag queens, he doesn’t mistake cattiness for wit. “It can be more popular if you are sassy or cutting,” said Laura Shelly, one of his closest friends. “And he’s very funny and very kind.”
America will soon get a glimpse of the kindest drag queen west of the Mississippi, and Jinkx Monsoon has her fingers crossed. “I think she stands a great chance. She’s trained in this field — it’s not a part-time hobby. She’s made this her career and livelihood.”
But as far as Baird is concerned, he’s already won. “I sing and I dance and I act. I just like to have fun, I like to make people happy,” he said. “And those are the things that make people happy immediately.”