If you go to enough drag shows in South Carolina, you're going to cross paths with Patti O'Furniture — and you won't forget the encounter. Imposingly tall and unapologetically bawdy, she's been a crowd favorite since 1998.
With nearly 16 years of performance under her belt, and 100 percent of her tip jar given to charity every night along the way, Patti will receive a Community Pride Award at this year's Charleston Pride Festival. Ms. O'Furniture will throw the opening pitch of Charleston Rainbows Pride Night July 27 at the Joe Riley Stadium, and you can catch the Patti O'Furniture Show Thurs. July 30 at 11 p.m. at Dudley's (see the full schedule on p. 25).
Justine Van de Blair, a new star in the drag scene, got her start about three years ago at Club Pantheon and has built up a glamorous routine (and wardrobe) that earned her the title of Pride Empress in this year's parade. One of her favorite numbers to perform is "California Girls," complete with a Katy Perry cupcake outfit.
The City Paper thought it would be fun to set up a chat with Patti and Justine about their experiences in the drag business. We were not disappointed.
City Paper: First off, can y'all introduce yourselves? Tell me a little bit about who you are.
Patti O'Furniture: Well, I'm so sweet, and I'm also old, so I'm going to defer to the younger, more pretty person on the conference call right now.
Justine Van de Blair: Oh, well thank you. I am the younger pretty one. I'm Justine. I've been performing for three years. I'm from Charleston, S.C., and I'm currently residing in Columbia.
Patti O'Furniture: I guess that makes me Patti O'Furniture — just to be clear, it's Patti, last name O'Furniture. People always want to make my first name Patio, like I'm outside somewhere. I do have a lot of plastic on me, but no — and people do like to sit on me occasionally. But anyhow, as of October I've been performing for 16 years. I'm originally from Columbia, still primarily reside here, but also split my time in between here and Charleston and periodically perform in Charlotte, N.C., as well.
CP: So O'Furniture, it's an Irish name. We've got to make sure people get the name right.
PO: That is correct. I'm proud of my Irish heritage.
CP: Does that come out during St. Pat's in Five Points?
PO: Believe it or not, I prefer to go to Savannah for St. Patrick's Day because in Five Points, well, I might run into some people that I know, and I like to be a little anonymous. It's much easier to be anonymous when you're a 7-foot-tall drag queen with balloon tits. Now, Justine, I'm sure, could roll up into any festival and blend right in because she's more what I call street fish. You know, she walks up and down the street, people might look at her and say, "That's a pretty girl. That's a lovely lady. I might want to go out on a date with her." They look at me and go, "Oh my God, the circus is in town."
JVdB: I had an opportunity to do that today.
PO: And how did that work out for you?
JVdB: I chose to stay indoors.
PO: It's too hot. Drag is not a summer sport; I'll tell you that.
CP: Where did each of you get your personal style? Are there any role models or fashion icons you look to?
JVdB: For me, it kind of relates to how pageant judges describe me. My style is trendy. I just try to keep up with the magazines as far as what I'm wearing on the street. And then in the show, I like to emulate showgirls. That would be my ideal style. Right now, currently, I've got lots of flashy costumes, more from the glamour side.
PO: My style sort of evolved over the course of my career. I started off, my nickname is the Yard Sale with Legs, because people quite literally would give me things from yard sales. They'd find a funny hat or a funny jacket or a funny dress and they would give it to me. One of my most well-known costumes came from a friend who was throwing a party and had decorated around the edge of the patio with little miniature hula fringe that was like a hula dress and was throwing it out, and I was like, 'Oh my God, don't throw that out. I'm sure I can do something with it.' And we took it and we sewed it in rows on a dress, and I wear it and I look like a giant car wash brush when I spin around in it. So that's sort of campy comedy. When people see me, I want them to know that I'm in on the joke. When people see Justine — and I mean this as a compliment — sometimes people see her and they don't know she's a drag queen because she presents in such a more polished, regal appearance, especially when she's not onstage and she's sort of dressed down a little bit. Whereas when you see me, I look like Bozo and Kathy Griffin had a baby.
CP: Tell me about getting started at Club Pantheon, Justine. Was there someone there who brought you under their wings, or how did you get into performing there?
JVdB: I started doing the talent shows ... Brooke [Collins, who will participate in the Charleston's LGBTQ History panel on July 26] started me there. She is a show host at Club Pantheon, and she is one of my biggest drag idols. She's the first drag queen I ever saw, and I got to see a lot of her, going out. So I definitely look up to her, of all the queens I know. She's always pristine and poised, got it together. She's elegant. All the things that I'd love to be one day.
CP: What's the worst thing that has happened to you onstage or in a club when you were performing?
JVdB: I think my worst is probably when — you have timing issues when you have the wrong combination of costumes because some of them can be difficult to get into, and you don't always know how much time you're working with between entertainers. This is funny because it actually happened at a pageant, but my shoe — I was contestant No. 4, and they were just flying through the contestants so quickly, and I knew my time was coming up, and the shoe actually snapped, like the whole foot support thing, the strap across the toe just snapped off, and there was no way I could have gotten it off. There was strapping all the way up to my knee.
CP: Were these heels?
JVdB: Yeah, they were sandal type heels. I couldn't even — literally every time I stepped down on it, my foot would slide off, and Creative Costumes, that's the first category, your first impression of the contestants in a pageant, so it's not like I could have taken it off and put on the simple shoes that I have to walk with. I actually super-glued my foot to the bottom of my shoe, and it was burning.
JVdB: It was the worst.
CP: Patti, since you've got Justine right here, what would you say to somebody who's a little bit newer to this world? What kind of advice can you give?
PO: Stick with it. What we do can be very competitive, and what we do can be cutthroat. There's new little girls coming along, and they'll pull all kinds of shenanigans to get ahead, and I'm like, 'Girls, the stage is big enough for all of us.' One of the blessings of clubs like Pantheon, like Dudley's and other bars in Charleston, is that we present all kinds of drag. So stick with it. Do you, and keep doing the best you can do, and I'm gonna go over here and do me, and some people are gonna love you and some people are gonna love me. But at the end of the day, we're all gonna be loved by somebody.