Valentina | All About Valentina
When I finally manage to get Valentina on the phone, she’s getting into an Uber on the way to rehearsals. Which means we have twenty minutes to talk before she arrives at the FOX lot, where in two days she’ll make her live TV debut as Angel, in RENT. This is a huge accomplishment for any performer, let alone a drag queen with few other credits to her name. But if Valentina is a busy girl, it’s no surprise to her fans - and perhaps even her detractors.
Making her debut on the ninth season of RPDR, Valentina instantly established herself as a queen to be reckoned with. She exudes an old Hollywood, by-way-of-telenovela beauty; equal parts Rita Hayworth and Selena all filtered through a drag lens. It’s a potent, and inviting blend of fantasy. In a word, there is just something about Valentina. But not everyone is a fan, with her detractors calling her out as insincere and adorning her with the nickname ‘Villaintina’. It’s a split that leaves me curious which version of the performer to expect. Is Valentina all glitter and no substance? Or, perhaps as Ani DiFranco sang, does everyone harbor a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room…?
In talking the first clue comes in realizing Valentina is, of course, aware of the multiple personas she portrays, a fact that motivated her to create ALL ABOUT VALENTINA. As she says: “I really wanted to put together something that stemmed from the root of who I created Valentina to be… whether it be the dramatic telenovela señora singing a ballad with a broken heart and a beautiful gown or… the little coke whore, disco diva. I wanted to bring them all together and show a variety of elements like live singing and dancing and beautiful costumes and just have it be really authentic and on my terms.” So perhaps the illusion of Valentina isn’t an either/or equation, but an and/also.
Lost in the flush of attention she’s getting, it’s easy to forget this is also a period of firsts for Valentina. I was shocked to learn RENT was the first time she’d ever worked with a director. And on top of her first solo show, she also just released her debut single, A PRUEBA DE TODO. A song which was, she explains, written “with me in mind …and represented my struggles as a person and an artist. Just being able to say I am what I am against all odds. That I'm kind of like. everything proof”. It seems fitting for her to speak to her struggles and detractors in this way, not with harsh words, but with something to dance to. A single that has been streamed over half a million times on Spotify already.
But the phrase sticks with me - “everything proof”. Because as we talk, criticizing her for a lack of authenticity seems stranger and stranger. Not least because drag is a world built on creating illusion and myth. (It’s not for nothing the girls are called Queens despite the fact they - like Valentina - often come from humble beginnings, and start their careers wrapped in dollar store sequins.) But because she spends more time praising the community of artists, and people around her than she does talking about herself. From the cast and crew of RENT, to the fans of RPDR, or the producers of her single - and especially the kids who she hears from these days. Kids who want to share how Valentina, her fantasy, has helped them in their very real lives. From allowing them escape, to her recent coming out as non-binary, Valentina seems hyper-aware that her newfound fame isn’t just hers alone.
Perhaps the perfect example of this is one of the last things she says before we wrap up. I asked her about how it feels to know she’s having this positive impact in the world: “As an assignment in kindergarten I was asked who I wanted to be when I grew up, so I drew a little square, which was the stage and me in the middle holding a little microphone towards the little sticks that were the audience, like little lollipops and, my teacher asked me, why you not singing? I told her, well, because they're my fans! And they're singing my song to me. So I've had these little fantasies ever since I was very little, and I'm hoping that I can live that fantasy onstage with this show”.
If you want to be part of that fantasy, All About Valentina is billed as a one-woman extravaganza featuring traditional drag and live vocals, followed by an onstage Q & A that promises to be as fascinating as the performances.
Date: Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 7:00 pm
Venue: The Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA
Address: 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032
Photographed by Alex Cordova