In this interview, Justice Smith talks to Amber Saint Lexington, a drag performer in the Richmond drag scene. Amber shares her journey from practicing makeup on her cousins and using her own portraits as models for her portfolio to becoming a drag performer. She also talks about her inspirations, her signature style, and the drag scene in Richmond, which she describes as polished and loaded with great performers.
Talk to me about your earliest memory of self transformation.
I first started off doing YouTube and makeup tutorials. I would practice on my cousins and do their makeup. But when it came to me trying to build my portfolio, I was like, I need models. And this was back when I was like, 18, I didn’t know anybody the city, I was out, but I didn’t really go outside. And I was like, where can I find models? So I just started trying it on myself. Realizing I was pretty. And I used photos of myself as portraits in my portfolio. And I did that for a couple years which turned into doing YouTube tutorials. And I started dabbling with like androgynous looks and I started putting on wigs but I never though of it as drag. I never left the house in drag until I was like 27. I was just doing YouTube and makeup for weddings because I came up as a makeup artist.
And then I started hanging out with Vance aka Sutton Iman. And this was when Sutton was just starting out in drag, but still wasn’t performing. It was like me, Sutton, and London. We weren’t going out in drag but we were dabbling with it. Until one day, we were like let’s go out in like party-girl drag and it wasn’t bad. I will say my first time in head-to-toe drag was not bad. I remember my first time was going into Babes and no one knew who I was. They knew who they were. I came out of nowhere, like snuck into the scene. And it was like, where did she come from? And I met the first drag queen I had ever seen: Katrina Colby. Katrina thought I was a girl. She was like that’s a pretty, pretty girl where did she come from? That’s what I remember.
Photo courtesy of Amber Saint Lexington
Do you remember what you were wearing?
I don’t. All I remember is that Katrina thought I was a girl. I messaged Michelle Livigne on my birthday. It was March 1st and that was a Thursday. I was like, Can I have my first ever performance on my birthday? And she was like, are you ready? I was like, yeah, it was six months before so I gave myself, like a Beyonce prep, like six months to come up with two good numbers, two good looks, and I’m just like, let’s see what happens and go from there. And from there it just took off because I didn’t have any of this planned. I wasn’t like trying to be a drag queen, I was just playing around with it. That was just my first time ever actually expressing myself on stage. I was always shy as a kid. I hated school projects. I hated talking in front of the class. I never went to dances. I never did school plays. I was like in the back back back back. So this was like my first time actually stepping out on a stage and like, doing everything. I practiced in my house for months and it turned out pretty well, I will say so myself. It feels like one of my most memorable performances. I was like, I really did do that for my first time. It all kind of took off from there.
Who is Amber Saint Lexington inspired by if there’s like a palette of women, who are those women?
Amber St. Lexington is inspired by strippers, Aubrey O’Day – heavy Aubrey O’Day – heavy Beyonce. The early influencer era girls: the very polished and put together girls always taking pictures like Crispy, Desi Perkins, all the YouTube girls I watched. I was never inspired by a drag queen, but then I fell into drag. I was like, oh, it’s different. I can’t just like, wear like cute little style, but I wear like garments and sequins. I’m not conforming so I still don’t wear that stuff. I was very much inspired by the pop girls. Britney, Christina, Aubrey. Heavy Aubrey, she actually follows me on Twitter. And I told her, you’re my drag mom, and she was like as I should be. This is what I wanted.
I love that. In a few words, tell me who Amber Saint Lexington is.
I like to consider myself very much off of the Megan Thee Stallion quote: classy, bougie, ratchet. You will get a little bit of each of that in every performance. And if it’s like a three-number show, I split it up, I’ll give you a classy number, a ratchet number, and a bougie number. But very much classy, bougie, ratchet is what I like to go by but less classy, and more ratchet.
Why is the drag scene in Richmond different from any other and what makes it special?
I would say to drag scene in Richmond over the years has become very polished and like great performers. I think it’s such a small city where we all have to be on our A-game at all times. And now it’s like if you’re you’re not meeting the criteria as everybody else, you really do get left behind. We have really good drag here, we have a lot of good drag in the city but not a lot of entertainers, but a lot of good dragon said he didn’t have a lot of entertainment. But like, we’re gonna boil down to what you see. You only see like a handful like 15-20 girls. We work really hard here because everybody’s trying to like, push themselves because everyone else is pushing themselves. I don’t think it’s that competitive. I don’t really see the competitiveness at all. But I do see people wanting to grow and wanting to be better, which is really important. Because people get comfortable and you can’t get comfortable in your drag. You really can’t. I was just talking to Jasmen ClitO’patra, who is my roommate, about how you can’t get comfortable. You gotta keep elevating, keep changing. Because if you get comfortable it just kind of gets stale, right? And I don’t want stale. Nobody wants stale drag.
You said in Richmond there’s a lot of performers but not a lot of entertainers. What’s the difference between entertainers and drag performers? Talk more about that.
I feel like there’s a lot of drag queens but when it comes to entertainers, the girls you see all the time, it’s like a handful. Like 15 to 20 girls who get booked all the time, but it’s probably 30 to 40 drag queens in the city, but you don’t see them all because they’re just coming up. There was a moment when drag stopped and there were really only a few girls doing shows, around the time of the pandemic. And then some new babies started coming up. And that’s where we are now. But for a minute, I was like where’s everybody at? Like what’s going on? There was nobody here but a few of us.
Photo courtesy of Amber Saint Lexington
So what do we not see, like people that come to the shows? Is there like a drag bootcamp? Are there drag rehearsals? How do people get to the point where they are show ready, and especially like new and up in coming drag performers?
I know the Chicki Parm, Sweet Pickles, and Melanin Monroe have the “Fresh Faces” and “The Least Bad Drag Performer of This Particular Group” and Godfrey’s has “Godfrey’s Idol” which is like the only two kind of like bootcamps that get you ready and shoes you what it’s like to really perform. Other than that you’re practicing on your own. You’re like at home learning everything yourself or talking to drag queen that help you out but it’s not like not a bootcamp that would be really funny is there was a drag bootcamp. I would love to teach a class
Okay, How long does it take you to get into the full drag fantasy?
I can get in full drag like from beginning from shower to leaving the door. An hour and 45 minutes. And that’s is I’m really pushing it, that’s the quickest I can go.
And do you have any pre show rituals? Are there any repetitive things that you do before every single show?
I organize everything I need to take with me. I Make sure I have everything I need. Shower, duh. Smoke a blunt. Pre-show nap. About 30 minutes before, I take a vitamin. The on that gives you energy: B-12. I take it before every gig because I be dying. And sometimes a liquid IV. But I don’t eat. I never eat before a show.
Is there a horror story of eating before drag?
I just wear a lot of restraints. Between the tights, the spanx, the waist trainer, the belts, the wig, like everything is squeezing you. You want to make sure you have nothing inside of you that’s going to come up and you want to feel comfortable because if you feel too full you won’t be comfortable. That’s why all drag queens drink.
Tell me about your most memorable experience performing in drag.
The most memorable performance is probably the first time I did Coachella, the illusion. Beyonce’s Coachella.
Photo courtesy of Amber Saint Lexington
What is illusion? Can you like describe this?
It’s when a drag artist captures everything an actual performer does, down to the mannerisms to the makeup to the way they hold their self to their choreography style. And like copies everything to a point where you’re like giving the illusion of the artist that you’re performing as. It’s hard though, it’s a lot of work. I do two illusions and that’s hard work to separate the two and have different mannerisms and performance styles. Like if I’m doing Beyonce, I’m not splitting. I’m not like doing too much dancing. I’m dancing but only to her choreography. I’m moving as she would move and I’m holding myself how she would hold herself. I have a microphone. Versus if I’m doing a Megan Thee Stallion illusion, I’m twerking and being a little bit more ratchet, a little more nasty. I’m doing more splits and more crazy stuff.
What is your advice to younger, emerging drag artists – and this can even be specific to the younger queens in Richmond, what is your advice to them?
Practice. I would tell everybody to just practice, practice, practice. Everything from like hair to make up to stage presence to styling to how you carry yourself, to the presentation of the artist. Because you can get in drag and say your name is so and so but it takes a lot of people to believe you’re that character. There are some artists who get in drag and perform but you still can’t really feel the persona they are embodying. When I go outside as Quin, he’s just in the corner quiet. And then when I step out as Amber, it’s like there she is dancing around and being all extra. I separate the two totally so everybody else keeps them separate, too. But yeah, practice and stage presence are the main ones. Make sure you know who you are, be comfortable in yourself and in drag to express what you want to express so you don’t look too scared or nervous. That’s the most important thing for me, is really elevating and becoming the person that you want to be. Because if you’re not, people will easily be able to tell you’re not comfortable or that you’re just starting out. There’s a vibe you get when someone’s full in their drag persona. It’s like, oh yeah, that’s her! But when people act the same way in and out of drag, it just messes with my mind. I’m like, why? Who am I looking at again? So for me, I separate them. Once that wig goes on, I’m a whole different person. I’m a bad bitch.
Let’s talk about that. Do you like having that dichotomy of Quin versus Amber and they don’t cross Are there parts of Amber that cross into Quin and parts of Quin that crosses into Amber?
When it comes to personalities they are very different. When it comes to who is shy, they’re very different. Because I’m very shy and very quiet. If I’m in a club as Quin I’m probably in the corner or just walking around minding my own business. Amber’s is like, outgoing, she’s talking to you, she’s twerking, she’s throwing ass, she’s taking shots. It’s so different. I like to keep that dynamic separate because if I’m acting like that all the time, that’s too much for me. That’s exhausting. I’m not doing that all the time. I couldn’t do that all the time physically.
What is your hope for the future of drag in Richmond?
The future drag right now in Richmond is very bright. There’s a lot going on: a lot of new queens and a lot of new shows going on. I would like to see more – in Richmond – not acceptance because everyone’s very accepting here. Maybe more shows. More of a gay scene because the gay scene in Richmond is very small. There are what, like, three gay bars. Every other city they would have gay and straight bars run out and booked with drag shows. Maybe just more commercial drag performances, more commercial shows. Not just hidden and in-the-know but actually staple shows for everyone. Like a show at The National, like bigger shows that they have in DC. They host big shows, really big shows. That would be good here because while it’s a small city we have the talent.
What is your hope for the future of drag on a broad-scale?
For conservatives to not look at it as a sexual thing. Because there are shows that are sexual but drag brunches are not really sexual at all. I’m not saying bring your kids but we’re just out there having fun, creating entertainment at places that don’t usually have entertainment. Giving you a chance to see performances you normally couldn’t see and for half the price. You have the chance to see entertainers dance and sing that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to unless you bought tickets to somebody’s tour. Here you an go to an illusion show and see them do the same thing and be like wow I felt the same vibe.
And last question, what has drag unlocked within you?
Probably creativity, a little more creativity. And confidence. Very much confidence. A little more outgoing, but not too much. Not too much. Protect that peace. Mainly confidence and being like, more relaxed because I have awful social anxiety. So Amber is like a mask. It’s like a uniform, a superhero uniform. Like, I nobody can tell me what to do. But as Quinn, I’m like, leave me alone. Don’t talk to me. I’m just here to watch this show. Don’t pull me on stage, don’t call my name – I’m not really even here. But yeah, at the same time Amber does bring out a very confident side of me that gets me in a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble.
Photo courtesy of Amber Saint Lexington
Okay, Now we’re going to finish with a lightning round. This is going to be quick, one-word answers. Describe your drag and one word.
If you could only perform one more time, what song are you choosing?
“I Was Here” by Beyonce. A gown number, why? It’s my last one.
Dancing Queen or Comedy Queen?
Big Venue or Packed Bar?
Financially, I’m gonna say big venue but I love a packed bar.
Solo number or Group number?
As someone that was in a girl group, I love a group number. But solo numbers are my favorite because I don’t have to worry about them.
Ballad or Banger?
Imma say… banger. I love a ballad, if I could be like a park and bark queen or a pageant queen, I would do nothing but ballads. Y’all would hate me. Y’all would be like, why is she so sad?
Are there any shows that you want to plug?
There’s a show February 19 with Kennedy Davenport that me, Sutton Iman, Jasmen ClitO’patra, and Chicki Parm are doing at Tang & Biscuit. And on the regular, I’m at Thirsty’s the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. Tang & Biscuit every third Sunday for Drag Brunch. Black Girl Magic every first Sunday of the month. And I’m at Papi’s for Saint Saturdays every Saturday.
Follow Amber Saint. Lexington HERE