If you haven’t been watching Netflix’s new hit show Dancing Queen what are you waiting for? The docuseries stars dance coach Justin Johnson and follows his life in Mesquite, Texas as he trains his team of youth dancers to compete in national competitions. While dealing with aggravated dance moms and being a flamboyant gay man living in the Lone Star State, Johnson juggles a successful life as alter ego Alyssa Edwards, who requires no introduction as the icon from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 5 and All-stars Season 2. That’s right! Mama’s back and she’s about to get all up in this gig!
Dancing Queen is a fabulous fusion of Dance Moms and an elevated, up-close-and-personal Drag Race confessional. For all the Alyssa Edwards fans out there, like me, this is look at the queen you’ve been waiting for. Season one was released on Netflix on October 5th and like many of the shows we love on streaming platforms, Dancing Queen is absolutely binge-worthy—it will give you life, make you drop dead, and bring you back to life ::TONGUE POP::
Through this creative lens we get to explore Justin as the local celebrity he is in Mesquite. We meet his friends, we get a front row seat to his family drama, and we are given gag-worthy, wig-snatching feuds with the dance moms at his successful dance studio Beyond Belief. Each of the eight episodes features Alyssa Edwards performing gigs across internationally and gives us some unTUCKINGbelievable montages that are quintessentially Alyssa. We also get those hilarious memeable one liners that come out of Alyssa’s mouth. It’s no wonder she was able to turn those back rolls, into bank rolls!
Alyssa Edwards is the ministress of ceremonies as Dancing Queen touches on some heartfelt topics in the life of Justin/Alyssa including dating, Justin’s childhood, friendship, and family. You’ll get to see two special appearances by Laganja Estranja and Shangela Laquifa Wadley, two fierce queens from the House of Edwards who are also part of Alyssa’s chosen drag family.
Dancing Queen is a departure from the Alyssa Edwards we immediately fell in love with on Drag Race and Alyssa’s Secret on WOW Presents. It’s a humanizing, humbling perspective that shows that this larger-than-life queen exists because of the hard work and determination of one boy from Texas who never let anyone blow out his light—not even those feisty dance moms.
Here’s the trailer for Dancing Queen:
What many may not know is that the road to Netflix for Alyssa has been a long one. It has taken over six years for the project to finally be seen by audiences and it was World of Wonder producers who saw the magic in Alyssa Edwards who knew that there was more to the BEAST than what Drag Race was giving us. Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, the founders of World of Wonder Productions knew immediately that Alyssa Edwards and her personality were too big for just one screen and they began plotting on a show focusing specifically on the Grand Dame Diva of the South.
The work on the show began even before season 5 of Drag Race aired. Barbato and Bailey encountered many obstacles to get the show produced and sold.
I had a great conversation with Barbato and Bailey who shared the journey of Dancing Queen from concept to TV:
How soon after you met Alyssa Edwards did you know she needed her own show?
This is no secret, but Drag Race is filmed before it airs.
It was like watching her while we were shooting it like “Oh my god!” and then understanding that Beyond Belief was legitimate and real was like “Oh my god! Oh my god!” It was double “Oh my god!” and then we thought wouldn’t it be great if when the season airs that Alyssa if when she gets eliminated next week her show starts.
That was the goal. It was a brilliant plan. But all that went wrong is that we had to wait 6 years.
Well, you know the funniest thing is we’ve been trying to make this show for hundreds of years—actually for like 5 years we tried to get this show on the air. And thank God it’s finally on the air! And It’s not going anywhere. I mean, it hasn’t officially picked up a second season, but we have!
Okay, good! So what were some of the roadblocks in getting the show sold?
It feeds in to that age old apprehension and anxiety about drag. The perception that drag in general is a ‘one trick pony’. Not something that you can build more than one successful brand from. But we all know that’s not true. In many ways, it was the same thing with Drag Race. It took a long time to get in on the air and then it took a long time for people—people are still just discovering it. So when people say ‘No’ to us, we always say that ‘No’ is the beginning to ‘Yes’. It’s frustrating and takes time, but it just took that long for people to take the leap. And we love Netflix, by the way—it didn’t take Netflix that long—it took everybody else that long.
Did you encounter similar obstacles when you were trying to shop ‘Drag Race’ around?
Well, that was 10 years! It took 10 years.
The current iteration of Drag Race, no, in some ways. But the idea of Rupaul in drag as drag competition was around. It had been pitched for a very very very long time before it finally became real. Our experience is that some of the best things take a long time to get up and running.
Yes, definitely. There are so many people and so many narratives that need to be shared. When you have someone like Alyssa Edwards who is a natural born character I think it’s really important for people to understand the hard work that she puts in behind what we’ve been able to see on a show like ‘Drag Race’. I really appreciated the show in that we’re able to see a different side of her.
As if being a queen isn’t hard enough. You know, it’s tough to be a drag queen. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of creativity, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and pain—you know, just to transform yourself. But on top of that Alyssa is also running a business and has this whole type of support—has built a family and it’s really inspiring to see that. To get to learn not only where she came from, but how she has built this incredibly successful life. And how she shares her love of drag and love of colors with a group of people you’d never suspect—from the moms to the kids to her friends.
Yeah, I think the show sets up that really interesting dynamic between the families of these kids at Beyond Belief. We’re in a red state like Texas where you don’t typically see the approval or acceptance of queer people and the parents have to be a part of this team with Justin and everything that he represents. And it is because of how he is and because of who he is that their children can actually have this experience. So I think it’s a really important thing that you guys have set up here so that we can get a little bit of ‘Dance Moms’ and the angst that comes with parent confrontations, but it’s also this other, non-Drag Race, elevated drag perspective where we really see into the depths of who Justin is. I really appreciate that.
I’m glad you do because it is really a post-queer notion of seeing someone like Alyssa who isn’t particularly assimilated—who wants a big house, and a yard, and a pool—who wants that for her self-made family. You know, she’s running around town as a business owner, but also as this totally over-the-top queen and how that plays out in a red state with this mix of people. It’s just taken on board and it feels progressive of the queer thing.
How do you think ‘Dancing Queen’ adds to the already popular dialogue of drag culture and the LGBTQ community in mainstream media?
I think it places it in context of normal everyday life. Justin as a hard-working entrepreneur with a business in the middle of the country. I think that sometimes we think that with drag its always glitter and glam and wigs and heels, but it’s not. Drag is an art form and like any art form, it takes a lot of hard work and stick-with-itness and some courage as well.
And with streaming being on the forefront of today’s media, do you think feel there might be an easier way to share LGBTQ narratives?
Hopefully yes. I do think that there seems to be more opportunity—people seem to be a lot more open and the streaming outlets definitely seem to appreciate the ‘outsider’ voice and understand that we are all ‘outsiders’. That’s the great thing about ‘Dancing Queen’ is that crew of people, the moms, the kids—it’s not only that they accept Alyssa’s voice and uniqueness, but they relate and identify with it. It reminds us sometimes that we’re all queer, we’re all unique. And people can be more sophisticated things than sometimes we allow them to or perceive them to be.
I completely agree. Going a little further--I believe World of Wonder has truly revolutionized media in the inclusion of queer identities, is the company today and what you have accomplished everything you ever imagined?
Well that’s very nice of you to say. It’s always a work in progress. I think Randy and I love what we do and we just want to keep doing more of it. But it’s been a process, you know. We are on Hollywood Boulevard—I guess in the heart of Hollywood—and earlier this year RuPaul got his star on Hollywood Boulevard, conveniently right outside our offices and we just had the soft opening of our retail space so the thought of working here is that we’ll try anything. We’re try-sexual. We think, personally, there is a huge revolution going on in media itself and I think that it used to be that the networks very much dictated what people watched and what people’s taste was and now we’re in a situation where be it Netflix or YouTube that kind of top-down control is eroding and it’s more of a bottom-up, a bubbling up, and that is very exciting to us. It’s a huge change. From a time when only a few voices could be heard it means that now more voices can be heard. It’s just a tremendously exciting thing. So for us to have a retail space on Hollywood Boulevard, with RuPaul’s star on the sidewalk outside on the Walk of Fame, that’s definitely a dream come true and something that we want to continue to grow. Because really, I think our concept of World of Wonder is that we’re not so much a production company, it’s a family. Late last year we launched WOW Presents Plus which is our subscription network and it’s not so much like paying your monthly subscription to Hulu, it’s much more like a membership club. It’s kind of like being part of an extended family whether you end up going down to the store, or using one of our studios, going to DragCon, or just watching a show—it’s all part of one experience.
I know you mentioned that for season 2 of ‘Dancing Queen’ it hadn’t been picked up yet. But can we definitely look forward to season 2?
I think it’s too early to say anything.
In the event that Netflix are insane enough not to do a season 2, we’ll do ourselves because the backstory is we were starting production on the series ourselves for WOW Presents Plus, it was going to be one of the series for WOW Presents.
I mean, I guess that’s kind of the story of ‘Dancing Queen’ is that we spent all this time trying to sell it and then we were like ‘screw it, let’s just do it our selves’ and when we were doing it I was watching the footage and I said “Oh my god! I think I should share this with Netflix” and hadn’t shopped it with Netflix, we’d shopped it everywhere else. They did respond very quickly—everyone else kind of waited around. So our feeling is, one way or another, there will be a second season and hopefully it will be on Netflix because I think they’re really happy and people seem to love it and are discovering it every day.
I know that a lot of Ru girls have gone to have these incredible projects thanks to what ‘Drag Race’ has been able to do for them, but do you ‘World of Wonder’ have any new or upcoming projects with any of them that you might be able to share at this point?
We do. And we can’t.
Okay, but there’s more?
There’s more. Yes. Because what the world needs more of is more drag queens.
But I will say this about so many of the queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think that so many of them have their own lanes. So many of them have an enormous amount of talent and an enormous about of potential to develop projects from Sharon Needles, to Jinkx Monsoon, to obviously Bianca del Rio—these are TRUE artists—real artists who all deserve their own vehicles and I think it’s only a matter of time.
It really is a matter of time because it really only prejudice that has kept people at large from being able to appreciate and enjoy that artistry. And for all sorts of reasons I feel that prejudice is melting away, let’s not pretend that it’s all sunshine and roses—we’re living under a regime and many of those in the regime want gay people dead. So it’s not all sunshine and roses by any means. There’s a long way to go. In the exact same way you see Justin in his hometown doing his work and people see him, and know him, and respect him, and admire him, and love him—that is the way prejudice, and phobia, and fear and all those things get broken down and washed away.
Dancing Queen is streaming now on Netflix. Yes, Gawd!