Arts & Culture News

Sue Ellen's Prepares For the Finale of the Fourth Season of Its Annual Drag Competition

Sue Ellen's hosts a drag race every year for up-and-coming queens.
Sue Ellen's hosts a drag race every year for up-and-coming queens. Kylee O'Hare Fatale
Drag queens, kings and everything in between prepare to break a leg and strut what they got every Wednesday night at the legendary Sue Ellen’s bar in Oak Lawn.

These days, drag shows can be found semingly everywhere. But this isn’t your average drag show. What makes Sue Ellen's evening event different than most shows, other than the variety of queer expression, is that theirs is a competition, a battle between entertainers who work the runway and lip-sync for their lives.

And before you ask: no, this isn’t just like RuPaul’s Drag Race. The show is bigger than your average drag pageant, and it's a celebration and expression of all queer art.

The Queer Off, now in its fourth season, is a weekly competition show started by drag queen Kylee O’Hara Fatale. The show’s season finale will take place on Nov. 10. O’Hara Fatale, a growing presence in the North Texas drag scene who performs in Denton, across Deep Ellum and Oak Lawn, is the drag daughter of Drag Race alumna Asia O’Hara. O’Hara Fatale thought of the show while simply going for a walk.

The moment the idea popped into her head, O’Hara Fatale called friends, ran home and explained the whole idea to her roommates. Within minutes, the housemates began creating websites, competition themes and called The Caven, the strip of bars that houses queer spots such as S4, Sue Ellen’s and JR’s.

One month later, The Queer Off was created in August 2017.

Each week, after a few performances from notable queens from across North Texas, the contestants participate in skits and fashion runways. If they fail to impress the judges that include O’Hara Fatale, they must lip-sync for their lives. Creator and host O’Hara Fatale makes the final decision on who goes and who stays. Each season, a winner is crowned, representing a competition that is growing in popularity and gives exposure to up-and-coming performers.

The show has created an opportunity for many artists to get their foot in the door. Dozens of drag artists try out each season and often are given a short time to prepare for their season. It’s a challenge that helps each artist grow.

“Each challenge that I won, it was a challenge out of my comfort zone,” Blue Valentine, local drag artist and season one contestant, says. “It pushed me to do things I wouldn’t normally do, and I’m grateful that Kylee made that platform for us.”

The show is a celebration of drag of all backgrounds, O’Hara Fatale says. The competition hosts gay, male cis-gendered drag queens and drag kings, masculine drag artists portrayed by feminine artists, cis-gendered female drag queens and trans artists who express themselves in numerous drag labels.

“We always celebrate drag and serving looks and performances. We also want the weirdos to succeed, too.” – Kylee O’Hara Fatale

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Notable winners who have broken the “standard” drag barrier include Rolla Derby, second season winner Fauxbia and Logan Liquer.

That inclusivity and diversity are important to note because not all drag shows are open to that kind of queer expression, O’Hara Fatale says.

“We always celebrate drag and serving looks and performances,” O’Hara Fatale says. “We also want the weirdos to succeed, too.”

On the TV series, most RuPaul drag contestants perform through pageant femininity. Wednesday nights at Sue Ellen’s are different.

Non-binary folks dressed in sequined suits and top hats grace the stage while the crowded audience cheers on. That's one example among so many other beautiful forms of queer expression, which are what makes The Queer Off so different.

“Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, you can do it,” O’Hara says. “Ultimately who are we to say drag has to be this one thing?”
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Jacob Reyes is an arts and culture intern for the Dallas Observer. At his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, Reyes was the life and entertainment editor for the student publication The Shorthorn. His passion for writing and reporting includes covering underrepresented communities in the arts.