News Column

'Drag Race' winner hopes to push all the boundaries

August 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 29--It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call Jinkx Monsoon the Meryl Streep of female impersonation. (Go with it for a minute.)

The "RuPaul's Drag Race" champ, whose real name is Jerick Hoffer, clinched the Season 5 crown by proving a multifaceted marvel at acting, singing, dancing and comedy challenges. His impersonation of Little Edie Beale from the musical "Grey Gardens" will go down in "Drag Race" her-story.

The Streep similarities are no coincidence. Hoffer, 25, counts the actress and her 1992 film "Death Becomes Her" as driving influences.

"I saw that movie when I was 6 or 7, and I just knew that I wanted to do what they were doing in that movie," he says. "I loved everything about Meryl Streep in that movie. I knew every line.

"I just wanted to grow up and be able to do what Meryl Streep was doing -- act like some kind of crazy character and sing and dance and die and have my neck broken and all that stuff."

Barring bodily harm, most of Hoffer's wildest dreams have been realized in the past year. He won the "Drag Race" title in May after spending most of the season as the overwhelming fan favorite. He was smart without being shady, confident without being cocky. His Monsoon persona is a combination of Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Sarah Silverman and Lucille Ball.

"I really thought I was going to be too obscure, too kooky for people," Hoffer says. "When I saw that the fans were responding positively, I was really excited, because I've just always wanted to share the kind of drag that I do and the art form I've studied with my audiences. 'Drag Race' really allowed me to do that in a very grand-scale way."

His off-camera work is also much more than a lip-sync act. Hoffer graduated summa cum laude with a degree in theatrical performance from Cornish College in Seattle. He's taken Monsoon to clubs all over the country, performing everything from Queen to Lana Del Rey to Broadway standards and spoofs -- with the microphone switched on. This summer he starred in the off-Broadway musical comedy "The Vaudevillians." He's also starred in Seattle productions of "Spring Awakening," "Rent" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

"My life feels like it's the same life, it's just amped up times 10," Hoffer says. "Otherwise, I feel like I'm still the same goofy little old me. I think my drag has definitely gone up a level or two since winning because of the frequency at which I'm doing drag now. Also, the venues I'm getting to perform in are so spectacular sometimes that it's really caused me to up my game.

"I've always wanted to be busy and successful as an artist, as well as doing something new for the art world. Combining drag and theater in the way that I've gotten to do this year has been really, really exciting."

Hoffer is working on the inevitable post-"Drag Race" album, an unofficial requirement for show graduates. (The most successful to date, commercially and critically, has been Season 4 winner Sharon Needles' "PG-13" album of electro-pop originals.) Hoffer plans to enter the studio next month to record "a homage to the 1970s torch-singer albums." He's aiming for a January release.

Ultimately, then, it's about more than a dress and a wig for Hoffer and Monsoon. Without getting too hokey, he hopes to create something bigger, something uplifting to outsiders, outcasts and goofy kids -- quirky boys and girls that feel alienated even within the gay and lesbian community.

"It's easy to boil down being a drag queen to getting all dressed up and getting up onstage and telling a bunch of (dirty) jokes and getting drunk afterwards," he says. "But it's more inspiring for me that there's a deeper impact on the community and on the audience at large. There's a deeper understanding of the art form that's happening nowadays that I really, really appreciate."

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(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle

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