By Timothy Rawles
Had the pandemic not hit when it did, Drag Race alumna and insult comedy superstar Bianca Del Rio’s life would have continued to be a whirlwind of projects that could have kept her busy through most of 2020. But the truth is a lock-down is exactly what she needed.
Bianca Del Rio is the stage name of Roy Haylock, a New Orleans native, who gained great fame as the spiked-tongued, heart-of-gold winning contestant on season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bianca became the adopted workroom prioress who was well-respected by the queens of that season.
Since then the former costume designer rarely stays idle. Even a pandemic won’t slow her down. She is coming to Phoenix for the outdoor Drive ‘N Drag show on March 16-17, 2021.
But let’s backtrack a little bit to earlier last year just before the world closed down. Bianca was headed back from the U.K. where she had just finished a popular show. She was looking forward to some downtime, getting a much-needed surgery, and finding a permanent homestead. She never expected a long-term break was already a legislative order.
“Well, the lucky thing was I was in London doing a musical in the West End in February,” Bianca tells us in a phone interview. “So, I flew back to America planning on taking off eight weeks because I was going to have tonsils taken out — don’t ask, long story — and also I was in search of a home. So I thought on that break it was the perfect time to make this happen. Not knowing, I just got back to America and things got crazy.”
In that crazy time, she did find a home. In Palm Springs. But that was it, her new house was empty; there was nowhere to sit or rest your elbows except on the floor.
“Basically, I moved into my new home and I was searching frantically online trying to find furniture because I had nothing,” she laughs. “That was difficult to find a table and chairs during COVID online and hope it got delivered. So that was basically what I was experiencing, and I also have two senior dogs that have been with me for 15 years, so it’s been nice to be home with them because for the past seven or eight years it’s been this crazy rat race of travelling and touring and being everywhere. It’s been a nice change and I’m lucky that I was able to have this new place to distract me.”
Eventually the house came together and when all was said and done, the diversion was worth it. It essentially made her forget she was living through a pandemic in isolation.
“I’m one of those,” she laughs. “So now I’m wandering the halls aimlessly in drag like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, but it is what it is. You know?”
One would think that a busy girl like Bianca would be more comfortable in a big city like New York, not amid the trappings of a tourist town in the middle of nowhere. The truth is, location was a big factor in deciding where she would land, and for now it's the perfect place.
“I think too, just in general, what made sense for me, when you live in the chaos of travel and touring and stuff, the last thing I want to be is in New York. It was just a little more than what I wanted. And L.A. is kinda the same thing. So I thought where do I go? And I happened to be in Palm Springs and said I love it. My assistant bought a place first and then I soon followed.”
The first big test to see if the logistics are better is the Drive ‘N Drag show which began in Atlanta in late February. It will make its way across the states and eventually end in Los Angeles at the Rose Bowl. The show is a pandemic-safe outdoor event within the confines of informal venues across the country. Some of these places are located in old drive-in theaters; a locale Bianca had never experienced before until the tour.
“You would assume at my elderly age that I would have,” she chuckles. “But no, I actually have not gone. So this is all new to me on every level. Now, I have done outside gigs; I’ve been at numerous Prides at an outside venue or even had to do a show at an outside venue. So yeah, this is kind of adding that extra element which luckily is probably the safest way to do anything now. It’s so funny that something antiquated from the ‘50s and ‘60s is what’s saving us now."
In Arizona, Bianca won't be performing at a drive-in, but at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Where, of all things, drag races actually happen! She has visited the state before. Her memories of it, as with most visitors, is the scorching summer weather.
“I had a couple of stops in Arizona,” Bianca recalls. “Tuscon was one of them; I had never felt heat in my life. Like I come from humid heat. And it was like, you know when you open the oven when you’re baking cookies, that was the feeling — in drag! Which is challenging. But it was beautiful! I grew fond of desert views but it was a completely different heat than I grew up with because you know, New Orleans and New York have that humidity and that stickiness whereas Arizona … don’t. So hopefully we’re still in a wintery springy phase when we get there.”
I tell her I can’t promise anything.
“Then you’re gonna get a kaftan and a tiny wig,” she responds with a chortle. “The heat I can handle, it’s the dryness that gets me.”
As the world gets back to normal, so does Bianca Del Rio’s penchant for working non-stop. She is used to burning the candle at both ends, but now her determination is probably a little more than making money, it’s a chance to get out into the world again doing what she does best; entertain.
She says she’s already scheduling another tour that got canceled because of COVID last year. There is also a new podcast in the works in which she will have guests on to discuss a variety of things, not just Drag Race.
Adding to that, and probably the most exciting is a third Hurricane Bianca movie; another production casualty from last year that should have been done by now.
“Obviously right now we can’t schedule a damn thing," she says. "But there is a third one that has been written so we are excited about that. I mean, I don’t write them. My friend Matt Kugelman writes them and I’m looking forward to when we get to a normal state in the world so we can film it.”
Through it all, the performer has kept that big painted signature smile on her face. She's kept her giant eyelashes glued on and her sense of humor intact. Now that the world is recovering, so is her incessant schedule. Still, the time off was perhaps a blessing for her because everything she did during that time was, in a way, a breather; a giant exhale away from the spotlight.
“It’s been a wild ride," she says before we hang up. "I do realize there’s a lot going on in the world at the moment so I am grateful that I have been able to keep busy and do the things that I haven’t been able to do for a long time, you know like take out the trash or sort recyclables” she laughs. “It’s wild. I’m becoming a little domesticated in my old age.”
Bianca Del Rio will be performing in Drive ‘N Drag at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on March 16-17, 2021. Get tickets at vossevents.com/drive-n-drag/.