By Laura Latzko; photos courtesy of Shuga Cain
His love of candy and baking inspired Jesus Martinez in the creation of Shuga Cain, a colorful drag queen who can bake but also bring fierce, theatrical looks. The drag queen appeared on season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Shuga Cain will visit Phoenix on Sun., Sept. 1 as part of ArizonaDrag.com’s Dragalicious: A Drag Convention at the Cash Nightclub and Lounge.
The New York-based drag queen stood out on season 11 with her Charo impression and purple evening gown from the “Snatch Game at Sea” episode and her Donald-Trump-inspired look during the runway for the “Trump: The Rusical” episode.
She was the oldest contestant of the season but also one of the newest to drag. She had been performing full-time for a year and nine months when she went on the show.
Her name was inspired by Shug Avery, her favorite character from The Color Purple.
She gave up a corporate job as a media producer to pursue drag full-time, a decision she doesn’t regret.
Before doing drag, the drag queen had a musical theater background. She has been performing since childhood and has a master’s degree in opera performance.
She has learned a lot from YouTube but also has had a strong mentor in singer, songwriter, playwright and drag performer Shequida Hall.
Since doing the show, Shuga Cain has been performing around the country and has appeared in a Pepsi commercial. She also has had a chance to work with comedian and actress Charo and open for Iggy Azalea.
She and Justin Salinas recently started hosting the cooking series “Gimme Some Shuga,” which is available for viewing through the Wow Presents PLUS! steaming service.
In the future, she hopes to perform in drag on film and on Broadway, release her own album and travel with her one-woman show to Central and Latin America.
Shuga Cain talked about some new endeavors, including her career as a drag queen and her experience on RuPaul’s Drag Race, during a recent phone interview.
Echo: Tell me more about your cooking series.
Cain: Cooking has always been a love of mine. I’ve done it since I was a young kid. We’re teaching the kids how to decorate cakes, very simple things that people can do at home. It’s a lot of fun. We are mixing drag into it…We’re recreating different iconic looks from the many seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I have an amazing co-host named Justin, who is a professional cake decorator.
Echo: Do you feel like that’s expanded how people see your character Shuga Cain?
Cain: I used to have an online bakery. So, baking is definitely something that I want to grow into. I want to have my own bakery. I have my own cooking show, but I would love to be able to expand that. So, cooking is something that is definitely very much a part of Shuga Cain. Anything with candy and anything with sweets.
Echo: It sounds like it didn’t take you long to figure out who you wanted to be as a drag performer.
Cain: I always say Shuga Cain is the best parts of myself. She is much more outgoing and willing to do all of these crazy things. I don’t feel like it’s different from who I am as a person. It’s still very loving. It’s still very fun, all of the things that are a part of me.
Echo: Has your corporate background helped you in doing drag?
Cain: As a drag queen, I definitely approach this with a business mindset. I’m very much trying to think of myself as a business. We have to market ourselves. We are the only ones managing ourselves. So, it has helped me immensely, especially now after “Drag Race” because we are incredibly busy.
Echo: Did you have any favorite musical theater roles growing up?
Cain: One of my iconic roles was playing Angel in Rent. I played that in the San Francisco Bay area. That was always a dream of mine. That was my first dabble in drag and meshing the two together, singing and drag. Actually, when I first started doing drag here in New York City, I sang all the time. I always sang. I don’t sing that much anymore, but I’m slowly trying to reincorporate that again.
Echo: What was your first time doing drag?
Cain: I was at the pride march at New York Pride Week. I am a part of a running group called Front Runners New York. It’s an LGBTQ running group. I just happened one day to be like, “I’m going to dress in drag and march in the parade with my running group.” Everyone liked it, and they thought it was cool. And then they were holding a talent competition, our running group, so I decided to do that. I did drag twice a year for three years, and then I got the bug and decided to pursue it more seriously.
Echo: When you first decided to walk away from the corporate world and do drag full time, was that a scary time?
Cain: I think I got really scared after a year and some change when I was running out of money and had to take a corporate job again. During that time, I was auditioning for Drag Race. You get to this point where you make a decision. Are you going to really pursue something, or are you going to have a hobby? I decided to really commit myself, work harder and try to figure it out. When I decided to do that, that’s when Drag Race called me and said they wanted me.
Echo: What did you hope to accomplish by doing RuPaul’s Drag Race?"
Cain: Well, I had hoped to win, as we all do. For me, it was having a platform, especially as a young, gay Latino male. It is very hard for us to be gay, and my family is very traditional. I just wanted to show other young Latino kids that you can be whoever you are. If you dedicate yourself and work really hard, you can achieve amazing things, whatever it is. I just happened to choose drag.
Echo: What did Charo think of your impression of her on “Snatch Game?”
Cain: She loved it. She said it was better than her, and my maracas were better than hers.
Echo: It sounds like choosing that character wasn’t too tough for you?
Cain: We grew up watching her as young kids. When I auditioned, she wasn’t part of a group of characters that I did. Along the way, as I was getting ready for the show, I was like, “Oh my God, I have to do her.”
Echo: Being a new performer, do you feel like you’ve had to prove yourself, or did RuPaul’s Drag Race help you to do that?
Cain: Before that, I definitely felt like I had a lot to prove. A lot of girls, especially in New York City, have been doing drag for so long and are staples. I felt like I had to prove that I was worthy enough to be on “Drag Race.” I try not to worry about what other people think, but you hear through the grapevine. I did have a lot to prove. I’m proud of what I did on the show. Now, it’s just having fun and showing different sides of me that they didn’t get to see on the show.
Dragalicious: A Drag Convention
Doors open at noon on Sept. 1 at The Cash Nightclub and Lounge, 1730 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix. General admission is $20. A $35 VIP ticket includes a meet-and-greet with Shuga Cain.