By Shannon Levitt
It wasn’t supposed to go that route.
Joey Jay, the 30-year-old contestant from the Phoenix area on RuPauls Drag Race Season 13 unexpectedly ended up on the chopping block in the opening moments of the show.
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The previous seasons started with introductions, fun interludes between competitors, a challenge and a walk on the podium. It was only then that elimination came. But on January 1, Jay and his compatriot Kandy Muse barely had time to introduce themselves when RuPaul appeared, saying they would sync up before the judges and the loser were taken out.
RuPaul is right there and you are lip-syncing for your life, said Jay, who describes his drag character as a Jewish princess. It was the scariest moment of my life.
Later, on the one-on-one faith shows, Jay laughed at the possible plot twists, although at press time it was unclear how the drama would play out. But Jays’ recent tweet, S13 is basically just gay Saw, looks ominous.
It was so much and we were all so taken by it, but tomorrow a new day, he explained. It will be a beautiful TV.
Season 13 has had other surprises thanks to COVID-19, including 12-day quarantine shows.
Twelve days of self-isolation in a hotel room, you’re going a little crazy, Jay says.
Jays’ drag career began just four years ago and as a part-time gig. By day, he was working as an account manager at an educational software company in Mesa, Arizona. He only hung out on Friday nights because of his work schedule.
I really enjoy and cherish sleep, he says. It was really hard to operate effectively the next day I had to sell.
But work has always been a way to save condo money and mark time while building a flirty career.
He started auditioning for RuPauls Drag Race just a month after he started dragging.
Let me tell you, the audition process is very long and time consuming and very stressful long days, long days, Jay said.
His first two attempts were unsuccessful and he hopes no one will ever see his first audition tape: if it does surface, it’s no good, he jokes.
But the third time, it was the charm. Earning a coveted spot on the show so quickly isn’t the only thing unique about the Jays’ drag career. On the one hand, his drag name is rather understated. Born Joey Jadryev, he didn’t think a more flamboyant name would suit him. For another, Jay typically sports his own short hair rather than an elaborate wig, which is more the norm in the drag community.
His boyish hair has drawn the wrath of other drag queens, but it’s something he feels strongly about and a topic he planned to tackle on the show following his appearance on the runway. But he didn’t expect to be in front of the judges right away. Depending on how things go, he realizes that my plan could definitely go down the drain.
When you go down the drag, you’re making a political statement, you’re not just putting on a wig, he says. It is your duty to educate people on Stonewall and Marsha P. Johnson.
Since many fans of the show are young and impressionable, Jay said he felt responsible for providing a perspective they might not otherwise have.
Who knows what their parents tell them or what their parents stand for, but I know equality is fair, he said. I am a humanitarian and it is so important for these children to know what is right and what is wrong.
The people of the Phoenix area are proud of the success of the Jays.
I’ve watched Drag Race for years, said Deb Behrendt, one of the presidents of AZ Jewish for Pride. I am proud that Joey Jay is from Phoenix and Jewish. I just feel like a proud mom to watch Joey Jay kill!
Behrendts co-chair, singer Ross Wolman of Temple Chai, appreciates that Jay has chosen to showcase Jewish identity.
This identity is very important to Jay, whose family in Los Angeles is very Jewish, he said. Every time I go visit them I throw Yiddish all day and laugh and it’s so much fun. Jay was very close to his late grandmother, an Orthodox Jew, and attended virtual services at his mother’s synagogue for the summer holidays last year. It’s really good because a lot of people have their favorite pronouns and it’s very LGBT friendly, he said.
One regret, however, is missing a bar mitzvah. Growing up, Jay was a competitive figure skater and the family couldn’t afford both ice skating and a bar mitzvah. The Jays’ grandmother has indicated that a bar mitzvah can be postponed, but there is an expiration date for ice skating.
Even though Jay is more religiously lax than his grandmother, missing a bar mitzvah is always a problem.
To date, I haven’t had the chance to get my bar mitzvah, he said. But it’s on my bucket list because I know if I’m not I’m going to have guilt for all eternity for my grandma.
RuPauls Drag Race airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on The CW Network, MTV, MTV2, PopTV and Logo.
Shannon Levitt is the editor of Jewish News in Phoenix, an affiliate publication of the Jewish Exponent.
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