The first time I saw Hellen Heels perform I thought WOW! Every time I’ve seen her since I still think WOW! This drag queen veteran of 5 years creates some amazing dance mixes and the girl dances her ass off all night! As much passion as she has on stage, she’s equally inspiring when discussing her growth through drag and her connections to local queens and Ru girls alike. Read on to learn more about the queen I’ve affectionately dubbed Mighty Mouse because of her powerful presence on the stage. You can also see some of her performances on my Hellen Heels Playlist on YouTube:
Drag Adventures: What is your drag name and what is its origin?
Hellen Heels: I was originally supposed to be “Holly Peno”, but then I found out there was another queen with that name. Funny as it seems, I found out later that there is also another queen named “Helen Heels”. But I was watching one of those “Duck Dynasty” rip off shows and the man was describing his hillbilly wife and saying she was sweet as pie, but if someone messed with her that she would be “Hell on Wheels” and it did cutaways of her on a 4-wheeler in mud. And I thought that was funny. And people know me for my baditude and dancing and I thought, well I’ll give em “Hell on Heels”… thus she was born. (Also, I have an alter ego) named Busy Bodee.
DA: What got you into drag?
HH: I was hosting our local drag show, Eves of Paradise, with Katana Rei but I was performing as a boy. I used to watch the girls get tipped well and thought to myself “I can do that. Dance, lip sync, be fierce. I can do that!” And so, I did that and found out shortly that I could do that… but not well.
DA: Who are your inspirations, and have they changed over time?
HH: Local/ Area Inspirations include my bestie Katana Rei, Pearl Teese, Taryn Thru-U, and the girls who really work hard and keep at it even when things get dark.
Celebrity Inspirations include Raja for being forward thinking, funny, and never just giving in to basic drag (she’s my all-time), Ivy Winters for being creative and KIND, Bob the Drag Queen and Miz Cracker for being hilarious hosts and music makers, MILK for being herself, Morgan McMichaels for being the kind of dance brand I subscribe to, and Sasha Velour for being the kind creative person on AND off TV. To Powerhouses such as Mayhem Miller and Evah Destruction (Watch ALL of their videos) and To all the queens that paved the way, and Lipsynka (if you don’t know her, know her!) Out of the box, lip sync assassin and a class act.
DA: What was your experience breaking into the drag scene and getting bookings?
HH: Breaking in was easy, I ran the local drag show and I just planted myself in there. But getting your name out there was all about showing up, tipping, complimenting, learning and when you get the chance do the free shows- EVERYWHERE! Starting out the key is to work for free…. as long as you can. You will appreciate and work hard for every dollar going forward. After that, the bookings will come and if you make yourself versatile enough, you can go anywhere with your drag.
DA: You’ve mentioned in the past that when you first started out you thought you could do drag and looking back you realize you weren’t quite there at the beginning. Now you’re a staple in the Central Valley drag scene. Can you talk a bit about your evolution? Were there any epiphany moments or was it a gradual thing?
HH: Everyone needs to have a “booger” phase. If you start out polished, and RPDR trendy, Instagram and YouTube certified- then you have no growth ahead of you. Drag is one of those paths to discovery trips that you can take and learn from or coast and let pass. So, I went through one that looking back on I cringe over, but it helps you so much in the growing process. You become so confident and you love yourself a bit more and humble yourself. I knew I had become known enough to be comfortable in whatever I do when my name was called and people hooped and hollered and they hadn’t heard my mix or seen my outfit or make-up and just knew that I was gonna deliver.
DA: You have a couple of hosting gigs, including a new show on Sundays. How did you get your start in hosting? Can you talk about some of the shows you host like One Helluva Show and The Slayground?
HH: I started hosting when we started our local show, I decided to be the boy co-host and realized soon that I had the ability to think fast and be witty. So I ran with it, plus go figure- as a drag queen we like to talk. It took a contest and a long time, but I finally got shows of my own in Sacramento (which is a big deal for us smaller city folk) and I needed to come up with concepts. One Helluva Show was my opportunity to thank all of the people I had ever worked with or gave me chances in other areas to perform. So It became the other show in the area that always had a diverse and many different performers (Up until me, the former shows had set casts or Sac casts).
Then I was granted a second show and knew that I wanted to do a show that upped the creative side, brought the spontaneity back to drag in the area. Where queens had to think on their feet, perform to the best of their abilities and couldn’t use stunts and gimmicks to win. Thus the Slayground was created and continues to keep the queens and audience on their feet.
DA: You did a meet and greet alongside Manila Luzon recently. Was that your first official meet and greet or have you been in others?
HH: I’ve been in others, mostly attached with a Ru girl or groupings of girls. It’s always nice to do because we like feeling like we did a good job. We may not be famous, but we do it for the fans and we love meeting and interacting with fans. Most of the time we are either on stage or changing and sweating off our make-up so getting to do a meet and greet gives the option of talking, taking a good picture, and showing appreciation both ways to create a bond.
DA: You come up with some bad ass mixes then go out and dance your ass off. When you start creating a mix does it take time to figure out which songs and how to transition, or is it something that comes naturally to you?
HH: It all starts somewhere- either there is an outfit that will inspire or a gig that requires certain criteria, or you have songs that will work well. And then I think what will separate me from other performers. Is this new, is this used, is it borrowed, is it inspired? Then I look at what gig I’m doing it for, how often to be able to use it and so much more. But I have a brain that works like a computer and Pandora combined. I can reference my memory for so much pop culture references and it makes making them much easier.
DA: You are a host but you do these extended mixes and dance hard! It’s amazing to watch, but do you ever feel like you should hold back because you know you’re going to have to talk?
HH: Nope… as a dancer I have learned to monitor my air intake and pace myself. I never put out more than my body can stand, even for audience sake. The whole running out of breath thing is more me getting old LOL. But I can regulate myself enough to get on the mic and scream and shout. If it means people think I have that extra boost of energy, then I did my job.
DA: What is/are your favorite aspects of performing in drag?
HH: Entertaining and hosting. I love interacting, I love making people laugh and feel involved. I also like them appreciating what I do, cause I do it for them. I could do your run of the mill Top 40 every week, but then how would people tell me apart from any other queen? So I like people giving me compliments cause I know I did my job.
DA: While preparing for a gig have you had a “fangirl” moment with any other queens who were booked alongside you?
HH: I’ve gotten to meet everyone I’ve fangirled over. Ivy, Morgan, Mayhem, Milk, etc. But I would like to get some one on one time with Miz Cracker and Evah Destruction. I have “Done the Most” each time I have met and worked with Raja. Almost near to tears because I worship the ground she walks on.
DA: Is your drag persona different from who you are, and if so in what ways?
HH: Hellen and Jon are like alter egos of each other. Hellen needs Jon for his business savvy and bringing girls to the learning world and Jon needs Hellen to feel confident and knows that he’s doing the best he can. Most people know that I am me in and out and I’m okay with that.
DA: Biggest pet peeve with audience members?
HH: Not paying attention. Like you are taking up valuable space in the front area where there are DRAG QUEENS performing. So be respectful and pay attention, get off your phone, quit dancing like it’s your moment, and know your limits.
DA: If you were on RuPaul’s Drag Race what kind of challenge do you think you’d win? What kind of challenge would likely land you in the bottom?
HH: I would kick butt at a dancing challenge for sure. I can take instruction well and I can give it my all. I think I would falter with a sewing challenge, because as of right now.. she doesn’t sew (laughs.)
DA: Do you have any drag children and if so, what are some of the main tips you’ve provided to them as they’re starting out?
HH: I CLAIM no children, but definitely have one on the way and have many proteges. I believe everyone needs to work hard for their own journey and can have mentors on the way as an alternative for a mother. Plus, I will never own up to being that old. However, I always try to tell my girls, be humble, enjoy the journey, don’t be a baby- work hard and get results, and love everything about yourself. I try to give them tough love, but at the end it is LOVE. And I tell them, pay their dues.
DA: If you have/had a drag mother what is the most valuable thing she taught you?
HH: My Drag Mentor was probably Katana Rei; she would give me tips, advice, and I would watch her do her make-up and tutorials (before EVERYONE was doing them). And as I moved into the Sac scene, I kind of adopted Taryn Thru-U as my drag mom. She is Hellen in some distorted version in this universe. Has the hosting chops, funny, creative, dances with technique, and is unapologetically herself through and through. And at the end of that hard rock… is a gem.
DA: What is your favorite story about your drag career?
HH: Well, I have 2. One is performing at Balancoire for a New Face competition against 11 other girls from SF. I was so nervous that I didn’t have the mug they had, the costumes they had, but most importantly the fans they had. I was from Stockton! And then I had to go like 13th. And I did my signature JLo number… and not only did the house treat me well, but I did my best performance to date. I felt like a legit celebrity…. also, I won.
And then last year I was asked to perform in Hawaii. They paid for my trip, my hotel stay for 5 days, and the crowd was amazing. I felt like SOMEBODY- and the group that brought me over treated me like family and I will forever be grateful and blessed for the experience.
DA: Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you would like people to know about you?
HH: My Sob Story: When I started out I had fun. Then I broke up with my bf at the time (who was also a queen) and the whole taking sides thing happened. I was also accused of being selfish, controlling, a saboteur, and many other names. Breaking it down: I was bullied by my own kind. I was the “other” and they ousted me from the group. I thought about giving up drag in that moment. I was called an ugly, forever 21 outfit, horrible performer and more. My ex had all the make-up, wigs, outfits etc. I had very little. My friend Kenia gave me some stuff, and I trudged along- broken heart and no sisterhood. I wasn’t having fun.
SO I started performing in Modesto. and thanks to Katalina Zambrano and the Brave Bull, I built myself up. And I went to Sacramento and started entering little free shows and getting a spot in a little show building up at a “Sidetrax Showcase Calendar Girls” I met some awesome little-known queens (Apple Adams, Presea Fearless, Mercury Rising, Mae Heffiman, Anita Procedure, and Zonique Johnson). And here we are now. We kept at it, and we are all successful in our ways, paving the way for others to come up.
The moral being, when they try to take you down, when they call you names, and they assume they know you… prove them wrong and work hard. Be the best you that you can be and if you can weather the storm, you will come out on top. I’m not saying I’m everyone’s cup of coffee… but that’s cause I like tea…
DA: If people would like to follow you on social media what platforms do you use and what are your names on those platforms?
HH: Hellen Heels on FB, and Instagram
DA: Where in the world are you located? If people would like to see you perform live are there particular clubs where you are usually booked, or do you have any shows you host or participate in regularly?
And they can see me regularly at:
Eves of Paradise at Paradise Nightclub every Thursday
Sidetrax Sunday Showcase on Sunday Nights
Faces for One Helluva Show on 3rd Sundays
The Slayground for 1st Sundays
And Cream Sundays on the 4th Sunday of the month
And of course, lots of others!
Written by contributor Rebecca Cave.