Riley Poppyseed’s youth wasn’t filled with many summer camp adventures.
The Columbus, Ohio, drag king remembers going to band camp in high school and Girl Scout camp (even though he wasn’t a Girl Scout) for four days because his mother wanted him to get out of the house for a little while. That was the extent of his childhood outdoor getaways. But last October, Poppyseed embraced new summer camp memories and traveled to the Wisconsin lakeside for two weeks to compete against drag artists from all across the United States for the title of King/Queen/Sovereign of Camp.
Poppyseed was inspired to audition for Camp Wannakiki, a YouTube drag reality show now in its fifth season, by nonbinary drag performer Clinica Deprecious, his Columbus “drag partner in crime.” Deprecious won the fourth season of the show, which challenges performers to endure a real summer camp experience.
Last April, after progressing through a few virtual interviews, Poppyseed traveled to the Austin International Drag Festival in Texas to audition for the show live. There, he showcased his often comedic drag that features smooth dance moves and expressive, captivating lip syncing.
Through his virtual and in-person auditions, he captured the show’s producers’ attention with his unique look. Poppyseed blends masculine and feminine styles, often donning blazers, leather or funky character costumes. He chisels his face through makeup by highlighting strong cheekbones and dark eyebrows and facial hair.
While at the festival, he struck up a conversation with another Black drag king auditioning for the show, and realized that if he made it onto the series, he would be the first Black drag king on a drag reality show. That genre includes tentpole RuPaul’s Drag Race, which notoriously has not cast a drag king on its flagship show or any of its many spinoffs.
“I was watching, like, every drag competition to see if there was a Black drag king that popped up, and it never happened,” Poppyseed says.
‘Anything is possible’
Shortly after the audition, Poppyseed learned that he’d made it onto Camp Wannakiki. “I’m actually kind of making queer Black history,” he remembers thinking.
Although he admits he can be hard on himself and sometimes finds it challenging to feel proud of what he’s accomplished, he realizes the significance of his place on the show. “Anything is possible, even for people like me.”
Before production started, Poppyseed was nervous he wouldn’t make it far in the competition. “The show has gotten rid of their kings early on for other seasons. And so I was very nervous about that.” But he broke through that precedent.
For two weeks, Poppyseed participated in various challenges and competed in nightly talent shows. A showstopping look that involved painting his skin, tongue and teeth green and attaching horns to his forehead made him the second king in the series to win a talent show. His skill and grit helped him become the first king in the series to make it into the top five later on.
Kings of all kinds
Poppyseed’s appearance in the series brings him hope for increased representation of drag kings. Though he’s been a staple in the Columbus drag scene for more than five years, Poppyseed’s journey hasn’t always been easy. He struggled to secure regular gigs and earn recognition early on. It took nearly three years for him to fully make a name for himself and receive opportunities to showcase his art.
Despite seeing progress with some drag-king friends hosting their own shows, Poppyseed acknowledges there’s still a long way to go before kings will earn the same acclaim as drag queens.
“There are queens out here that just started, and they’re in mainstage production shows and have their own shows and stuff like that. It’s a lot harder for kings, and I feel like especially POC kings, to have those kinds of opportunities,” he shares. “People still aren’t appreciating kings like they should … I don’t know why we’re still kind of in this mindset that drag kings are boring. There are so many different kinds, and we do so many different things.”
Poppyseed’s captivating performances and avant-garde looks challenge stereotypes within the drag community. He showcases that every flavor of talent deserves its spotlight, while advocating for his fellow drag kings. “We’re just as entertaining as the drag queens.” 🔥
- The fifth season of Camp Wannakiki is available on YouTube. Go watch it now!
- Follow Riley Poppyseed on Instagram.
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