By: Mikey Rox/TRT Special
As Pandora Boxx, Michael Steck stole the show on season two of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – even if he didn’t take home the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.
In a recent interview, the drag diva dishes about losing the catty reality competition, why second place is sometimes better than first, his stint as a “drag professor” on “RuPaul’s Drag U,” how to handle gay bullies, and falling in love with a man who loves him for who he is – Texas-sized wigs and all.
MIKEY ROX: Before certain interviews, I ask my Facebook friends if there’s anything they want to know about that person. It helps me gauge what the general public wants to read. The first question I got was about your name. So, let’s start there – why Pandora Boxx?
PANDORA BOXX: According to Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman ever created and she opened the forbidden box and let out all the evil unto the world, leaving only man’s hope inside. I thought the name conjured up so many images right away. You would never know what to expect with a name like that. I am also a huge Madonna fan, so Pandora and Madonna seemed similar to me.
MR: When you were eliminated from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,”Entertainment Weekly named you their pick for America’s Next Drag Superstar. Did that endorsement lift your spirits?
PB: It definitely did! We were shooting “RuPaul’s Drag U” while “Drag Race” was playing. That helped me be a little less upset too, because I was on another show.
MR: Why do you think they picked you for “Drag U?”
PB: I actually laughed at them when they called me and told me they wanted me to help come and style women. I said, “You want the one who got her style ripped to shreds to come and help style women now?” I found great humor in that. I think they picked me because of my sense of humor and that I was the nice one on “Drag Race,” and “Drag U” needed some nice queens who also realized they were making a television show.
MR: Had you won “Drag Race,” what do you think would have happened? And in your opinion, does finishing first give the winner a better shot at stardom than the runners-up? Look at “America’s Next Top Model,” for instance. Can anybody name a single winner from that show? I can’t. And from “American Idol,” several second-placers have bigger careers than those who took home the title. No offense to Tyra Sanchez, of course, but she won your season of “Drag Race” and I’ve never heard of her.
PB: I think that, like you said, all you have to do is look at other reality competition shows to know it’s not always the winner that gets the most attention. Now I think that getting kicked off may have actually been better for me. Although, winning that prize money would have been lovely.
MR: There’s a show on the Logo network that you’re probably familiar with, called “The A-List.” Recently, one of the characters, Derek, hosted a drag party and Reichen Lehmkuhl showed up looking, well, let’s just say, rather interesting. What advice would you give to those queens out there who end up looking less feminine and more Frankenstein when they dress in drag?
PB: I say fly your freak flag! If you can’t be a beauty queen, don’t even try. Drag is just about putting on something different than what you normally would wear. Campy drag is such fun. I love campy queens. I consider myself a campy queen, even if I go for a girlier look. For me, I just love beautiful woman who can be total goofballs too, like Goldie Hawn.
MR: You’re from Rochester, N.Y., and despite your national fame within the gay community, you still live there. Why haven’t you moved to Los Angeles or New York like the rest of the world’s homos?
PB: [Laughs] I’ve actually been traveling so much I haven’t had time to sit down and map out my move. I do plan to move but haven’t decided on whether it’s going to be L.A. or NYC. I’m kind of seeing where my life will take me next. But I’m not waiting around for something to happen. If you do that, well, you will end up waiting forever. You have to make it happen, girl.
MR: This past spring you wrote and starred in a play called “The Lipstick Massacre,” a sort of drag whodunit murder mystery. I was surprised to learn that you’re so multitalented. What else have you got up your sleeve that might shock people?
PB: I’m not too shabby at video games. [Laughs] Geek! But seriously, I’ve always written. It’s definitely something I love to do. I wrote my first play in the fifth grade and we put it on for my whole school. I also draw and paint, though I don’t do that as often anymore.
MR: I don’t want to bring down the mood, but with all the recent news of gay bullying associated with teen suicide, I think it’s important that we talk about these issues. As a drag performer, you’ve undoubtedly been the target of abuse – verbal or otherwise. Can you tell me about a hurtful experience and how you handled it?
PB: I certainly was a victim of bullying in school, almost every day. It’s tough. My heart goes out to anyone who is bullied. But it’s not just gay students. It’s fat students, it’s minority students, it’s anyone who doesn’t fit the “norm.” You just have to develop a tough skin and not let anyone bring you down. It’s tough to do and I don’t know if you can make it so the cruelty won’t hurt at all. It’s human to be hurt. No one said life would be easy, and it’s not. You just have to consider the source. Anyone who bullies and harasses is just an ignorant person. They are either ignorant because they don’t know any better or they are ignorant because they are scared of what they don’t understand or what they, in fact, are. You just have to think of that and rise above it. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
MR: I remember when Kevin Aviance was severely beaten a few years ago after leaving a nightclub in Manhattan – the last place you’d think something like that would happen. Are you ever afraid for your safety when you’re dressed in drag? Has that fear heightened now that more people recognize you?
PB: I always have been. I mean, I’m dressed up to look like a woman and women are victimized all the time. I’m usually very cautious and careful whenever I’m out. I keep my eyes open. I also try to have someone with me. It can be scary to think of what people can do to other people solely based on hatred or fear.
MR: What about your love life and dating? Has anyone ever reacted negatively after finding out that you’re a drag queen? I suspect that it’s a hard pill to swallow for even some of the most “open-minded, liberal” gays. Do you tell guys immediately if you meet them out of character?
PB: Drag queens are like car accidents – every wants to see one, but no one wants to be involved with one. It’s hard because people can’t see behind the drag image. Or they have a certain image of what a drag queen is. I know that people haven’t wanted to be involved with me because of drag. It is a lot to deal with sometimes. It’s a lot for me to deal with sometimes. Fortunately, I have been with my boyfriend for four and half years. The drag doesn’t bother him at all, and he’s also not into drag either. He’s always saying the people think he’s a “tranny chaser” or “drag sniffer.” He’s totally not. He’s not dating Pandora; he’s dating Michael.
MR: What’s your mission as a performer? Why Pandora instead of Michael?
PB: It was never really intended that way. I wanted to be an actor since I was five. I still consider myself more of an actor than a drag queen. Pandora just sort of happened and I went with it. I’d love to do more things as myself but right now she’s at the forefront and that’s cool.
MR: Where do you go from here?
PB: I’ve learned a lot these past few years and realized that you can be the master of your own destiny. You can really make things happen if you want them to. I really hope to continue to be able to share my talents with people and keep them entertained. I truly love making people laugh and would love to be able to keep being an entertainer for the rest of my life.
* Mikey Rox is an award-winning writer and journalist and the founder of Paper Rox Scissors, a copywriting and creative consulting company in New York City. He can be reached at www.paperroxscissors.com.