As PRIDE weekend rolls through Houston, Discovery Green is party central. Friday night, the popular entertainment showcase Rainbow on the Green makes its return, bringing with it entertainment by Chad Michaels and OneUp, along with some of Houston’s best drag performers. In a show that blends old-school hits with contemporary tunes, audiences can see local drag queens Roxanne Collins as Tina Turner, Mya Jackson Ross as Beyoncé, Janet Andrews as Janet Jackson, Linda Crawford as Jennifer Lopez, and Leilani Jackson Ross as Donna Summers take to the stage. They’ll be joined by Bollywood dancers from Moksh Community Arts. The celebration also includes a fashion show spotlighting creations by Yahaira DeHill, who uses recycled plastic, recycled paper and other repurposed household items in her designs.
Roxanne Collins, a drag queen who’s been seen on Houston stages for 29 years, chatted with Houstonia about her work, what to expect from the show, and why Tina Tuner endures.
How did you choose your stage name?
When I first started—all those years ago—I was very into Madonna. And I said, I want a name that’s like Madonna, just one name and people know who it is. And I came up with Roxanne. But then I needed a last name. So, I was always a fan of Joan Collins, and that was it. Roxanne Collins.
How have you watched the drag landscape change since you started?
It wasn’t mainstream, it wasn’t on television. If you didn’t come to the clubs, you didn’t know about the shows. It was different, and you really had to cut your teeth as a performer. You really had to pay attention to the small things as far as costuming and putting yourself together. And you really had to entertain. I saw that change in the mid-1990s, that’s when a lot of the transsexual entertainers started to get bigger. Earlier, it was drag. Then, in 2000, it kinda started to die out a little bit.
And then, the RuPaul’s Drag Race happened, and a resurgence happened. Nowadays, if you’ve been doing shows for five years, you’re considered a veteran. Right now, in some bedroom somewhere in America, there’s a 16-year-old putting themselves together, getting ready. By the time they come out, they already have YouTube tutorials, and they have these big wigs and the costumes. They have all those things, whereas when we started all those years ago, it took you five years just to get your makeup right. It took you 10 years to get a good costume or the right person to fix your hair. Now, they come out, from their very first show, put together like a seasoned veteran. And if they have any kind of talent–boom!—five months later, they have their own show somewhere. They’re doing all these things that took us five, 10 years to do, in six months.
Is that good or bad?
It’s both. It’s a sign of the times. When it first started happening, my contemporaries and I were like, it’ll die out. But it’s not going to die out. So, therefore, yeah, five years in, you are a veteran performer. And six years in, you might not have a career anymore because there’s always a new person coming. Every six months, every year, there’s like 20 new girls. Houston has easily between 100 and 200 drag queens. And 90 percent of those just started in the last two to three years. And so, you have veterans like myself still hanging on, still performing, still doing our thing. It’s crazy.
Rainbow on the Green has been around for a few years, but this is your first time performing in the show. How did you come to be part of it?
I’ll be honest. When the Pride celebration got so big that it moved off of Montrose, a lot of us older ones, we were averse to the change, and I really hadn’t participated in a lot since then. For me, it didn’t feel like the same community event that it was. You know, sometimes when you get older, change is hard to accept. But then, you know, you poke around and you see what’s going on and you’re like, oh, this is a good thing.
When I started seeing the Rainbow on the Green show on the main stage and the entertainers and the way the crowd was—as an entertainer, you love a good crowd like that. So, as a celebrity impersonator who does Tina Turner and Chaka Khan, Tina thrives on those kinds of audiences. And I said, oh, I have to be part of that show. I absolute have to. This year, they wanted to do an old-school-new-school vibe. I’d recently competed in the Miss Gay Pride Houston Pageant, and I won, which was surprising, all these years later. But for my talent, I recreated the moment in the Grammy Awards where Beyoncé introduced Tina Turner. I told a friend who works for Discovery Green about that, and as soon as she found out what they wanted to do for this year’s show, she said, "I know someone who’d be perfect."
And you’re bringing that to Rainbow on the Green, too, right?
Yes. Mya Jackson Ross performs as Beyoncé. She is young, and she’s beautiful, and she has that Beyoncé innocence and that intensity about her. When I was putting my talent together for the pageant, I knew I wanted to work with her, and she was the only one I wanted to re-create the Beyoncé part. She knocked it out of the park, so I know she is going to be amazing. We’re very excited to be bringing it to a large crowd like this.
Talk about playing Tina Turner. When did you start? And what about Tina Turner draws you to want to re-create her? Why do you think people still go wild for her?
I think it’s because she’s an entertainer and she wants to see that look on your face, like you’re having a good time. She wants to smile, she wants you to laugh, she wants you to have a good time. And that’s infectious. When I was in the ninth grade, I’d make my homeroom class laugh by being Tina Turner. And I never knew that I’d end up doing that as a profession. Then, during her Wildest Dreams tour, Hanes pantyhose had an international competition to find the best Tina. And everybody was telling me to enter, and one of the prizes was you go to go backstage and meet Tina Turner. I entered, and there was this contest at the Memorial City Mall, and I ended up winning. I got to go backstage and meet her! I always tell people that impersonating Tina Turner isn’t about the look. It’s how you interpret her energy and how you give that back to the audience.
What are you performing?
Beyoncé comes on with the intro, and I’m coming out to "Simply the Best" and then into "Let’s Stay Together." Those are my two favorite songs of hers to perform.
What should people expect from this performance?
The main thing I’d tell anybody, straight, gay, young or old, the main thing for me and for my shows is, you have to come prepared to have a good time. You can’t come with a “show me what you got” attitude. You have to come like, I don’t care what happens, I’m going to have fun. And with my performances of Tina, you can’t just sit there are watch me. You’re going to be up dancing, having a good time, singing along. I want you to feel like I’m actually her and you’re watching her in concert. I want you to be interactive, go crazy, scream, have a good time.
Rainbow on the Green, June 21. Free. Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St. More info at discoverygreen.com.