Photos by Courtney Lindberg
These aren’t drag queens—they’re a force of nature. The ‘ladies’ of rock outfit Tranzkuntinental are like nothing you’ve seen before, particularly when they’re rioting and writhing onstage with a microphone in hand. Created by L.A. glam-revue pioneers Xander Smith and Charlie Paulson—of Club Makeup and Club Cherry—a TranzK show wows you with songs of yesterday and today, performed with a rocking live band and an all-star roster of L.A. drag queens delivering the vocals.
Frontiers shot these scream queens at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (also the site of The Center’s legendary Halloweenie party on Oct. 28), and sat down with the five queens—and Paulson, the group’s surrogate father—to discuss how the group was formed, their most memorable performances and what an audience can expect from a live TranzK show.
How did each of you originally become involved with Tranzkuntinental?
Willam Belli: They had a check, so I had a talent! But I knew the guitarist and bassist from when I did Club Makeup at the El Rey years ago.
Rhea Litré: I moved up to L.A. for American Idol Season 2. After being eliminated, I was a little discouraged and quit singing. After hearing about TranzK through Detox, I begged her to get me an audition. I felt like I had won American Idol when I was accepted into the band. There's so much I've learned from this cast.
Charlie Paulson: Xander, the other guitarist, and I were in the original Club Makeup house band from 2000-2003. That's where we met Willam. After the end of Club Makeup, Xander and I focused on our 'serious' bands—Goldfinger and, for Xander, Run, Run, Run. A few years later, Xander got a call from Goldenvoice saying they had a band coming through town that was specifically requesting a fun cover band to open for them. Whoever called was an old Club Makeup fan and asked if we could get the band back together for a couple shows. Xander turned the offer down, then called to tell me about it. After talking for awhile, we decided we couldn't think of a good reason we shouldn't do the shows. The band turned out to be Passion Pit, and the shows were all sold-out. The next day, Passion Pit's Facebook and Myspace accounts were full of comments asking, "Who the f*ck was that tranny band?" Between that and the fun we had, we decided we might be onto something.
Kelly Mantle: I performed with Club Makeup back in the day—at the ripe age of 113—and I've also recorded and toured with my own band. So when Tranzkuntinental was forming, Momma, Xander and Charlie asked me to be a part of it.
Vicky Vox: They were looking for a soul singing queen, and I tried to convince them that fat is the same as black!
Detox: I was brought in by Momma after Alexis Arquette told her about me. I've been in the group since the first show at The Roxy in 2009.
What kind of feedback have you all received since starting to perform as a group?
WB: Many straight audience guys say that I'm the one that they'd f*ck if they had to choose one of the five girls after the show. And I only take pictures with people who buy me beer after shows. (Sidenote: I get wasted. All the girls in the band are really good at drinking.)
RL: I've met some really awesome people through TranzK that have supported everything I do. TranzK caters to a completely different demographic—we're playing for rock 'n roll metal heads. It's not the easiest, but every time we have them at their feet—especially when Willam straps on those silicone tits!
CP: Let me put it this way—straight men are starting to show up dressed as their favorite queen. It's like the queens are KISS. Although sometimes when we open for Steel Panther we'll run into the confused or angry Orange County 'bro' crowd.
KM: To go to rehab and get therapy.
VV: Other than telling me to go solo, the response has been out of control in such a great way! People seem to be surprised that a drag queen can actually sing! We are changing children's lives!
D: It's been great working with all of my friends and being able to feed off each other in a completely different arena than usual—and I love that the audience that sees us with TranzK is a completely different audience than who sees us regularly.
How do the gigs with Tranzkuntinental differ from other gigs?
WB: TranzK is my favorite thing to do in front of people with clothes on. Plus I get to play my saxophone for any sax solos. ("Superfreak," "Edge of Glory," etc.)
RL: There's nothing like playing live, singing your ass off and people living for it—any queen can lip sync to a song. What TranzK gives is real, live entertainment and vocals that rival any band on the radio.
KM: I think one of the coolest things about a TranzK gig is to look out into the audience and see a complete mix of people (gay, lesbian, straight and trans) all rockin' out together, as it should be. That brings me a lot of personal satisfaction. I also get lots of personal satisfaction out of touching myself, and I get to touch myself a lot onstage at a TranzK gig.
VV: The audience is as diverse as we are! We get thugs, twinks, drunk white girls, soccer moms. I love that the energy they give is so much more electric than in most clubs. You can really feel that they are there for you and not just there to cruise the bathrooms.
D: Honestly, much more time goes in to TranzK performances—obviously with rehearsals and what not, but especially because in my normal gigs I have complete control over what I perform. That's not necessarily the case with TranzK. So I'm constantly forced to press myself to do things I would not normally do. I love to push myself.
Do you have any particularly memorable performances?
WB: Having my straight teamster of an uncle come out to L.A. from Philly and have a kick-ass time while hearing me nail AC/DC's "Highway to Hell vs. Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was awesome. My family is open-minded and always supports me, but seeing him actually enjoy a bunch of cross-dressers on his vacation was supreme for me.
RL: Detox and I did a whole "Rehab/ Smooth Criminal/ Jailhouse Rock" set where we made out and she spit into my mouth on stage. If that's not entertainment, I dont know what is!
KM: I'd have to say one of my favorites was performing at OC Pride, because we were right next door to a Kenny Chesney concert and our stage was a converted double-wide trailer. It was very Hedwig and the Angry Trailerpark Bitch.
VV: Absolutely! We were at the House of Blues on Sunset—the band gave every song a new life. We were doing our closing song, and everyone was onstage. There were these three douchebags in the middle of the ocean of an audience, and they wouldn't uncross their arms or crack a smile and enjoy themselves. We took it upon ourselves to call them out, and the entire audience let them know that it was OK to let it show that they were having a good time and were probably turned on! Like I said, we are changing lives here! We break down walls every day!
D: My first show I was sick as f*ck! I ended up going in to the hospital with asthma problems the next day—but I had so much fun, even though I thought I was going to die. [Laughs] I also loved our latest show for Orange County Pride. I was finally able to do "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn, and the officials were trying to cut the show off before I could do it, but I stormed the stage and did the song. I had a mini emotional breakdown after because it was pretty great. [Laughs]
Do each of you have favorite numbers to perform?
WB: The "Born This Way/ Express Yourself" mashup is my fave to perform. Every girl in the band has sung it at some point, but I really love it because I make it sound the whoriest.
RL: I really can't pick a favorite number that i do. I love rocking out, whatever the song might be, but I am super stoked about premiering "Whole Lotta Love" on the main stage at The West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. Watch Out Adam Lambert—I'm coming for your cover!
KM: My favorite number to perform is "Cherry Bomb The Pain Away." It's a mashup of The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and Peaches' "F*ck The Pain Away." I think it's the cat's ass!
VV: This is such a pageant answer, but I love them all! I can always look out and see someone singing along. Or I just look at any one of the sexy band members and remember how blessed I am to be a part of something so bad-ass!
D: With TranzK I really love doing "Like a Virgin/ Closer," because I get to yell and be nasty—and anytime I get to do Robyn I piss for it!
What can readers expect from a live Tranzkuntinental show?
WB: Picture RuPaul raising five drag queen Pussycat Dolls that are then sold into sex slavery to Tommy Lee. It's also a lot like Seaworld. The girls are serving fish and there's a splash zone.
RL: Expect the unexpected. We are visual, gorgeous, talented—we'll kick your ass and perform fellatio at the same time.
KM: To get rocked, shocked, cocked 'n loaded!
VV: They can expect to be scared by some things and turned on by others—but mostly they will be part of a show they won't soon forget!
D: A lot of nudity and a lot of spunk—from me at least!
This queen has called L.A. home since 2008, when she immediately started to take over! You can see her in countless music videos, TV appearances, films—and brothels. Catch Detox every Friday night at Hamburger Mary’s in WeHo, or as Cristal Connors in the new, all-drag adaptation of Showgirls. Showgirls in Drag, which also stars Willam Belli and Vicky Vox, runs Wednesday nights at Dragonfly in Hollywood.
The baby drag of the group, Vicky hails from New Jersey and has only lived in L.A. for three years, but she’s already making her mark. A performer since the age of 9, Vicky has toured nationally and internationally with stage shows, but is a singer/songwriter at heart. Catch Vicky everywhere from Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood to gigs at Home in Silver Lake, the Roosevelt Hotel and Dragonfly in Hollywood.
Willam started performing at 13 in The Rocky Horror Picture Show back in Philadelphia, but since then you’ve caught him crossdressing in the hit show Nip/Tuck (as Cherry Peck), in pre-Broadway runs of Rock of Ages (and set to appear in the upcoming film) and as J-Woww in Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera. His list of film and TV credits is nothing short of staggering, much like his snarky wit. In addition to his various onstage performances, Willam also hosts Legendary Bingo in L.A.
For those who consider Los Angeles nightlife home, Rhea Litré is no stranger. This drag beauty hosts some of WeHo’s most popular and frenetic parties, including Stripper Circus, Sanctuary and the new Hooker Casino. Born and raised in San Diego, Rhea has called L.A. home since graduating from high school, performing her very first drag number at Oasis Nightclub’s Drag Idol in Upland. Keep an eye out for this one while imbibing on the streets of West Hollywood.
An Oklahoma native, Kelly has been performing in drag since the age of 5. You may have seen Kelly in various guest-starring television roles or in the live one-person show, The Confusion of My Illusion, or perhaps heard one of her three solo albums. An actor, comedian, singer, songwriter and musician who has entertained audiences worldwide, there’s nothing that Kelly Mantle can’t do.