ENTERTAINMENT

Courtney Act Takes Us Under The Covers

From 'Australian Idol' to 'RuPaul's Drag Race', we chatted to one of Australia's most famous drag queens.

29/11/2017 8:21 AM AEDT | Updated 29/11/2017 8:28 AM AEDT
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"What day is it today?" Courtney Act asked, briefly pausing to remember which time zone she was in, "Monday?"

The confusion was warranted as Act has been travelling nonstop for basically the last four years. "I just got rid of my car in Los Angeles," she told HuffPost Australia, "I was like 'I'm never here, I don't need a car the three days a month I'm here' so I got rid of it."

But make no mistake, the blonde bombshell is anything but dim. Her brain is like a spreadsheet of dates, times and locations where she's appearing, factoids and trivia flow freely. "Dolly Parton wrote 'I Will Always Love You' as a breakup to her musical partner," she casually mentioned.

Act shot to Aussie fame when she auditioned twice for the first season of 'Australian Idol' once, unsuccessfully, as Shane Jenek. The second time she returned in full drag as Courtney and made it onto the show where she was 13th.

"First anything person, gay, queer, gender or drag in any 'Idol' franchise in the world," Act told HuffPost. "It was such a cool platform and it didn't feel like anything, I was just doing what I loved to do.

"It was cool that everybody felt the same way and went along with it and I got such great support from Dicko and the cast and crew and it allowed me to have the career I have today."

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Like all the trivia stored in her incredible brain, Act casually mentions the 'Idol' finale was the most-watched television event in Australia since Princess Diana's funeral.

A few years after her stint on 'Idol' Act sashayed into the workroom of 'RuPaul's Drag Race', which was just reaching its peak popularity and shift from cult-favourite to mainstream event.

"'Idol' took me from the gay bars of Oxford Street to the more mainstream world. 'Drag Race' is global. It just keeps growing, it's like a snowball."

Joining the sixth season of the show Act was one of the final three queens, and one of only two of the queens in her season to never be placed in the bottom two.

Since Act's season the show has continued to grow in popularity, with alumni of the series going on to various other industries.

"There are just over 100 'Drag Race' drag queens now, it's like we've surrounded pop culture. We've all joined hands and we're stepping inwards and inwards. There are 'Drag Race' girls in all aspects of the arts."

It's true, Just this month the winner of Act's season, Bianca Del Rio, brought her stand-comedy tour down under. Season Seven queens Katya and Trixie have just launched a TV series based on their popular YouTube videos on SBSViceland.

"It's funny, I feel like everybody's catching on to what I've always known," Act said. "For me drag has always been so much fun and such an amazing way to express yourself and your creativity outside the status quo. There are no rules in drag. It's weird that everybody gets it now."

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When it comes to Act there's no easy way to list everything she's currently doing. Post 'Drag Race' Act has been touring with two other queens, Alaska and Willam, in a trio they call the AAA Girls.

Act also routinely posts to social media, she's just started a cooking show on her YouTube channel, as well as doing vidoes for the likes of Junkee and MTV. She starred in her third reality show on MTV, 'Single AF', co-runs Wigs by Vanity -- specialty wigs made for drag queens by drag queens she founded with fellow Sydney queen Vanity Faire -- and is now gearing up for several solo shows as well as starring in 'Grease: The Arena Experience' next year.

"I've always loved 'Grease', John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in that movie are like the founding fathers of my childhood. I think I've only ever performed in an arena once before during the 'Idol' tour in 2004.

"To be doing a big arena spectacular is going to be really fun, there's 500 performers so it's like 'Grease' on steroids. Also I get to come on for three and a half minutes and sing one song. I'm basically Heather Locklear in 'Melrose Place'."

While the job may sound cushy, Act is also planning her first nationwide tour straight after her stint in 'Grease' with a new show, 'Under the Covers'.

"I've done shows in some states but this is the first time I've done a full tour. It feels like I'm arriving at the place I always wanted to be. I love performing live and doing cabaret, it's one of my favourite things."

Where 'Grease' has a cast of hundreds, 'Under the Covers' is a more intimate affair. "The show examines what goes on under the covers in our bedrooms, in our minds and in the layers society piles onto us," Act said. "Also all the songs are covers."

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For all that going on, Act still has time to do what she does best, using her platform to educate.

"The great thing about drag is it's so visual. I know that drag queens don't represent the queer community at large but they are highly visible representations because we have big hair, big shoes and tiny outfits.

"Not all drag queens are actively political but I think all drag is passively political because we're going against the status quo and what society said that you should do."

During the U.S. Presidential election Act began doing political explainers for Junkee Media, at one point she travelled to a nearby Trump rally in Connecticut in drag. Having lived in Los Angeles for years now Act attempted to make sense of the election for an Australian audience at home.

Then the tables were turned during the marriage equality postal survey, with Act on the other side of the world.

"It was funny because I had been through the gambit of emotions when America was going through it a couple of years ago. I remember before marriage equality passed [in the U.S.] I was very passionate about equality but I also didn't think that it affected me personally because I was like ho-hum about the concept of marriage.

It seemed like an antiquated, misogynistic institution based on ownership and oppression leftover from the yesteryears. But I also completely acknowledged that it was being used as a device to tell queer people that they were 'other' and not equal."

When it passed in the United States, Act realised the impact the decision had on her. "I just burst out crying alone in Mexico City airport. I didn't see it coming and didn't anticipate that it would have such a profound effect on me, I just knew that I had compartmentalised this part of myself.

"While I accepted myself and was proud of who I was and had the love and support of my friends and family, I hadn't even thought about a world where I was viewed as equal in the eyes of the law. It was then I realised it wasn't about marriage, it was about equality."

Watching the news happen from the States, Act knew from that how important the vote was for Australia.

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Courtney Act will star in 'Grease: The Arena Experience' from January 19 - 20, and will tour the country with her show 'Under the Covers' starting in February 2018.

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