While many drag queens make their splashes during the holiday season or during the steamy summer Pride season, New York City’s Selma Nilla can now be considered the unofficial queen of…Thanksgiving? The self-proclaimed “undercooked and over-consumed” performer premiered her YouTube series Cluck That during the very different looking Thanksgiving season, to rave reviews. I sat down to chat with Nilla about her start in the New York City drag scene (which started to peak at the same time the pandemic did), her trailblazing drag mother, & what this delicious performer has cooking for 2021!
Michael Cook: Tell me; how was Selma Nilla born and how did you kick off your drag career?
Selma Nilla: I’m an actor, singer, dancer, hair stylist and make up artist by trade, so when I found out drag was a combination of all my passions, I slapped on a lash, slid on a pump, and the rest was history. I entered a competition two and a half years ago called the Ultimate Drag Pageant when I first moved to New York. It was two months long and we had to bring new looks and numbers each week. I won that competition and it jump started my drag career here in the city.
MC: At what point did you know it was more than a hobby?
SN: For the longest time, it felt like a hobby because I only had one weekly show at the West End Lounge, and to pay the bills, I worked on Broadway as a Wig Stylist. Working on Broadway is a dream come true, but performing is in my blood. So after months of guesting, filling in for queens, and hustling around the city, I finally got two more weekly shows. It felt like I was working my way into doing drag full time, and then Covid-19 hit. The pandemic didn’t deter me from pursuing drag, however. It made me pivot to an online platform and in turn, had some of the best opportunities to date! Everything happens for a reason.
MC: You got a significant amount of attention during a brief appearance on Rachael Ray Show where you got to ask RuPaul a question live! What was that like? Think you made a lasting impression?
SN: That truly was wild; I was incredibly nervous. Two of my idols standing right in front of me. I had been watching RuPaul and Rachael respectively since I was a kid, but it was really fun, and I am glad I was able to be apart of that segment! I turned my anxiousness to excitement- how often do you get to ask advice from two people you look up to and respect?
MC: The question must be asked; any interest in possibly doing a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
MC: Your drag mother is Marti Gould Cummings. How did that come to be and what are you learning the most from them?
SN: Marti was actually the judge for the Ultimate Drag Pageant and after the competition, we developed a friendship and mutual respect. About a year into my time here in New York, Marti asked me to be their drag daughter. They have truly taken me under their wing and taught me about the business, has given me loads of amazing opportunities, and is someone I can always go to for advice. Marti inspires me to work hard, get involved politically, and to make a difference in the world.
MC: You styled their hair for a recent profile in W Magazine! What was that experience like?
SN: When Marti asked me to style their hair for Vogue and W Magazine, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I never thought my work would be published at that scale. Marti looked gorgeous and it was an honor. I will always be so grateful to Marti for the opportunities they’ve given me.
MC: Tell me about Cluck That!; you are saving Thanksgiving for many of us who are doing it solo. What inspired you to do the series?
Cluck That! is a love child born from my passion of food and drag. I’ve been watching Food Network for fun since I was child – some kids watched cartoons, I turned on Ina Garten. My mom went to the Culinary Institute of America so she taught me how to cook throughout the years. Having a cooking segment was always on the back burner of things I wanted to do and when we went into lockdown, I found myself cooking more than usual. One day I thought, why not get in drag and see what happens in the kitchen?
I fell in love with the process. I fell more in love with cooking, editing, and creating. It has kept me productive, pushed me creatively, and filled so much time during the long days of our initial lock down. Filming Cluck That! has not only taught me that I’m a better cook than I thought, but it has also taught me how to be myself in front of a camera. And I find that is a really hard skill to master. I am always learning, growing, and honing my craft, and I can’t wait to keep cooking for you guys! Also shout out to my roommate Erik Keiser who films with me for hours on end. He makes the process that much easier!
MC: What’s next for Selma Nilla?
SN: There is some very exciting stuff happening in the new year which I can’t talk about just yet, but trust me, you haven’t heard the last of Selma Nilla! Tune into my YouTube every Wednesday for brand new episodes of Cluck That!
— WWHL (@BravoWWHL) May 6, 2020
MC: How have you stayed inspired and creative during this time?
SN: I’m not going to lie, it has been a struggle. Sometimes I want to lay in bed all day watching Tik Toks or playing Fortnite. But at the end of the day, I am a creative soul, always have been, always will be. I am always rhinestoning something, coming up with new recipes, styling hair, etc. It’s my nature to be productive and artistic. Drag allows me to express myself and BE myself. I have really struggled with anxiety and depression, even more so in the past eight months, but when I sit down to start my makeup, I forget about everything else. I do drag to bring joy to others, but more importantly, I do it to keep myself sane, and on the right track. It allows me to set goals for myself and push myself to keep learning and growing as an artist. Drag has and will continue to save my life, and I hope my passion and creativity will inspire others to help make the world a more colorful, compassionate, and beautiful
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