Judy Darling swooped into the New York City drag scene several years ago, and like Endora from “Bewtiched” herself, she kept audiences spellbound with her patented and bewitching and brand of performance. Suddenly though, Ms. Darling had vanished. As she has emerged from her self-imposed and much needed respite, Darling spoke with me exclusively about her return. From why she left the scene to the beyond valuable lessons she learned during her downtime, Judy Darling has plenty to share with her loyal fans. Prepare to continue to watch this “Witch On The Rise’ continue her stratospheric ascent.
Michael Cook: Judy, you were one of the most prolific queens in New York City and then you stepped out of the limelight. Where did you go?
Judy Darling: Oh, my Gods! I feel like the word “prolific” just gave me a Lady-boner, let’s first acknowledge that. (insert Witch’s cackle.) That’s very kind of you to say. I did feel like I was someone who came up relatively fast in the drag scene and was very lucky to find many homes at some of the best venues in New York City.
I did step away from the limelight for a spell, in a way I had to. I had an electrical fire in August 2017. Thankfully, no real people or animals were physically harmed, but unfortunately for Judy Darling, it proved firsthand that drag is very, very flammable. Judy was basically kindling. Ironically when the fire broke out, I was at the gym with my friends Milk and Danny. I happened to be wearing a graphic shirt with a picture of a tarot card on it. The image was the Death card which in tarot is a symbol of rebirth, and that day I had a baptism by fire; I was reborn.
MC: Was walking away from the limelight a difficult decision? Other queens have tried to do it and for one reason or another, have not made the choice or been able to pull away totally.
JD: I honestly believe if I hadn’t stepped away, I wouldn’t have made it; in many ways it felt like life or death. It was a very hard decision to step away. I felt I was giving up a lot of opportunities, but if I had stayed I would have broken, mentally or physically-or both simultaneously. Healing is a process, not an event. Despite every fiber of my Capricorn being, I could not make myself heal more quickly than I was ready to. I was battling severe depression before my fire. I was stuck in the spiderweb of compare & despair that a lot of artists can find themselves ensnared in. The drag scene in NYC is filled with legendary talent and it becomes tempting to emulate the seemingly tried and true approach that many appear to have found success with. I got stuck in a routine as a way of coping, for me, my life was formulaic as a way of survival. While my career was growing, the workload wasn’t making me happy, it was giving me anxiety. It took having a fire for me to understand that doing what I want to do is perfectly alright.
In life, we might pray for a window where there’s a wall… it becomes our duty to be ready to go through whatever opening our Higher Power “HP” gives us. In my case, I asked for a window and my HP knocked down the entire wall. All I had to do was be brave enough to walk through the other side.
MC: What was it like being away from the NYC drag scene? Did you keep up with the goings-on and in touch with some of your sisters?
JD: I kept in touch with friends as schedules permit, but as you know a Drag Queen’s dance card is often pretty full. Really, I was utilizing my break to recharge and rest up. I did have some relationships slip further away than I would have wished them but one of my favorite quotes my Drag Mama taught me is, “Man’s rejection is God’s protection.” So I used my break as kind of a palette cleanser. Before the fire, I was so worried about promoting and making Judy Darling be this thing. I had goals for this platform but they were confused and ambiguous and my work reflected that. I felt I had plateaued in my career and in a lot of my relationships; it felt stagnant and suffocating. My break was my reset, now I’m ready to impress the outside world, but this time I am impressing myself first. Also, I hope when I get to reaffirm these relationships that have gone neglected, I’m able to show myself in a way that’s more inviting. More jovial. More grateful for the opportunity to just be apart of this crazy business we call show.
MC: What Is the biggest lesson that the last year has taught you?
JD: The Biggest?! And just one?! Here are a few I find noteworthy:
Unapologetically be yourself.
Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Feel your feelings and yourself.
Do things that bring you endless joy.
Know why you’re doing something, what are your motives?
Enjoy the journey towards your goals – it’s about having fun on your way up the monkey bars before you even learn how to swing.
Eyebrows are important.
MC: How does it feel to be back on the scene and getting so much love from your community?
JD: It’s humbling, affirming. It fills me with endless gratitude. It really feels like a new chapter. As we’ve said, not everyone can leave the limelight and come back to have their Dolly Levi moment on the staircase. When I’m on stage I feel more at home than I feel in most places in my life, so the amount of love I feel from the people who enjoy my performances is something I can’t express fully. It feels as if I’m able to attend the party and not just show up to work it. For the first time in a long time, Judy is able to let her hair down. Because Coleman is happy, Judy can radiate from that joy.
MC: What is different for you with the past year in the rearview mirror?
JD: I have a clearer GPS system this time around. What I’ve lived through in the last year and a half has not only helped define who I am as an artist, but who I am as a human being and I feel proud to say that I’ve elevated to a higher vibration. Are you tingling? I know I am.
MC: What keeps inspiring you today and going forward?
JD: The idea of being able to combine my witchy side with what I do as a performer really inspires me. I’m currently developing a project — one of many — where I’ll be collaborating with artists that I love, respect and feel deserve to be seen by the world. It’s a very ambitious show cycle which celebrates the wheel of the year. I’m in the process of assembling a team and writing a grant to help make this ever-evolving dream into a reality.
I’m very inspired by traveling and seeing the world and love that my work can help facilitate that. I have some Judy tours in the works. I’ve been creating more online content which really excites me and will hopefully introducing Judy to a broader audience.
More than anything, I’m inspired by the fact I’m living my childhood dreams. I get to wake up every day a working performing and a real-life Witch, there’s nothing more magical than that. Gratitude inspires me. I feel we’re at a time in history where we are in need of Healers and that’s what I hope to do, not only with my magic but with my art and queerness.