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Former film major T.K. Mays (a.k.a. Tiki Vonté) recently placed second in the St. Louis drag competition “Glitter to Gore.”
When T.K. Mays moved from Memphis to Webster University to pursue an education in film, theater and dance, Mays’ mother said she would support her child’s art no matter what. Little did she know Mays would start a drag career at Webster and quickly become one of St. Louis’ most sought after drag queens.
The St. Louis drag community knows Mays professionally as Tiki Vonté. In just under four years, Vonté went from amateur drag shows known as “discovery nights” at St. Louis-area dive bars such as Woodies, to co-hosting drag bingo at Grey Fox. Most recently, she placed second in Attitudes Nightclub’s competition “Glitter to Gore.”
Rydyr Reeves, a local drag king, hosted Vonté’s first performance, at Woodies bar in Soulard.
When Vonté put the lashes, the wig and the makeup on for the first time, Reeves and drag queen Helena Handbag sized up the new queen. Handbag never predicted the fledgling drag queen on stage would end up being her drag sister.
“I would have asked you what you were smoking,” Handbag said. “And if I could have some.”
Four years later, Reeves offered Vonté her first paid gig. Vonté credits her experience in the “Glitter to Gore” competition with helping her improve.
“Rydyr told me, ‘You know, you’ve been showing that you know what you’re doing now. You’ve grown a lot with the competition, so I’m going to start paying you,’” Vonté said. “And I was like, ‘wow, all my work is paying off.’”
Handbag said she’s proud to call Vonté her sister after watching her four-year transformation.
As Vonté progressed through the “Glitter to Gore” competition, the stakes went up. Vonté spent every week between competition nights thrifting. She needed new looks for her performances. She estimates she spent $400 on new looks in February alone.
As an amateur, Vonté said she got away with lower-effort looks. But, as the audience grew, people began expecting more. Vonté said that even if people don’t expect much from you, you want them to.
“I’m a princess. I have to look like a princess,” Vonté said.
Vonté describes her drag as banjee girl meets mermaid princess. Long braids, denim shorts and Timberland heels mix with blue lips and iridescent pearls.
Vonté credits the girls she grew up with in Memphis for inspiring the banjee aspect of her drag.
“If I were to walk down the street wearing this, could I see someone wearing this?” Vonté asked herself. “If I can see it, then I’m doing it right.”
When it comes to the makeup, however, Vonté thinks of a different person.
“I look exactly like my mom,” Vonté said. “So when I put makeup on, it’s her face. If my mom wouldn’t look good in this, I wouldn’t look good in this.”
Vonté said her mother’s approval has become extremely important to her. Throughout “Glitter to Gore,” Vonté sent her mother video clips of her performances and asked for advice. Her mother sent back detailed notes. Vonté said her mother wants her to be good at whatever she does, even if it’s drag.
In one text, Vonté sent her mother a photo of an upcoming look.
“You’re so creative,” Vonté’s mother responded. “Glad you got that Pisces spirit from your father … cause I am not.”
“My mom told me if I’m going to be a performer, then I have to take it seriously,” Vonté said. “She’ll support me no matter what it is, but I have to be good at it.”
Vonté’s mother is her best friend. While her mother didn’t understand her drag at first, her validation now means a lot to Vonté.
Vonté said the fantasy aspect of her drag came the most naturally. She doesn’t think of the girls back home for inspiration. She thinks of herself.
“I’ve always claimed to be a mermaid princess,” Vonté said. “So, if I am, then Tiki has to be.”
The fantasy aspect of Vonté’s drag is represented more on a local level than a national level, according to Vonté. Even though RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced Vonté to the world of drag, she worries about the polished brand queens who go on the show must adhere to.
Vonté said there’s more to her drag than polished high glam.
In a recent performance, Vonté emulated the gore aspect of “Glitter to Gore.” She “gave birth” to a doll, named Kiki Vonté, and then sacrificed her to ensure her top-two placement in the competition.
Vonté said she wants to see how far she can take her drag in the St. Louis scene before auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. She didn’t feel ready to audition for the upcoming season 12.
“You can be a successful drag queen without going on the show,” Vonté said.
However, Vonté still plans to take a stab at the show that inspired her. Like “Glitter to Gore,” RuPaul’s Drag Race could open many doors for Vonté. Queens who compete on Drag Race, like Kansas City’s Monique Heart, participate in worldwide tours after their seasons air. Rupaul rewards winners of the show with a check for $100,000.
“I want to see how far I can take it,” Vonté said. “I’m a very all or nothing person.”
This all-or-nothing attitude led to Vonté’s withdrawal from classes at Webster University. According to Vonté, the pressures from school, work and drag were too much to handle. She’s not sure whether she’ll return to Webster. She watched her drag sister, Webster student Moxxi Mayhem, struggle to find time for both drag and school.
Mayhem, who also competed in “Glitter to Gore,” said he had to finish writing papers before preparing for shows.
“You have to work to buy drag unless you just have money,” Vonté said. “I’ve seen Moxxi struggle to either do well in drag or do well in school. It’s tiring.”
According to Handbag, the break from school has improved Vonté’s drag significantly. Handbag cited Vonté’s doll sacrifice performance as a new caliber of drag for Vonté.
“To think from the bloody mess she was that night to the hot mess she was three or four years ago, she has evolved,” Handbag said. “I still owe her a large tip for that performance.”
“Glitter to Gore” is over, but Vonté plans to use this semester away from school to continue improving her drag. She also supports Webster students who are interested in drag.
“Just do it,” Vonté said. “Start somewhere, and the rest will fall in place.”