As a young person, Jinkx Monsoon (born Jerick Hoffer), grew up poor and without many friends. But the soon-to-be-larger-than-life drag queen turned, perhaps surprisingly, to classical music as a safe space for creative inquiry. Monsoon says that, as a “visibly queer” kid, the heady genre provided unique ground to explore. But life, in all its twists, can be ironic. Sometimes those of us who are most alone, focused on craft, become the ones, later in life, with the most attention from the outside. Monsoon, who would go on to win the fifth season of the famed television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, is now a world-famous performer. Caterpillars do become butterflies. And the artist’s bright colors shine on her latest holiday album (out December 11th) and film (out December 1st) with longtime drag-compatriot, BenDeLaCreme, The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special.
“The first music I ever bought myself at maybe nine-years-old was Carmen Suite [ballet] on cassette,” Monsoon says. “I was obsessed with that. Then, in my teens, I started really diving into older music like Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline and the B-52’s. Shortly after I came out, I discovered Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls and Regina Spektor. That’s when I really found my musical voice.”
Monsoon can truly sing. While she’s funny and clever, that’s not what carries her to the proverbial finish line. That’s merely the gravy. Monsoon can belt a song and hold vibrato, which makes her quirky, self-deprecating lyrics all that more compelling. Even as a young person, Monsoon’s voice was recognized by family members. They’d ask to hear Disney movie songs at parties and while, as a kid, that would make Monsoon “clam up,” music continued to be important. In adolescence, Monsoon spent time at a youth center for queer teenagers and these formative years helped mold the work she does today in both entertainment and activism.
“I’m very passionate about my advocacy work,” Monsoon says. “It’s my goal to make the world better for everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, people of all colors and various backgrounds. I set that responsibility for myself and that means continuously being open to evolving and adapting and updating language and terminology to make sure when I’m conveying my message it’s a message I believe in and want to promote.”
Monsoon, who has worked with RuPaul’s Drag Race season six “Miss Congeniality” winner and fellow Pacific Northwesterner, BenDeLaCreme, often for over a decade, says she began cultivating her formal drag persona at around fourteen-years-old. At the time, she was playing a male “village idiot” role in a ballet performance. But, she says, she was secretly studying the part for Mother Simone, or the female, “wicked witch” comedic part, which included a big clog dance in the middle of the show. When one of the actors playing Mother Simone had to drop out, Monsoon jumped in. She hasn’t stopped since.
“By seventeen-years-old,” Monsoon says, “I was performing every weekend in night clubs and bars lying about my age and getting on stage.”
Today, the work and performances continue. Monsoon, whose played other major roles throughout her career, including that of Hedwig in the impactful stage musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is accomplished, to say the least. And her latest endeavor with BenDeLaCreme is a romp. The nine-track album includes songs about a naughty Santa, Mary and Joseph and vodka galore. One of the standout tracks is Monsoon’s bluesy lament, “No One Played Santa For Me,” which touches on her childhood growing up without much around.
“That’s my first big solo song,” Monsoon says. “I’m so very pleased with it. It was a big collaborative effort. There are elements of comedy and true musicianship. And it tells a very nuanced story that I feel is relatable to a lot of poor people.”
To be a successful drag queen, humor is often a necessity. But it’s not always an easy skill to infuse into music or other art forms. The history of funny songwriters includes about twelve people – though, Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme are amongst that dozen. To be effective, Monsoon says she has to dig into what resonates personally. There is no other way.
“When I try to do the style of comedy that someone else would be more apt for,” Monsoon says, “it feels like it falls very flat. My humor is very esoteric and obscure and references a lot of really innocuous, completely random stuff. It’s always an amalgamation of video games, movies, my favorite TV shows. I reference things I saw twenty years ago. But it’s also how I got where I am today!”
While Monsoon has as great deal of stage experience, both as a serious actor and as a raucous drag queen, she says it’s when she’s participating in music that she feels most charged, energized. Even most fully herself. There’s just something about melody, rhythm and the structure of songwriting that alights her. In song, so many sides of Monsoon come together to flourish. It’s evident in each cheery – or booze-soaked – refrain on the new holiday album.
“What I love most about music,” Monsoon says, “is that I feel like I come the most alive on stage when I’m singing. I really love acting, I really love performing comedy. But, to me, the culmination of every passion comes out when I’m in drag singing a song. Everything coalesces in that moment.”