lips, wigs, heels, attitude? welcome to jonny woo's lipsync 1000
Jonny Woo's new bar, The Glory, is the home to 2015's most outrageous craze, drag lipsynching.
Screw singing, lip-synching is what 2015 is all about. Just ask Britney and Mariah. Or Jonny Woo, London's godmother to contemporary queer performance, who believes you don't need to be able to sing to deliver a tour de force of cabaret entertainment. You see lip-synching sets you free. When you don't have to clutch a microphone with one hand while focusing on hitting those high notes, you're then free to use a cucumber as a saxophone and gyrate energetically to a Bette Midler classic. Of course, you don't need to use a cucumber. Any vegetable will do. Hell, try a dildo. In fact, the more obscure the prop, the better.
In praise of the art of lip-synching, drag legend Jonny Woo has revived his Tranny Lip Synching contest. Years ago the event would pack the crowds into bijou Hackney restaurant Bistrotheque back when it had a cabaret room. Now The Glory, in East London's Haggerston, Woo's very own self-styled super-pub, has revived the contest as the more politically correct LIPSYNC 1000. ("1000" cos that's how many pounds are up for grabs in the grand final.)
Woo kicks the night off with a flashback as his lips dance along to Deeper Love. He's all arms and legs, moving like its 1991. He loses an earring. And then - BANG - it's over and he's plucking wig hair out of his mouth as he catches his breath. "Having wig hair in your mouth is so much better than a cock in your mouth for all the wrong reasons," he cackles.
I'm sat at the foot of the stage as Jonny introduces us, the judges: fashion royalty Christopher Kane and Erdem are in the house; Tessa Christian aka #TheWomanWhoNeverSmiles is with us; and there's me, QX Editor, writer for i-D, Vice and general gay scene busy body.
First up, Mátyás delivers classic Eurovision camp with What About My Dreams. "Turn it up," yells Woo to John Sizzle on the decks. "It's my favourite Eurovision song!" Mátyás is gorgeous, cute and moves those lips with precision.
Second round goes to Cherry Liquor and drag boy Alfie Ordinary with a faultless Cheeky Girls rendition - slick choreography, big hair and glittery outfits all win the praise of the judges, notably Erdem who appreciates the sequins. (Fashion hacks take note: expect Erdem's next collection to be all about chicken fillet tits and sequin blouses. Or not.)
Fancy's up next and he brings with him his own log (of the tree variety) just in time for David Lynch's Twin Peaks revival. He's giving us a classic - Is That All There Is. Jonny Woo throws the mic into my face after the performance: What do I think? "When lip-synching becomes art it's Fancy," I say.
The final number before a break and Crystal Lubrikunt strides on stage. I'm unimpressed by the outfit. Simple black fur shrug with a lace bodice. In comparison to the previous contestants, it's dangerously… simple. But what follows is a tour de force performance as his mouth goes into overdrive to Beyoncé's Diva spliced in with one of Tyra Banks' famous Next Top Model monologues and Mariah dissing Nicki Minaj. It's simply tremendous and the crowd explodes in rapturous applause.
Woo clambers over us for our comments. Christopher Kane is in awe. "I want her to open my next show," he declares. (When he realises that Crystal has taken his comment for gospel, there's a moment of awkward silence. I interject, "Well, maybe for the after-after party.")
Post-intermission, Jonny glides on stage in Flamenco drag to La Isla Bonita. He's wearing false buck-teeth with a deranged glint in his eye that says, "Watch this, bitch!" His performance reminds us why he is the grand master of alt-drag in this town. Douze points! Still the king.
The Fabulous Russella is up first and she glistens in white bob wig and leotard. "Sia," I mutter into Erdem's ear. The track starts and Erdem and I were expecting Chandelier, but it's not. Oh wait. STOP. Russella turns back, yelling, "Wrong track!" DJ John Sizzle finds the right track. And here we go. Fabulous Russella plays a clever trick. He's performing Sia, and as any culture vulture knows Sia doesn't perform to camera - brave move for a lip-synching contest. The judges are unsure: Chandelier is famous for its choreography as well as being a frankly awesome tune. Performing it with your back to the crowd takes balls. And I'm in awe of Russella's balls. And by balls I mean his courage, because Russella is doing his best to hide his testicle tuck-job.
Annie Picks is our next entertainer on stage with a storming rendition of Wig in a Box from Hedwig & The Angry Inch, complete with full wigathon as Annie works through a bag of hairpieces, throwing each on his head until a tumultuous climax where he finds his perfect match.
Our final contestant is Rodent DeCay, taller than the shard in heels and ready to go. But not. The first rule of entering a lip-synch contest is don't let a musical mishap get in the way of your spotlight. No sound. His CD is blank. Shit. Cue frantic panic. Eventually, we're ready to go as the tune gets played off an iPhone. Rodent reels it back in with Untouched by The Veroncias, lip-synched with atomic bomb force. It all culminates with whipped cream and him inserting his entire fist into his mouth.
With all performances done, we need a winner. The judges turn to each other. It's been a truly show-stopping night in every sense of the word. From sheer gutsy stage antics to whacked-out creative concepts, they're all so friggin' good. But when all is said and done, it's a lip-synching contest and the winner (we're all agreed) was undoubtedly Crystal Lubrikunt's most versatile and vivacious gob. He goes through to perform at the final. (And also maybe at Christopher Kane's after-after party.)
Text Cliff Joannou
Photography Holly Revell