Drag queen Pandora Boxx may not have won RuPaul’s Drag Race, but she’s gone on to lead a life entertainers of all stripes might envy. Né Michael Steck, Pandora has since appeared on RuPaul's Drag U and RuPaul’s Allstars Drag Race, and performs throughout the US and abroad. In Chicago this weekend for a gig at Spin, a soft-spoken Steck took the time to grab an iced tea and discuss Pandora’s comedic influences, deliver behind the scenes Drag Race gossip and offer his side of that whole Mimi Imfurst debacle.
Our Town Looking at your life before and after RuPaul’s Drag Race, what’s the biggest change?
Michael Steck (Pandora Boxx) Before I was a video editor for a local TV station and I did drag on the side, and I’m an entertainer now. It really has allowed me to travel all over the country and to different countries. There are certainly prices to pay for this kind of life. I’m trying to find the right way to say this, I’m very thankful. I love what I do, but it’s not as glamorous as everyone expects it to be. Like, the travel and the exhausting schedule isn’t something I thought of when I was getting into it.
OT People always seem so judgmental when celebrities claim exhaustion. And maybe some of them are just going to rehab, but when you look at a performer's life, exhaustion seems like an inevitable byproduct.
MS Right. I don’t think people realize. If you’re doing a TV show you could be shooting for sixteen hours straight. Even on Drag Race, we’re there from nine in the morning to ten at night. And half of that day sometimes is standing. It’s painful enough to be in heels, but to stand onstage for hours? So, performers passing out from exhaustion? Totally possible. I live on the West Coast now, but a lot of the gigs are on the East Coast, so I take a red eye in, maybe get a nap, do the show, the show ends at two a.m,. then I get on a six a.m. flight and fly to the next show. Drag numbers aren’t too long onstage, but you get someone like Lady Gaga or Madonna onstage for hours, constantly moving and singing and doing costume changes; I’m blown away they can even do that.
OT You mentioned being onstage at Drag Race for hours. What are the actual time-frames for challenges?
MS They purposely make it look like we don’t know how long we have. And sometimes we don’t because we don’t have phones or--there was a clock on our wall, but it was a RuPaul clock and it didn’t work, which I find kind of funny. Like, oh you better NOT werk, RuPaul. They’re always saying time’s running out, but then you have another hour or something after that. But you still believe it the next time they say it. They just want that rush. But the eliminations are a full day of standing there in heels and being judged by everyone because every judge says something about every contestant.
OT Obvious question, but what’s that like?
MS It’s terrible. It’s awful. None of us want to be judged and you go out there thinking you’ve done something great and you find they didn’t like any of it. Any time I saw any contestant be bitchy or talk back to the judges, I thought it looked really bad. So, me, I just didn’t say anything or I’d add something funny at the end, but after a while it was like, okay, are you going to like anything I do?
OT I have to say, on Allstars it looked like you took one look at Mimi and just deflated. Do you mind talking about that experience?
MS I don’t mind. It wasn’t working with Mimi because I’ve worked with her before and I’m fine with that. I was deflated because I knew in my heart that we would never go far. I knew that given the other teams and how they judge on that show and the fact that Mimi was the one person who was questionable as to why she was on that show--I think she’s very talented, I just think they added her to Allstars for the sake of controversy-- I just saw the outcome. I saw all the work I put in and I felt like my chance of winning was gone. So yeah, I was totally deflated, but when we did the challenges I put all my effort in. I mean, I made out with Mimi. People are like, she gave up and I’m like, um, did you see my tongue in Mimi’s mouth? That’s not giving up. That’s one hundred and twenty percent effort. And we had fun in the challenges. The makeup was an issue. She just wasn't listening to what I was saying.
OT I still don’t know how to put on makeup, and I don’t have to do it for an audience, but I feel like giving up the control of doing your own make up would be a big deal.
MS Yeah, it’s a big deal, and it’s a time crunch. We decided to do our makeup how we normally look. And I explained to her how to do my lips and she made them into a triangle. It was like, did you listen to any word I used to describe how to do my lips because you did exactly the opposite? And then by the sixth time of not even coming close to what I was explaining, I’m getting angry and frustrated and we’re running out of time and I haven’t even started her face. And then I kept thinking, maybe it’s me, maybe I’m not communicating well, but then looking back I don’t think I could have explained it better. But then after that it was fine. She looked like herself, I looked like a sad clown who had been punched in both eyes, but I went with it and we had fun.