For the first time in history, a drag performer from Europe and a fully transitioned trans woman won one of the most prestigious pageants in the world, the Miss Continental, with legendary past titleholders such as Brooke Lynn Hytes and Naysha Lopez, the Belgian queen Vanessa Van Cartier made history in an emotional and iconic night to remember.
Miss Continental is an annual female impersonation pageantry system founded in 1980 by Jim Flint. It takes place at the Baton Show Lounge in Chicago and is usually held over Labour Day weekend.
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In an exclusive interview for GCN, the new Miss Continental 2019 Vanessa Van Cartier shared with us a bit about her journey and what it means to her to snatch the crown and send a must needed message of acceptance to be true to who you are worldwide.
Tell us about your journey, when did you start doing drag?
“I started 20 years ago when I was living in Italy, I went to this beautiful show with drag performers, and I loved, they were advertising a small pageant for new drags performers that was happening couple weeks after the show. I decided to chance it, and I was fortunate to win it, the prize was nothing material, but the opportunity to start to work with them where I stayed during four months until I decided to move back to Belgium”.
You are a truly crown winner, you won Miss Belgium in 2002, Miss of the Misses in 2010, Show queen of the year in 2019 (winning all the eight awards), Miss Europe Continental 2019 and now Miss Continental 2019. How did you manage to have such a successful journey?
“I won many pageants during my journey, some small ones and some more relevant, but my real motivation was never just to win a crown, but it was a kind of school to myself, to be a better professional and keep doing what I love.
“When I did my surgery and completelly finished my transition, many people tried to destroy me and take me away from my gigs; I always say that I might not be the best, but I am no the last! I always do a very clean job and give my best in everything put myself into, so the ones who were trying to jeopardise my chances telling to club owners and promoters to not book me anymore because I was a now woman. They invented stories regarding my one year break, that I took to look after myself and recover from the surgery that is very complicated and takes a long time to heal, so from three gigs that I would normally do I was cut down to only one. But I did not give up and entered the Show Queen of the Year competition, where I won all the eight awards, proving that I still myself no matter what, a proud showgirl!”
“This just gave me more strength to keep pursuing my dreams, then Miss Continental Europe took place in my life and I won it as well. Last week I snatched the most prestigious crown that a performer could dream of and became the first fully transitioned trans woman and the first European drag performer to win Miss Continental, the cherry on the cake.”
About your ICONIC performances, how did you come up with the concepts?
“I always try to tell a story and to share a message; lipsyncs are something that it has to be understood and prepared, just like the emotions that the original singer gives. If you are not able to impersonate the singer’s emotions and share the message, the performance will not be great.
“As an example, there is a song from Jessie J called ‘Who You Are’ that I’ve performed many times, and it’s part of my journey. When I listened to this song during hardships when life was not that easy, and I was transitioning, I would always listen to it, and the song would give strength to keep going and to be true to who I am, I honestly believe that the song was written for me. When I owned the message behind this song, I was able to perform and send the message on stage to all my brothers and sister watching, just to continue their journey and be true to who they are!”
Who is your biggest inspiration?
“I am inspired by everything beautiful. Lady Diana was a big inspiration to me; she was a simple girl just like me. I came from a small city with 5,000 people, and I reached the ‘American Dream’ that in my eyes is a dream come true. I am inspired by everyone who was something beautiful to give.”
You are one of the biggest drag stars in Europe and now in the world. How do you feel about been the first EU queen to go this far in the international pageantry scene?
“I am blessed for not only been the first European drag performer, but I am also the first fully transitioned trans woman to win Miss Continental. Before 2019 girls with breast implants could take part in the competition but not the ones, who are fully transitioned like me. Now that these rules changed I am glad for being the one who broke the stereotype and the stigmas around it, giving hope to many other girls who just like myself who have big dreams to become somebody. It is overwhelming all the messages that I’ve been receiving from all around the world saying how much I’ve inspired them, this is priceless, and I am feeling so good for giving this victory to my community. I’ve heard that a girl like me coming from Europe would not have a chance to win the crown in America, but I’ve proven them wrong, even If I was there with a simple dress and bare feet I would still give my best and deliver my message.”
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Do you feel that the drag scene is changing and be more inclusive to trans women? Have you ever been a victim of any sort of transphobia in the past?
“I was never a victim of transphobia, but I had to deal with a lot of jealousy from other performers who did not like the fact that I still in the business performing. Gladly I’ve helped to change a bit the stigma in the Belgium scene, showing that everyone can be on stage! Nobody has the right to say who deserves to be on stage if it’s a man dressed like a woman or a woman dressed as a man; we all have the right to be there. If you can give your emotions, just go for it and give your best.”
You are a phenomenal performer, what is your background in arts? Did you study to be this amazing or it just came naturally to you?
“I’ve never studied arts; it just came naturally during my journey, I have three drag moms who thought me a lot. One is Gil do Brasil, Marisa Allen and my American drag mom is Candi Stratton. Gil do Brasil met me years ago and thought me how to be classy and never cross the vulgar line. I try to be the best performer I can, I cannot split or kick, but I can lipsync and deliver my message and my emotions. I prepare a song for months before I start performing it, I study even the breathing during the song to be the most convincing as possible that I am the one singing it and it has been working so far”.
Miss Continental is a very BIG deal! How did you prepare for it? How did you feel competing against all those amazing queens and some internationally well known RuPaul Queens such as Roxxxy Andrews and Trinity K Bonet? Who was your biggest competition?
“I prepare myself staying true to who I am. During the preparation for Miss Continental, I had meetings with my producers to discuss what numbers I would do. Some of them wanted to change a few bits and make some iconic songs a bit more modern, but something inside me told me that It was not right to change a classic so I’ve trusted my gut, and so did my producers who have been very supportive during my journey”.
“My biggest competition was myself, even though there were famous international queens on the line I was only able to focus on myself, preparing how to walk on that stage, how to turn, how to pose, every single movement was meticulously prepared, even my accent I wanted to make it a bit more clear. It was listening to myself and what I’ve learned during 20 years of my life”.
“The support from the other queens was amazing, some that I admire saying that I really deserved to win, that was one of the best parts for me”.
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If you could advise yourself before all this amazing journey had started, what would it be? Is there anything that would you do differently?
“I would say to myself: Vanessa you presented yourself as who you truly are, I think a humble and brave person, someone grounded, you will never know what the universe is preparing for you, your journey has just started so stay true to yourself. I am not a jealous person, I admire beautiful things, and I can compliment someone or something that I like most genuinely”.
What’s next? Now that you have achieved one of the biggest accomplishments that a drag performer would dream of, do you have anything in mind for your next steps?
“Everybody has dreams; I am no different; I do have dreams. I would love to play a role in a movie or something on Netflix. Dreams are beautiful because if you believe in them, I am 100 per cent sure that the universe is connected to our wishes, that is something that I believe, and my journey speaks for itself. I want to reach everyone someday with my art, not only the LGBT+ community or the nightlife but everyone in their houses. Maybe Pose? I would love that!”
Would you consider entering RuPaul’s Drag Race in the future?
“Unfortunately, I know already that this dream will never become true, they do not accept applications from fully transitioned trans girls (yet), but if RuPaul’s drag race change their rules just like Miss Continental did, I would be the first in line!”
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