After winning Celebrity Big Brother, Courtney Act is well on her way to glitter-spangled world domination.
Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Courtney Act made headlines both on her way in and on her way out of the Celebrity Big Brother house. Her notoriously revealing entrance might not have been her most glamorous moment, but her exit is one that has left its spangled stamp on pop culture forever.
“I think a drag queen winning Big Brother is definitely subversive,” Shane Jenek – the boy behind queen Courtney – tells me. “Even if the show is mainstream.”
Celebrity Big Brother might be considered mainstream thanks to the size of its audience, the range of ages it entertains and its primetime slot, but after Courtney’s time in the house, it could hardly be considered a bastion of conservative mainstream ideas. Shane’s relationship with right-wing politician Ann Widdecombe had plenty of articles throwing the term ‘feud’ into the ring, but their discussions were more than simple tabloid fodder.'Drag becoming more mainstream is a wonderful thing.” Click To Tweet
As both Shane and Courtney, Jenek’s frank words on gender, sexuality and identity opened up a powerful dialogue that went beyond the screen and into the living rooms of millions of viewers. Although he frequently wore the robes of teacher in the house, did Shane learn anything from his housemates?
“I learnt the importance of empathy,” he tells me. “Because I was able to at least try to understand Ann’s experience through Ann’s lens, it meant that I didn’t feel mad at her when I found out that she had voted against every piece of pro-LGBT legislation that had ever come before her, and I was able to just have a dialogue with her.”
While he asserts that Ann is “not hateful”, he can’t deny her faults, either. “Unfortunately I think it was that lack of empathy that meant that Ann had that voting record, as she wasn’t able to understand life through someone else’s experience”.“Drag is punk.' Click To Tweet
And in experience-terms, this seasoned performer has plenty. Born when Shane was 18, Courtney Act started out in clubs in Down Under before launching on Australian Idol. From there, her career exploded across the pond after she worked her way to the top three on RuPaul’s Drag Race. With its move to Netflix, Drag Race has gained a fierce new armada of fans, opening up the show to criticisms from some veteran viewers who are worried that the move has diluted the rebellious power of drag. Shane, however, isn’t convinced.
“Dragis punk. Punk is subversive by nature. But drag can also intersect with gender and sexuality to inform and educate wider audiences. That is subversive but with that subversion comes education, which leads to acceptance and understanding. Drag becoming more mainstream is a wonderful thing.”
That’s not to say that Drag Race gets off without being read by that astute critical eye Shane became known for on CBB. Quoting Trixie Mattel [RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars winner], he notes that, “‘if you say you love drag but only watch Drag Race, that’s like saying you love music but only watch American Idol’, or, I mean, Pop Idol?”.
Pop Idol may not have been on British TV since 2003, but as Jenek has only very recently made the move from Hollywood to London, we’ll forgive the newly minted Brit that slight slip up. As Courtney tells us in her latest show, Under the Covers, she’s so new to the country, she can only purchase a prepaid phone.
The title of the show refers to famous pop songs that people may not have realised were actually covers, from Dolly Parton’s version of ‘I Will Always Love You’
to the original version of ‘Valerie’, made famous by Amy Winehouse.
However, the intimacy in Under the Covers doesn’t just come from the innuendo in the name. More than just showcasing her vocal prowess, some strikingly personal moments grant us permission to slip under the covers with her, in a performance that offers a look at the real Courtney.
“In reality TV, the editors decide how you come across. They choose 10% of you and show that, with a catchphrase and a look. That’s what Drag Race does so well. On Big Brother there’s 12 hours of viewing a week, so there’s a lot more content. But with my own shows I can show the parts of me that I really want people to see.”
After seeing her live, I had many questions for Courtney Act, but there was one that was particularly urgent.
“You could see it from the back?” she laughs. “I use two shades from the Anastasia Beverly Hills highlighter palette and another by Inglot on top. I was going to use four, but it sounds like three highlighters is enough.”
Courtney Act: Under the Covers – Where & When
Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 3-18 August