Onya Mann, AKA Brandon Hilton, created ‘Queens of the Queen City’ as a reality show. (Photo Credit: Carolina Cameraman; Retouching, Tania Novikova)

Released July 17 on Instagram Original TV (IGTV), the fresh new reality show “Queens of the Queen City” portrays the lives of five Charlotte drag queens uncovering what life is like as a drag queen in Charlotte, N.C. both on and off the stage. Season 1 was scheduled to air 13 episodes, but production halted in March due to setbacks related to COVID-19. The show has resumed production and is nearly halfway through filming for Season 2.

The cast includes the show’s Executive Producer Brandon Hilton aka Onya Mann (Hilton’s stage name) along with Erica Chanel, Vegas Van Dank, Crystal Brooks and Tallulah Van Dank. Hilton’s vision of the show came about five years prior to it becoming a reality and was something he said he had just kept in the back of his mind.

After his initial move to Charlotte in 2015, Hilton said he had the idea shortly after he had begun revamping his drag career. One day while sitting around with some of his fellow drag queens, he said the idea for the show and its name came to him. It stemmed from a simple thought he shared with his counterparts about the need for a show whose premise would be somewhat similar to that of reality TV show franchise “The Real Housewives,” except the cast wouldn’t be housewives they would be drag queens.

“One day I was just thinking out loud and said, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a reality type show that followed our lives called Queens of the Queen City?,” said Hilton. “From there, it just sat in the back of my mind for like five years until it manifested,” he added.

The show is produced by Hilton’s drag venture Mann Entertainment and was originally designed to be shot and produced for IGTV, which at the time provided only 15 minutes of airtime. While there hadn’t been any plans of trying to have the show picked up by any networks, right after the show’s premiere and airing of Episode 1, Hilton said he began receiving a swarm of emails from different networks showing interest in carrying the show.

“Literally, the night the first episode came out I started getting emails from people who worked for networks, people that were networks, all wanting to carry the show” said Hilton. “Even Pluto TV reached out.” he added. Interestingly, the content for the show started out being filmed with an iPhone X, which Hilton said actually “shoots fairly good video quality.”

After all the network offers were considered, the decision was made for the show to be carried by OUTtv. According to the network’s website (outtv.ca), “it’s the world’s first LGBTQ+ television network and the leading LGBTQ+ streaming service.” In addition to the show being carried by OUTtv, episodes are now also available on a number of streaming platforms including Roku, Google Play Movies & TV and Amazon Prime Video.

Drama seems to be a fairly common element of reality TV, and while stage theatrics may be the show’s main source of drama, it’s not the only source. The show’s cast originally had six drag queens; although you’ll only see the sixth queen on the show’s first episode. But approaching the show’s big premiere, Hilton said the sixth queen had a mental breakdown of sorts.

“Basically, she had a breakdown,” said Hilton. “She even had to go to rehab, and then just out of nowhere she started being aggressive and attacking myself and the other cast members. Eventually, all the other queens threatened to leave the show if we didn’t kick her off the show, so we had to can her.”

‘The Queens of the Queen City’ have taken on the backdrop of southern culture. (Photo Credit: Carolina Cameraman; Retouching, Tania Novikova)

In keeping to the show’s premise of showing what life is like as a Charlotte drag queen, the production of each episode begins in no certain order. Hilton said “we shoot, we edit and we put it out.”

“We just start shooting everything.” said Hilton. “We shoot our home lives and all the queens at their actual houses living their actual lives and all the things that they do. We also shoot all of us coming together for drag shows and events.”

Something else that the show covers is an animal rescue charity drag tour called Queens to the Rescue. “We team up with local animal rescues in different cities and put on drag shows, and all the money we raise goes to all the animal rescues,” said Hilton.

One of the show’s production team members Kevin Smith answers some questions about what it’s like working on the show.

What’s it like being part of the team that helps make Charlotte’s newest LGBTQ reality TV show a reality?

It’s a lot of fun. The cast and crew all have a long history together. Filming has just been a natural progression to our friendship.

What is your job, and how does it help make the show a success?

As a producer and show director, my job entails helping with filming and planning and coordinating drag events with local businesses.

Can you briefly describe the production process?

We follow the daily lives of our local drag queens as they get ready for the big night, including BTS [behind the scenes] as they kiki with the girls to show-stopping performances on stage.

Cast member Tallulah Van Dank, one of the drag queens shown in the series, answered some questions about her role as one of the five queens in the show and what it’s been like so far.

Of the episodes that have already aired, which one is your favorite?

My favorite episode so far is from Season 1, when the queens perform at Zen benefiting “Queens to the Rescue” animal rescue organization.

What’s it like being a drag queen in Charlotte, N.C.?

Being visibly queer in the South is certainly not easy, and going out in drag is about as visibly queer as you can possibly get, so it’s certainly challenging at times. But Charlotte has a few queer spaces where we can perform, have fun and find meaningful community, and I’m really grateful for the different places that this city has to offer us as queer entertainers. I was born and raised in Charlotte, so getting to truly be myself and find new communities in a city where I have so much history is amazing.

How did your being cast on “Queens of the Queen City” come about?

The group of us on the show have been working together for about two years with an organization called Queens to the Rescue, which uses drag shows as fundraisers for local animal rescues. When Onya decided to select the cast for this show, I think it made sense to have all of us together because we have already worked together so much and have a good rapport.

What’s it like being on a reality TV show in terms of the transparency it requires and lack of privacy?

I was definitely really nervous at first because I was hyperaware of the editing process and how your words can be twisted around and decontextualized. I didn’t want to accidentally say something that could be manipulated to hurt someone or portray me to be someone that I’m not. But after a while of filming and confessionals, I realized that it was more important for me to just be honest and be myself on camera, instead of projecting a controlled persona.

What do you like most about being on the show?

I love having a different platform to showcase my drag. I am definitely not a “standard” drag queen like you would see on “Drag Race” or in most popular media portrayals of drag queens: I’m a lesbian, I’m alternative, I do a lot of conceptual work. Being able to fully embody all of that on a show that’s easily accessible to the broader public is a wonderful opportunity.

For more on the show, visit thehouseofmann.com/qotqc.

3 replies on “Reality TV Goes Drag”

  1. I have a correction: Many of my quotes are used in this story, but my stage name is Tallulah Van Dank, not “Van Dank” as is listed in this article. Can this correction please be made quickly?

    1. We appreciate your reaching out to us about this correction. Our style is to use the whole name in the first reference and then the last name in others after that. I could see where the confusion may arise as there is also Vegas Van Dank and readers may not know which person we are speaking about. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

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