Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar Winner 2020

By Kendell Yan

The audience roars, then falls into a silent anticipation, a collective breath to take in her glory. She stands proudly under a spotlight, a long crimson cape flutters behind her, the sound of a sword slices through the air. “My name is Kara Juku,” she says, “and I will bring honour to us all.”

[Editor’s COVID-19 note: Missing the nightlife already? See the bottom of this post for a list of virtual and streaming drag shows coming up from Vancouver.]

A triumphant uproar rips through the crowd. On February 27th, David La, AKA Kara Juku, made Vancouver history as the first Asian performer ever to win Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar (VNDS) at Celebrities Nightclub!

VNDS is an intense four week drag competition that has been running for nine years, where queens, kings, and things compete for the title of Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, and a cash prize of $1500. This year eighteen performers worked themselves silly each week through social media challenges, runways, duets, group numbers, and lipsyncs,  facing eliminations each week until just one stood victorious. Known for her high energy dance numbers, Kara has been taking Vancouver by storm, and while she has technically been doing drag since 2015, she’s really only been actively performing for the past year.

In 2015 David La’s sister brought him to the Mr/Ms Cobalt competition at the now closed Cobalt on Main street. “I saw Rose,  then I saw Gia and Jane walk by,” David referers to Rose Butch, Gia Metric, and Jane Smoker, local drag icons, “and I turned to my sister and said ‘I wanna do that.” David’s sister is a huge part of the reason he started drag, and the name Kara comes from her name Karen. “She supported me, ” he says, “she helped me gather the things I needed, and I finally debuted at Man Up Amateur hour 2015.”

But their journey would be put on hiatus, because David was bullied online for doing drag. “It was too much. I stayed away for four years. Then one day my sister was asking for pictures of Kara because she wanted to show her friends, and reminiscing through the photos was such a good feeling, I was always meant to perform and I knew I had to do it again.”

Her sister is a huge part of her support network, and so is her drag family. Kara is part of the House of Rice, an all Asian drag family in Vancouver, whose matriarch is Shay Dior.

Kara met Shay working together at the Gateway Casino, when she learned that Shay produces a queer Asian dance party called Ricecake. “She asked me to come out in drag, so I did, and I haven’t stopped since.” In addition to one drag mom, Kara was also recently adopted into the family of Kendall Gender, Vancouver’s 49th elected Empress of the Dogwood Monarchist Society, and member of the Bratpack! These chosen families are a legacy that follow a history of necessity – as queers, and specifically queers of colour, we take care of each other when no one else will – stemming back to the days of ballroom culture in 1920’s New York.

When she won the title of VNDS 2020, Shay and Kendall were there to shower her in congratulatory kisses, but so were her biological mother and grandmother. “It was their first time ever seeing me perform, and then them seeing me in that light was just so much validation,” she says, “they were both crying and so proud of me, just not ashamed of me.”

Stories of positive support from elders within the queer asian community are few and far between in publication, and the photo of Kara in her crown with her matriarchs at her side touched our community like a light during so much darkness.

Drag revolutionized David’s life, and being the first Asian winner of VNDS they are becoming a great role model and public figure for queer Asians. She sings, dances multiple styles, and can do a dip off just about any surface or height, and still finds a way to tie in her Vietnamese heritage into performance. “I just want more queer Asian representation in our city,” Kara says, “the art of drag has allowed me to be more vocal about it and I feel like through every performance I’m learning to be more accepting of myself and where I come from, ’cause that’s not something I used to be proud of.”

Besides drag, Kara is also exploring modelling as an outlet for gender bending in couture, and she tells us she’s working on a few big projects, but they’re still under wraps. Until then, you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled for the next superstar on the rise as she sweeps the city off its feet.

Get your drag fix while in self-isolation! Here is a list of virtual performances coming up. E-tipping is encouraged, to help support performers.

 

Off Tune: Online Quarantine Edition | March 19
A professional Drag Karaoke Experience” and now you can watch it from the comfort of your own home!

Cyber Sex | March 26
Normally only seen in the club, we bring the love of drag right into your living room.

The Darlings: Quarantine Friendly Live | March 29
When faced with a quarantine, how does performance art maintain it’s relevance and how does an audience still seek that art. A way for people to witness new creations while staying safe in their homes, The Darlings have created a new long-form show specifically for your screens.

Ching Ming Festival 清明節 [LIVE Stream] with Maiden China | April 4
For our final closing activation of “Yellow Peril; The Celestial Elements”, Maiden China will be doing a live streamed performance in commemoration of the Ching Ming Festival 清明節.

Make it a full night “out” (but actually.. in) by supporting your local restaurants with some take out or delivery. Have a look at Breaking Bread for more information. 

 

Kendell Yan is a queer, Second generation POC who navigates the hyphen of mixed ethnicity diaspora on Coast Salish territory. Better known as Maiden China, an intersectional feminist drag artist, member of the Darlings and the House of Rice, they love to bolster their community by promoting QTIPOC events that center diversity and inclusion.

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