The transformation starts with a headband. In front of a three-panel makeup mirror, Andy Spaulding ties back his hair. He covers his face with a thick layer of tan concealer, draws raised eyebrows and paints pink streaks across his cheeks.
The sun is setting on a Friday evening. Andy is becoming Alyssa — a fiery, outspoken drag queen. Spaulding, who spends his days as the director of a local daycare, becomes Alyssa Lemay at night. She competes in pageants and hosts drag shows across Southwest Florida, including Bambusa Bar and Grill in Naples as one-third of the drag queen trio The Bambusa Babes.
“Drag is theatrical, and I always loved performing,” said Spaulding, 32, a music student from Ohio who tried drag after seeing a show at a local gay bar.
Alyssa's performance is drawn from tips from seasoned drag queens. Spaulding learned how to apply the make-up, a more-than hourlong process, from YouTube. He makes almost all of Alyssa’s outfits. His great-grandmother taught him how to sew.
“Painting my face is one of my favorite parts because it is getting in to character,” said Spaulding, who has been performing as Alyssa Lemay for 10 years. “It is when I get to really think through everything.”
At the dining room table in his Fort Myers home, the makeup is done, and the pads, dress and wig are next. Spaulding’s boyfriend, Tommy Tillis, helps with zipping up the dress and adjusting the wig. “Do you want the hair over the shoulder, or should I push it back?” Tillis said. “I’m what we call the ‘drag husband,’ ” he added.
“I love the way she performs. I watch a lot of the queens here in Fort Myers and to me, Alyssa has the most character when she performs,” Tillis said. “She feeds off of the audience’s energy, and most of the queens here don’t do that; they just do it to make a quick buck.”
But to Spaulding, performing as Alyssa Lemay is about more than making money. It is about representing the drag community. Alyssa often participates in Pride benefits to help support LGBTQ organizations.
“Thats why I respect her,” Tillis said. “She is the best representation of the drag community because she goes above and beyond. She is a professional.” Tillis sprays one last bit of hairspray, and the transformation is complete. Alyssa is ready. “There you go, queen,” Tillis said.