It was that backdrop that informed the stories and songs Ginger Minj shared at the premiere party for her album Sweet T in New York City on Friday (Sept. 23) night at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
A lot of drag performers peddle easy jokes and burlesque-esque theatrics, but when Minj takes the stage, the self-described Crossdresser for Christ takes you back to her Southern Baptist small town roots with enough detail that you're easily transported to the places she's describing, whether it's a combination video store/gas station/BBQ joint in the Florida swamps or the back porch where a pre-Ginger Joshua watched Pink Flamingos for the first time under a blanket and had his young life forever changed by the iconoclastic late legend Divine.
Divine's influence was felt on the evening musically, as well, with Minj performing a full-throated take on Divine's Hi-NRG dance classic "You Think You're a Man" in addition to originals from Sweet T like "Ooh Lala Lala" and "Dream a Little Dream." As Minj admitted prior to singing the latter, the 45 seconds we saw of it on All Stars season 2 didn't make a whole lot of sense bereft of the song's full context. She also shared some behind-the-scenes tea, explaining that the episode's editing apparently cut out the fact that RuPaul was moved to tears by the performance, going so far as to silence a less-impressed Michelle Visage by telling her the song's autobiographical story -- growing up gay without knowing what that means but eventually finding a sense of release and freedom -- is an important one that needs to be shared and applauded.
I'll admit the abbreviated portion of "Dream a Little Dream" that aired on All Stars seemed a bit random to me, but watching Minj perform the full song in front of a photo slideshow of her childhood was a beautiful, unexpectedly emotional experience. Even if you didn't grow up gay in a small Southern town, the story of that song -- and the theme of Minj's verbal yarns shared throughout the night -- is ultimately about growing up different and not knowing what to do with that. And that's a universal tale, whether you surreptitiously rented John Waters movies as a child and turned into a drag super star, or if you just grew up feeling like an outsider from your peers and never quite understood why.
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Striking that balance between the personal and the universal is a tough trick to pull, but Ginger Minj -- who on RuPaul's Drag Race is sometimes reduced to being "the funny one" -- seems to effortlessly manage it, both when serving as a raconteur and as a singer.
After covering R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" and singing "Father's Song," an original with lyrics based on a letter she sent to her estranged dad, Minj took off her drag makeup on stage -- a bold, brave move -- while answering audience questions like "which drag queen would you take with you on a desert island?" (A: "Jiggly [who was in the audience], because she always has beef jerky with her") and "have you ever tasted the minj?" (A: "I could eat minj all day").
So yes, the "funny one" also had the audience laughing throughout the album premiere party. But ultimately, it was the story of Joshua, not the jokes of Ginger, that resonated with you after the show was over. The ability to tell a story so specific yet so universal sets her apart from other queens, and other singers, and proves that even though her time on the show is over, she's forever and always an all star.
Ginger Minj's Sweet T is out Oct. 21 and available for pre-order here. Minj continues her run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre Saturday (Sept. 24) and Sunday (Sept. 25).