Katy Perry's 'SNL' Performance: Drag Queen Brenda Dharling Talks How It Happened

Katy Perry performs "Swish Swish" on Saturday Night Live on May 20, 2017.
Will Heath/NBC

Katy Perry performs "Swish Swish" on Saturday Night Live on May 20, 2017.

Saturday Night Live has drag fever. Not even a month after the cast did a sketch revolving around RuPaul’s Drag Race, Katy Perry invited several New York City-based drag queens and club kids to help her perform her new single, “Swish Swish.” Billboard talked to one of those performers, Brenda Dharling, about the auditioning process and Katy’s surprisingly strong handshake.

How did this performance come about?
Milan from RuPaul's Drag Race sent me an email saying that there was a gig on SNL and they're having auditions. I sent in my information and got invited to audition. I did a little improv for the choreographer, and the rest was history. I booked the gig. We didn't find out it was Katy Perry until we actually got there.

Did you rehearse with Katy beforehand?
Yeah, we rehearsed with Katy on Wednesday night. She flew in super late. We were rehearsing all day and they kept saying, “She's coming, she's coming.” It was like midnight when she finally got there. But we had a lead rehearsal and then we had a tech rehearsal with her at SNL studio.

What was she like?
The first night that she got here, she introduced herself to every single person in the whole room. Hand shakes. Eye contact. She really wanted to see who she was working with, you know what I mean? She has a very strong handshake -- I was kind of surprised.

She was very sweet. There was a lot of waiting, but she was always reassuring, like, “Thank you guys so much, I appreciate it. I know you guys work at nighttime and you're here all day just waiting around.” She was really sweet for acknowledging us waiting. Plus, she's very creative and she wanted things done a certain way, which I get.

Earlier in the month, SNL had a sketch revolving around RuPaul's Drag Race. Is it safe to say that drag is mainstream?
Yeah, they did, with Chris Pine, right? I think RuPaul's Drag Race moving on to VH1 is making it more prominent, more accessible to people. It's also about to be in its 10th season. Everything takes time -- even though drag's been around forever, it hasn't always been on TV, it hasn't always been in the media. I feel like now it's finally coming into a cultural sense of being more accepted. I feel like this year, especially, is a big push in moving that way. I'm glad we got to be a part of that.

So, what's your favorite Katy Perry song?
My favorite Katy Perry song would probably be “Dark Horse.” I really love the video -- I love that whole Egyptian vibe. When I perform it, I do a dance remix of it. It's not so pop. She used to do pop songs, and “Dark Horse” was kind of the first one to move in a different direction.

Watch the performance below:


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