But now he’s back and in a way that allows him to embrace all of himself. He’s returned to the business, working again with Braxton as well as artists such as Keke Palmer, Jody Watley and others. His latest moment in the spotlight, appearing alongside other members of L.A. nightlife in the "Promises" video, came through a recommendation from a friend. “I’m actually really, really good friends with Dashaun [Lanvin] so the casting director actually reached out to me because he gave them my name,” he said. Jamari has been a voguer since 2008. “That’s how I got involved but then they asked for like clips of me voguing and they kind of fell in love.”
Here we talk to Jamari about being on set with Sam Smith and Calvin Harris, memorable moments in his career and the renaissance of the L.A. ballroom community.
What was it like on the "Promises" set? It feels like there’s like a few different sets with that sort of clubby scene and then the stage.
The clubby scenes just so happened to be the night of our interviews. We were all going to a mini ball called the Banjee Ball -- Isla Ebony throws them -- so they thought what better way to catch us in our element than going to a real ball. So they came and everyone just showed up.
Can you tell me about your effect? [A ballroom term for your visual effect including hair, makeup and outfit.] Did you bring it or did they have a stylist?
I definitely brought my own effects. They just wanted to see glamour and that’s usually what I do. I’m always over the top when it comes to my effects so that probably gave me an edge to get the interview. When I came in there I had a head full of glitter and was pretty much half naked.
I wear glitter a lot actually and my friends hate it because whenever I’m about to do a show I’m like “oh I’m going to wear glitter” and it gets everywhere and never comes out. But I love it so they have to get used to it.
Did this video mean anything in particular to you because of the way it was done?
It actually was very important to me because the director [Emil Nava] was very stern on being authentic about it and that is really something that I cherish. Ballroom has been taken for granted in so many ways. It’s awesome to have a director of a video want raw footage and the realism who chooses actual voguers not just dancers. It’s really amazing to have that and a staff of people who are like gung ho and proud of you and accepting of you, who really want to see the authentic-ness of something that we have going on right now. That meant a lot to me to have the authentic ballroom feel.
Did you guys interact with Sam and Calvin?
Sam a lot; we definitely hung out with Sam a lot. The second day we actually went to his house and hung out and they filmed us there. Calvin is amazing, really dope, super, super tall, but he doesn't talk much. They were both gems on set. Sometimes celebrities can be awkward but they were so welcoming.
Did either of them want to learn how to dip or duck walk, or did he really leave that to you guys?
[Sam Smith] actually wanted to but then he decided he would just walk. We kind of helped him walk a little bit like, "swish your hips, move a little bit more." But as far as getting him to actually vogue, he was like ‘nah I’m good, I’ll leave that to you guys.’
It’s so funny that you say that because that’s sort of like what ballroom does, it provides this safe space for you to live a little and not second guess yourself.
That’s what it definitely does. It gives us the space to where we can be ourselves: authentically who we are when we want to be. There’s a lot of times when we have to conform or be other people in our day to day lives because we cant be who we’d like to be all the time. So it’s amazing to have that space, especially on a video set where there’s a room full of straight people all saying, "oh wow, this is amazing, this is so dope, this so cool!" It’s not often that you get a man in high heels with a glitter head, glitter lips and booty shorts and everyone is like, "wow you look amazing!"
I think that’s kind of dope.
So can you tell me a little bit about the L.A. ballroom scene?
The scene is slowly getting back to where it used to be. It’s getting a lot bigger. I think me and Dashaun and the rest of The Shady Gang — who are the people who put on Vogue Nights LA once a month — we’re doing a lot of grooming and bringing back ballroom and making people excited. It had kind of died down because there had been so much animosity but we’re in the process of trying to create an alliance where everyone is copacetic and no one is arguing or fighting about anything. It’s been going pretty good and you have other people doing things like Isla who does a great job with the Banjee Balls. It’s really about keeping the balls going because if they stop, the community really halts.
In 2008, when I first started doing ballroom, balls here were like major; people flew from all over the place. Now you get a handful of people who may show up or may not but there’s so many new houses here and so many house parents that things are starting to grow. It’s really exciting to see that we are a part of rebuilding L.A.’s ballroom scene.
Are there any particular big moments that really stand out when you look back at your career?
There’s been a lot of big moments but one that stands out is when I did Lip Sync Battle with Taye Diggs. Like you said I don’t really talk a lot about the stuff that I do so all my friends saw that. They all called me like "why didn’t you tell me" but for me it’s work and it’s fun. That was one really big accomplishment. My mom recently passed away and I think that because she was alive to see that and she knew what it was, that made it really awesome too. She’s never really seen me because she doesn’t know any of the music or people that I work for but when she saw me on Lip Sync Battle and she knows Madonna’s “Vogue,” she was really excited. That was one of my most memorable moments — there’s been bigger gigs but that was the first time my mom was excited about what I’d done because she knew what was going on.