Issue #16: Starving For Beauty
And Finding It In The Life Of André Leon Talley, Jeopardy Fashion, A Sraight Drag Queen, and Choir Practice In Arkansas
“It’s the famine of beauty! The famine of beauty, honey! My eyes are starving for beauty!” - André Leon Talley
Weekly readers and subscribers know that my last newsletter included commentary on the wild and sometimes heartbreaking, publicity-driven stunts in the world of entertainment. The top culprits, Ye and Julia Fox, and Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, were at it again this week, airing personal traumas and dramas that are well suited for The Jerry Springer Show and Dr. Phil. I consumed all of it; the second embarrassing Julia Fox piece in Interview Magazine, Ye ranting and raving during various unhinged live streams, and every single Instagram and Twitter exchange between Britney and Jamie Lynn. You know that I love this stuff, but my eyes began to bleed after a while.
It was time to look away from trauma-tainment and gaze upon the existence of beauty in pop culture — the brilliant, quirky, brave, and bold creatives who harness their talents and move us forward as a people.
Letting His Light Shine
When I heard of the passing of fashion giant André Leon Talley, my heart sank to my toes but quickly buoyed up again. Reading the tributes, viewing the photo archives, and watching clips of his most famous red carpet interviews made my soul smile. I’m smiling now as I write this.
Talley knew who he was. Despite his love for his grandmother, who raised him in humble circumstances, and his fondness for his hometown of Durham, North Carolina, he always had a sense that “life was bigger than that.” As a child, he discovered Vogue magazine in the local library and he instantly saw it as a symbol of escape into another world.
A real escape into that world might have seemed impossible to a Black man living in the Jim Crow south, but Talley was blessed with intellect, raw talent, and ambition. I believe that divine intervention conspired with him and propelled him into the world of his dreams.
Talley became a wildly popular fashion journalist and critic, writing for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine in the glory days. He was the first Black man to sit front row at fashion shows in New York, Paris, and worldwide. His larger-than-life personality, his vocal enthusiasm for fashion, and his impeccable eye led to professional opportunities and friendships with the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, and, of course, Anna Wintour. His being named as the creative director and editor-at-large of Vogue was beyond groundbreaking.
As a celebrity enthusiast and red carpet fanatic, my favorite memories of Talley are his exuberant interviews with celebrities on the Met Gala red carpet. Unfortunately, red carpet shows have become canned and scripted, and I long for Talley’s authentic, inspired, and boisterous commentary. This clip of his enthusiasm for Rihanna’s 2015 look says it all.
Yes, Talley’s physical being was significant, but his spirit was immense. He had an inner knowing of self; he seized it and blazed through life so as not to be ignored. His beautiful life reminds us of the power of possibility when we recognize our light and let it shine.
Jeopardy Is In Vogue
I watch Jeopardy for the fashion, and I’m not the only one. Every weeknight, my bestie, Roger, and I live text while we watch Jeopardy from the comfort of our separate homes. Of course, we text some of our guesses to the clues, but more often than not, we text each other about what the contestants are wearing. We love commenting on the accessories, in particular, taking screenshots so that we can zoom in on the pattern of a scarf, the details of a belt, and the meaning of a pin. We go wild for a brooch, absolutely wild!
Imagine our delight when Amy Schneider graced our screens! The current Jeopardy champ (37 consecutive wins to date and the winningest woman in Jeopardy history) first appeared in November 2021. She made her debut wearing pearls! The texts between Roger and me flew at record speed. Several days later, Schneider sported a small pin. I took a screenshot, zoomed in, and immediately recognized it as the trans flag. I texted Roger, “She’s trans!” and we shared a virtual squeal of excitement for our LGBTQ sister.
Schneider has since publically shared her gender identity with the world, noting that while she does not want it to become the focal point, she does recognize the power of trans visibility. She has also been open about her relationship with her girlfriend, Genevieve. Genevieve gifted Schneider the pearls and told her that “every lady should have a string of pearls.” The necklace has become a talisman for Schneider, who wears her “pearls of wisdom” during each game.
My admiration for Schneider’s brilliance, personality, and openness, prompted me to look her up on Instagram @jeopardamy. As a follower of many celebrities and high-end fashion accounts, I quickly noticed that Schneider posted near-daily pictures of her Jeopardy wardrobe choices, provided a short description, and tagged the designers and retail outlets where she purchased her pieces. The most frequent tags were Target and Nordstrom Racks. I had never seen anything like it; I was in awe of her ingenuity. I immediatley understood that Schneider was curating a presence beyond Jeopardy, and I wholeheartedly supported her.
Donned with this knowledge, I was still gobsmacked when I recently saw Alexandra Michler Kopelman’s fashion profile of Amy Schneider in Vogue. VOGUE! Jeopardy contestant fashion made it to Vogue! Schneider explained that her fashion choices contribute to confidence in the game and she named her pink blazer by Mural as her personal favorite. Click here to read the full Vogue article.
Now that fascination with Jeopardy fashion is Vogue-approved, I will let you in on a secret — there is a whole society of Jeopardy contestant fashion lovers! A few months ago, while searching Twitter for clues about a contestant’s fashion choice, I came across an account by Lilly, @OneEclecticMom, a self-described “Jeopardy Fashion Connoisseur.” She delivers screenshots and lovingly detailed reports of each contestant’s fashion choices after each game. Lilly currently has 1,198 Twitter followers, including Amy Schneider.
In preparation for this newsletter, I reached out to Lilly and asked her what she thinks makes the fashion choices of Jeopardy contestants so interesting. She replied, “We don’t get to know a lot about the contestants on Jeopardy - we get their first name, job, and location, plus a 30-second story about something marginally interesting that happened to them once. We don’t know much about them beyond that, so looking at their outfits is another way to get to know them.”
Lilly explained that official Jeopardy wardrobe guidelines advise contestants to wear dressy casual attire, preferably jewel-toned, without busy patterns. “I like to see who will find something interesting to wear within those guidelines and who will push the boundaries a little while still (hopefully) looking good for the camera,” she said. “I like looking for a bit of personal flair and personality through their clothing choices.” Lilly named Cindy Zhang’s black dress with organza sleeves and dangly moon earrings as one of her favorite Jeopardy contestant fashion moments.
Lilly is on point with her analysis. Jeopardy contestants are some of the most brilliant, interesting, and eclectic people in North America, and paying attention to the details of their self-expression is captivating.
In my review of André Leon Talley’s life, I found this quote, “I always gravitated to people who were also walking encyclopedias.” With their sweeping breadth of knowledge and their diverse forms of expression through fashion, I have a feeling that Amy Schneider and a long line of Jeopardy contestants would receive accolades of praise from Talley for letting their inner lights shine.
Straight Up Drag
Another light shone brightly this week, in the form of a straight, cisgender drag queen. Yes, you read that correctly. Maddy Morphosis was cast in RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 14, and made her debut on Friday.
When I heard that RuPaul’s Drag Race was casting a straight, cisgender male, I rolled my eyes. The last thing on earth we needed was another white, straight cis man entering the conversation, let alone The Werk Room. I read some headlines and knew that gay Twitter was engaging in an online war about this casting choice but I stayed out of it.
My general annoyance resurfaced when Maddy Morphosis made her Drag Race entrance in a Guy Fieri-inspired look. My inner sceptic groaned, “We get it, you have short hair, you are straight. Byeeee!”
But, a shot of protectiveness overtook me when, during a one-on-one chat, RuPaul outed Maddy by saying, “You have made history, being our first straight contestant. Now, are you afraid that when you leave here, you won’t be straight?” The question was said with a bit of giggle, followed by Ru’s purported admiration for Maddy. But it left me feeling uneasy. I suddenly saw that I had fallen into the trap of fusing feminine gender expression with gayness, something for which I reprimand others.
Maddy grew up in a small, rural town in Arkansas and developed an interest in fashion and makeup, very different from the boys around her who were into hunting and fishing. Without other gender non-conforming people to turn to, she spent her high school years trying to find people she could relate to online, and she began to wonder if she might be gay or trans. After high school, Maddy moved to Fayetteville, the second biggest city in Arkansas, where she found a more diverse population. She went to a bar that hosted drag shows, and she fell in love with the art form. Maddy has since developed a respected following in the drag scene.
Leading up to her appearance on Drag Race, Maddy became aware of the intense scrutiny around her casting, and she responded with this very vulnerable and thoughtful social media post. I highly recommend clicking on it and reading the slides.
When Maddy was outed by RuPaul, the other Drag Race contestants were surprised by her identity as a straight cis man, but they quickly showed their support for her. Without having read the Twitter post ahead of time, I did notice that I also began to warm towards Maddy throughout her first episode. She was unassuming, polite, open, and respectful. Her talent performance, a bluesy live guitar performance (ending with her playing the strings with her tongue), was not something I would typically tolerate. However, I felt like I saw her spirit in that performance. I really, really felt her. The runway category was “Sickening, Signature Drag,” and Maddy went all out with a headless Marie Antoinette look. Now, that was drag realness!
I am excited to see where Maddy Morphosis goes in the competition. As she said, “This is a community of people that is built around love and acceptance.” Her presence gives those of us in the queer community an opportunity to confront our ugly biases, encouraging us to be open to the unique talents and offerings of others who exist outside societal boundaries.
Don’t Give Up
If Maddy Morphosis traveled to Manhattan, Arkansas, she would find a place of acceptance at Choir Practice, a cabaret of loveable misfits in HBO’s newest dramedy, Somebody Somewhere. This Manhattan is a real place and home to the show’s star, Bridget Everett.
A few days ago, I read a Vogue article about Bridget Everett, a comedian, actress, writer, and cabaret performer. She has worked with comedian Amy Schumer, Sex and the City director and writer Michael Patrick King, and Broadway’s beloved Patti LuPone. The piece details Everett’s long career as a waitress who also developed a cult follwing as a delightfully racuous and raunchy cabaret performer at Joe’s Pub in New York City.
Early reviews predict that Everett is on the cusp of superstardom with Somebody Somewhere. The semi-autobiographical plot centers on a middle-aged woman, Sam, reeling from her sister's recent death, trying to find her way in her hometown. After a breakdown at work, Sam is befriended by a coworker and mutual former high school show choir member, Joel (Jeff Hiller), who takes it upon himself to remind Sam of her joy of singing. Joel invites Sam to attend the local underground entertainment night in an abandoned mall church dubbed Choir Practice. Sam meets a cast of quirky characters, including a drag king played by Murray Hill, who encourage her to sing for the first time in years. A hesitant Sam takes the mic and rediscovers her powerful voice in Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” a sweet and emotional ending to Episode 1.
Somebody Somewhere is poised to become the little show with a big heart that showcases the extraordinary in the ordinary. Perhaps it is the sort of beauty we are starving for.
Somebody Somewhere airs Sundays on HBO Max, 10:30 E/7:30 P. Canadian viewers can stream it on Crave HBO Max.
When Writers Connect
In my short time writing on Substack, I have met engaging and generous authors who have shown an interest in my work. Beth Eakman and I connected through an online Substack group and noticed that we were both in the process of reinvention. Beth asked if she could interview me for her newsletter, The Next Thing, and of course, I said yes! The interview includes the story of my transition from social worker to entertainment writer, my lifelong love of celebrities and entertainment, and my outrageous hopes for the future.
I’m pleased to share Beth’s newsletter with you. I encourage you to check out Beth’s writing and subscribe to The Next Thing!
Thanks for reading Obsessed!! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.