Time lapse: The creation of drag queen Monique Heart
First there was Kevin Richardson, 31, of Kansas City sitting onstage at Hamburger Mary’s in midtown one afternoon. Wearing a baseball cap, he looks like any other guy you might see walking around Kansas City.
Forty minutes later, after he applied several layers of makeup, five sets of false eyelashes and donned a Tina Turner-style wig and slinky orange sequined mini-dress, there was the sassy and divine Monique Heart, Kansas City’s own “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant.
Monique Heart appears in Season 10 of the popular VH1 show, now airing at 7 p.m. Thursdays.
Richardson was back in town for about 36 hours earlier this week, between appearances at nightclubs in New York and California.
We met up with him at the drag queen eatery where he talked about his life, then demonstrated how he transforms into Monique Heart.
The restaurant was quiet, though Raechelle Jones and her sister Lucy Johnson had come in with their children looking for its signature burgers.
“She wanted a burger from Hamburger Mary’s, and I was like, 'What’s that?'” Jones says, pointing at her daughter.
They were surprised and delighted to witness Richardson morph into Monique. Jones ran up to the stage after Richardson strutted from a dressing room in full Monique mode, and asked for a selfie. Monique happily complied.
Jones is a fan of the show and thought Richardson looked familiar.
"I love when they lip synch for your life," she said, giggling. "I've never seen anyone do this in person. For me to sit here and watch him transform, this was so cool."
"Her energy is good," Johnson chimes in.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” features America’s most famous drag queen RuPaul searching for "America's next drag superstar."
As with other reality shows, contestants are given different challenges each week and RuPaul acts as host, mentor and head judge. It is aired internationally in more than a dozen countries.
Monique was still in the game as of Episode 5 Thursday night, while Mayhem Miller was asked to sashay away. The winner will be awarded $100,000 and a one-year supply of Anastasia Beverly Hills cosmetics.
Richardson created “Monique Heart” seven years ago, not long after quitting a ministry with the International House of Prayer in Grandview, and coming out as gay.
“I really want to be the queen that gives people heart-to-hearts. From the beginning, I wanted to be that. I used to say that when I die I want people to say that Kevin loved me well.”
Richardson grew up mostly in Long Island where his mother lived, though he also spent time with his father who lived in the Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant sections of Brooklyn, both hardscrabble neighborhoods.
He knew he was different than other kids early on.
“I was teased and ridiculed in school,” he says. “They’d say ‘You’re a fag. You’re a bitch. You’re queer.’ I didn’t even know what queer was until ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’”
Richardson didn't fully realize he was gay until he was 17 and working at a Burger King. He was changing the grease in a deep fryer when it hit him. For awhile, he had been talking to a guy that he’d become emotionally close to when he realized he was in love. Richardson was crushed when that guy got scared and stopped talking to him.
“I remember thinking, ‘You’re gay,’ Shocker!!!,” he says, drawing out the word self-mockingly. “It was so weird. It resonated deep inside of me.”
But he wasn’t ready to come out at that time. Richardson has always been close with both of his parents and still is. But neither has fully accepted his sexuality, he says, and he’s not sure they ever will.
“It’s harder being black and gay, because any ounce of femininity, any ounce of weakness, any ounce of anything that is not alpha male is considered ‘less than’,” he says. “(I have) white friends who are gay who came from unaccepting families. But I have even more of them who have parents who are affirming, who say, ‘We want to be with you, we want to meet your partner da da da.' But with African-Americans and even Latinos, you rarely see that.”
After graduating high school, Richardson moved to Kansas City to study the Bible at the International House of Prayer University in Grandview. Or, as he puts it, he was “trying to pray the gay away.”
When his studies were finished after four years, he needed to find work and a new place to live.
“I always had a love of hair, and I’d go on YouTube and watch hair tutorials." One of his friends told him to go to beauty school.
So he did and eventually landed a job at Beauty Brands on the Country Club Plaza.
One night, about eight years ago, he and a friend decided to go to Missie B’s, a gay bar in midtown. They loved it so much that they started going three nights a week to dance and party. But he was confused by the pull the place had on him, being a man of God and all.
“We were raging, screaming and cussing at God the whole way there,” Richardson says. “We were like, ‘Jesus, we just don’t know.’”
About six months later, shortly after he turned 25, Richardson got some things straight in his head and was ready to live life openly as a gay man. Six months after that, while hanging out at Hamburger Mary’s, a manager asked him if he’d to like to portray a teen glam queen because he had the personality for it.
“I was like, ‘Ew. Gross. No.’” he says. “I came back the next day and they handed me a check and said, ‘Go get what you need.’ They saw something I didn’t see … and it took off.”
He soon began emceeing bingo at Hamburger Mary’s and hosting Mary’s Sunday drag brunch, which he says is one of biggest shows in town.
He has never regretted his time with the ministry and attributes some of his success as Monique Heart to his role teaching kids the Bible.
“You have to reel them jokers in; you have to have something funny to constantly keep their attention.” he says. “And with adults who’ve been drinking, they’re the same way.”
He has also found a way to reconcile his love of God with being gay and a drag queen.
“During that whole journey of trying to pray the gay away, I got to know him as a father,” he says. “I learned that because he loves me so much he said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to let this thing … hold you back from me. I’m going to take you on a journey.' That’s how I’ve worked it out.
"I’ve thrown out what the world says isn’t Christian," he says. "All through the scripture God says, ‘You, who fall off from me, will be my people.’ The gay community has been rejected by the church, rejected by society, rejected by families. It’s the message of the father to say, ‘Know that you are loved. Know that you are beautiful. Know that I care for you. When your mother and father forsake you, I will pick you up.'"
His mission at one point was to stand on a platform and tell people that God loves them. He still does that as Kevin.
But as Monique, he says, he now stands in platforms, and a dress, wig and face covered in makeup, and preaches that God loves everyone, including gay people.
Getting on the show
Richardson sent two audition videos of Monique Heart to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” first for season eight (he didn’t hear back), then for season 10.
The video had to be no more than 20 minutes and feature Richardson as himself and as Monique, acting, singing and being goofy. He also had to create a costume out of paper.
“I was about to quit drag. I was so close. I was just over it,” he says. “Once I’ve done something I’ve done it … and I was thinking, 'What’s next?' I never wanted to be a traveling drag queen. I wanted to be on television. I wanted to eventually be a gay Steve Harvey, that was the goal.”
Two weeks after submitting the Season 10 audition, he got an email from the show’s producers informing him that they had watched his video, but nothing else. Then other emails started trickling in telling him to keep his schedule clear — just in case.
Finally, the phone rang and the producers were on the other end, calling to "condragulate" him.
Then they gave him a bit of bad news. He could only bring five pieces of luggage to the competition, and each could weigh no more than 50 pounds.
“I said, ‘You want what?’" Richardson says, in mock horror. “I have big drag, big shoulder pieces, big gowns. If you came with more, they’d confiscate it. There was one contestant who wore 10 or 20 pairs of underwear onto the plane.”
For the next six weeks, he and the other 13 queens spent five 12-plus hour days a week in the “werk room,” completing challenges and taping.
“It was dark when we arrived and dark when we left,” he said. “It was crazy. We were always like, ‘What time is it?’ They don’t tell you.”
The very first day they were challenged to a drag-on-a-dime high fashion couture contest. He made a stunning queen of hearts costume out of straw hats covered with playing cards.
“I can sew, but I wouldn’t put me up to Versace,” he says. “But if you need a garment, it would be on (you)! Don’t look on the inside, because the stitching might not match. But is it on? Is it cute? Does it sparkle when you hit the stage? I did my job! Let’s go!”
They stayed in a ritzy hotel in southern California that Richardson couldn’t locate again if he tried.
“They’re very secretive about everything,” he says. “As soon as you go there your phone is confiscated. They’ve had too many leaks in the past,” he says.
He was on a social-media blackout for another two weeks after getting home, though he wonders why sometimes.
“The fans were on to it,” he says. “Fans were like, ‘So and so has been off social media since this day.’ They were so on it. Like onnn it. They had every single of the contestants nailed before the cast was even launched.
“These millennials — they have ways,” he adds. “These jokers are crafty, girl. They were calling my job, calling Beauty Brands to get an appointment on such and such a day.”
Overall, he says, the experience was great.
“I laughed a lot, and I only cried once, OK, twice in my room,” he says, feigning a loud sob.
Now he’s getting recognized on the street, which is fun, and getting signed to do shows around the country and even the world.
In July he will perform in New Zealand, and in August he'll appear in Australia and Tel Aviv, Israel.
“I was the dark horse of the season, because no one knew me,” he says. “The girls who were my cast mates had 11,000 or 45,000 — one person had 80,000 followers — on Instagram. I had just broke 1,000 right before I left for the show. Now I have 98,000.”
Steven House, a manager at Hamburger Mary’s, knew Richardson even before he started doing drag. The two are close friends, and House is acting as Richardson’s assistant when he travels to do shows.
He remembers seeing the birth of Monique Heart.
“There was the night they had him come in and host an event, and it was as if he was meant to do it from the day he started,” House says. “He’s a personality and a character unlike anybody I know. He has that ‘it’ quality, that star quality.”
Right away, House says, Monique was able to capture the attention of 250 people, from all walks of life — “Black, white, gay, straight, transgender, old young — people who may not have wanted her to stand by them because they don’t know really what she is.”
Suffice it say, House wasn’t surprised that his friend made it on to "RuPaul’s Drag Race."
“A lot of the girls get on based on their Instagram accounts and what they do visually,” he says. “But once you put them in the competition, it shows their character and their ability to do what they are supposed to do. It’s another thing to have people hear what you want to say."
“He already has a huge fan base,” he adds. “It’s a very emotional base and switching (from the Logo channel) to VH1 has made it even more so."
Where to watch
New episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” air at 7 p.m. Thursdays on VH1 .