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Nicole Paige Brooks Calls 'Drag Race' a "Drag Queen Prison"

Nicole. Nicole. Nicole Paige Brooks! With three names and just two episodes to do it, the sometimes brassy Southern Belle made an impact on fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 2.

Brooks is, of course, a dichotomy of her own description. Since being eliminated early on the popular LOGO reality show's second season, the occasionally bawdy performer has returned home to her greatest love -- young son, Lukas. While continuing to entertain the masses night-in and night-out, Brooks is also working hard to use the celebrity drag affords her to make a difference in her Atlanta, Georgia, USA, hometown.

In this interview, Brooks shares with GuideToGay celebrity correspondent Pollo Del Mar her views on success, "censoring" herself on Drag Race and the most unexpected outcome of the show -- a partially mended family relationship. She also talks about why she is so open with her little boy about her drag career -- and how being away from her child made the time she spent on TV feel like "drag queen prison."

Have you received a new wave of popularity with Season 2 broadcasting around the world? It just concluded in Australia.

I’m getting more Facebooks, emails and Twitters from non-English-speaking countries. I love it! It’s strange to think they’re watching on the other side of the planet. It’s hard to get my head around my mother in Tennessee watching, much less people in Australia. It doesn’t register. If you sit and think about it, I’d probably get weirded out. My goal was never to be “famous.” My goal was to be “successful.” I am very successful; Nicole is very successful. Being on the show was one more place she took me I never thought I’d end up.

To you, what does being “successful” mean?

I get to spend my days with my son. I love that! I eat, drink and am very merry. I pay all my bills. I have a good time. I don’t need everybody to recognize my name. I just need to be able to pay all my bills and enjoy what I do. Luckily, I love what I do.

Did you give thought to how fame might impact your relationship with your son?

To be honest, one of my main reasons for going on the show was to show Lukas – my son --  something besides a bar. He’s gone through Pride with me, but I wanted him to see behind-the-scenes part. I just didn’t want him to think, “Daddy works in a bar.” I wanted it to be a little bigger than that, to have a little more respect for what I do. I didn’t want him to just think I’m some “bar-fly.” Then they had me on the show, pole-dancing, so I was mortified!

(I burst out laughing.)

I guess that didn’t really work out for me. I was the first one to walk in the room, and as soon as I did, I became very aware that everything I did was going to be out there for my child’s peers to ridicule and go over for the rest of his life. I don’t want to say I “censored” myself, but I’d say Nicole is a little more X-rated than I was on the show. It was a chance to show there are professional queens and we’re not all biscuit-slingin’ heathens who fight about a lip-liner missing. You become very aware when there are ten cameras pointed at you that what you’re about to do will have repercussions forever. At least I did for my son. I’m actually very pleased about the outcome. I learned from making YouTube videos the power of editing, and on the show, they have that power. So you have to edit yourself.

You sign a contract which turns your likeness over to the show, and they can do with that what they want.

Yes you do – and yes, they do. My likeness was on the side of buildings and train stations in New York. What they did with my likeness, I was fine with, but some of these girls get really hateful mail because they were edited a certain way. It’s a television show. They’re going to play the drama. They’re not going to play everybody getting along, rainbows and babies and shit. They want the gay version of Bad Girls Club.

You’re very open with your son about drag.

I didn’t want to have any shame about what I do. If you hide things, I don’t see a reason for it. It insinuates I’m not proud of my life, and I’m very proud of my life. There are things I don’t show my child because he shouldn’t see them – they’re age-inappropriate – but beyond that, he knows what I do. The way I present it to him, it’s a normal job to me. There are trash men, and there are drag queens. Someone’s got to do it, you know?

What’s the most unexpected outcome of Drag Race?

My brother, who I have not been close with, manages a restaurant in Virginia. When the show started, two regulars came in and talked about the show. They were telling my brother a Nicole Paige Brooks from Atlanta was on the show, and they were really excited. My brother said, “Uhm, that’s my little brother…” He called, and since then, we’ve caught back up. He’s very – I don’t want to say “starstruck” – but it’s created interest in my life that wasn’t there before. As I said before, I wanted to present myself in a more professional sense. Previous to the show, my brother thought I was just playing dress-up.

How often do you travel for work?

I don’t really seek to travel. My father was in the military. I lived in Germany. I’ve traveled. I’ve seen the whole United States twice. If people contact me, I’ll go, but I’m not really looking to go anywhere. I like being here, with my family. That’s how I was on the show. I’d never really been away from Lukas. I was literally waking up every hour, on the hour, having panic attacks. As soon as I thought I might be up for elimination, I got really excited. I said, “If I’m eliminated, how soon will I have my phone back?” If I’d have been locked up, I’d have fought a lot harder, but when I found out I’d get my phone that day… There’s no other feeling. I think it’s kind of like prison – drag queen prison! You’re in the hotel, and all you see are other drag queens or people wrangling drag queens. That was the biggest challenge, being kept away from my child, so I don’t look to travel.

I feel we’ve made a decision to do drag and, in many ways, now we belong to our public. Do you agree?

Yes, and I’ve started to enjoy it. I get to do a lot of things with charity. I work with Youth Pride, an organization which works with gay, lesbian, bi, trans youth from 13-23 or 24. I started a pageant for them. I’ve recently join Project Live Love – to find out more. They’re a very hands-on organization which goes out quarterly and do volunteer work like feeding the homeless or cleaning up a homeless tent center. The first cover story I ever did was called “The Power of a Wig.” I used to say they’d let me set the bar on fire, they’d put it out and hand me another cocktail. That’s the bad part. They allow you to get away with a lot of things. Sometimes that leads down bad baths, but you can also create a lot of attention for positive things. I’m proud to do that for Youth Pride, and I’m hoping to do the same for Project Live Love.

As drag queens, we get opportunities we would never have as everyday gay men. People listen to us.

I know. I talk about one of the first times I met one of my best friends. I went to a mutual friend’s house, and he was literally walking out the door because he had a “Date.” I said, “What do you mean a ‘date’?” He was 16 maybe at the time. He was going to escort or whatever. I said, “No!” I pulled him back inside, sat him down and had a come-to-Jesus meeting about him and his body and selling it. I told him he can’t be doing that. The whole time, he was gagging because Miss Nicole Paige Brooks, whose pictures were in the fag magazines he’d been reading, was telling him he had value. It suddenly seemed important. It would have meant something coming from Bryan or Nicole, but it had more impact coming from Nicole. That people look at us as role models just makes me gag!

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