Interview with a Superstar – Khrystal Leight
VR: Who is Khrystal Leight?
KL: Khrystal Leight is a consummate perfectionist who gives 110% into whatever she does. She is honest, trustworthy, dependable, professional, caring and wants to be remembered as a role model and friend.
VR: Where are you living these days and how long have you been there?
KL: I currently live in St. Louis, MO. I moved here to become a professional female impersonator 11 years ago and I love the city. Originally from Freeburg, IL, I never experienced a “big city” life and moving to St. Louis opened my eyes to a lot of different things that normally I would never have been exposed to. Thank GOD!! I truly believe life is a learning experience and I am so glad to learn everyday new and different things that I hope will make me become a better person.
VR: I got a very hard and maybe complex question, but what makes you tick? What keeps you going?
KL: Being the best that I can be and going above and beyond what I thought were my limits keep me ticking….keeps me going. I always want to improve and to learn from my mistakes. I am driven to become a national titleholder and that drive is giving me a goal to accomplish, a challenge.
VR: Lets talk a little bit about what it was like for you growing up? Where did that happen?
KL: I grew up in a town of 3,000, Freeburg, IL, about an hour outside of St. Louis. I am the third of four children (one girl and technically three boys . . .lol). I grew up in a very loving, religious and close family. My mother was a school teacher and my father was in the import/export business based in St. Louis. We were always happy and never wanted for anything, but I had a longing I couldn’t share and kept it a secret for so long. I knew I was different, but I didn’t feel I could share my secret of being gay because of religious retaliation and being “disowned” by my family. My love for them was more important than my personal happiness and I kept the secret for a long time. I was very artistic and my talent was groomed, fortunately by loving parents who knew how to nurture educationally. I was sent to art camps, schools and was encouraged to excell in what made me happy. I got along with everyone in high school and didn’t get tortured as bad as some of my friends did for being “different.” The bullying they received made me hide my secret even more. But finally, after my father died and I was attending college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale on an art scholarship, I knew it was time to become happy and to be myself. I couldn’t continue creating beautiful and interesting things without feeling happy on the inside. So, I moved back home and “came out” to my friends and my little brother. Lo and behold, my little brother came out to me and told me he was gay. I was devastated and didn’t want him to have to go through the feelings I had gone through, but we had each other to talk to. Ironically, as I was competing at National EOY in Louisville (my first national pageant), my little brother decides to come out to my mother and when she started crying, he decided it would lessen the blow on him by saying, “Well, Bobb is gay too and he is a drag queen doing a pageant right now in Louisville.” When I got home, my mother asked me how many pairs of heels I had worn on my “vacation.” I didn’t even have time to take my luggage to my room and I was devastated. After a lot of questions and painful answers, my mother has learned the artform of female impersonation. She understands a lot more about the human condition and what it is like to be different. She, too, has grown from having two sons who are gay and glamorous!
VR: When you were growing up and each morning you would look in the mirror did you feel that was the wrong person looking back at you?
KL: Yes I did. I saw a boy in boy clothing, boy haircut….not what I was. I saw myself as androgynous. I was too afraid to want to be a girl, but knew I couldn’t be a boy. I knew my body was not quite right with what was on the inside. I remember wondering what it would be like to have breasts, then totally ashamed for having those thoughts. But even as far back as three years old, I knew I wanted a boyfriend and to be a housewife. I would dress up in my mother’s wigs and purse and high heels and the family thought it was funny, but it was a natural feeling to me.
VR: Growing up, who was your inspiration, who did you look up to?
KL: I looked up to my sister who was so beautiful and smart. She was the head of her class throughout her educational career and she always looked out for me and let me hang out with her friends. She was five years older than me and she was my hero. I also looked up to my mother who was a teacher and in charge. She ruled the roost and we didn’t dare disrespect her in any way shape or form.
VR: Was it had for you as a kid or where you just one of the guys and lead a normal type childhood?
KL: I tried to be “one of the guys” but did it unsuccessfully. I hated t-ball, cub scouts, camping and all things masculine. I hated being stereotyped in all-boy activities just because my gender was male. I felt I should be inside playing with my sister’s Farrah doll and painting my nails pink. But other than that, my life was typical and normal. I was afforded a lot of opportunities and I am glad I had the experiences I have had.
VR: Enough about the kid stuff, when did you start doing drag on stage?
KL: Back in 1993. All my friends told me I should do drag because I looked like Bette Midler as a boy. I didn’t like Bette at all. I thought she was obnoxious and gruff. But the idea of transforming fascinated me because of the way I felt growing up. I allowed my friend, who became my drag mother Tara Leigh, to put me in drag and I had the best night of my life. It wasn’t until almost a year later that Charity Case, the show director at Magnolia’s in St. Louis, asked me to do her amateur show. I agreed and performed “Love You More” by Sunscreem as my very first drag song. I practiced that song for days to perfect my movements, mannerisms and facial expressions. Then, when I got to the club, they told me I had to do 2 songs instead of one. I was devastated and had to do “Right on Time” by Black Box as my second song. I knew half the words and tried to dance my ass off. I wore a silver corset and blue pant suit and my boy nips would show every time I lifted my arms. The crowd would go crazy and I thought I was really tearing up the stage. It wasn’t until later when I got off stage and saw my boy nipples exposed that I knew my dirty pillows didn’t have stage fright.
VR: What made you decide to get into the business?
KL: I started because of the attention and the way drag made me feel. I felt complete, famous, glamorous, sexy, and desirable. Feelings I didn’t have as a boy. I was fortunate to have the right mentors, Charity Case, former MGA, Dieta Pepsi, Tara Leigh, Alexis DeVaron, Shayla Simpson, former NEOY, Vicki Vincent, former MGA, Tumara Mahorning, former Continental Plus, Candy James, Petrina Marie, Blanche DuBois, Alicia Marie Markstone, Christina Taylor….the list goes on. They helped mold me and taught me professionalism, glamour, style, and knowing what was entertaining to different audiences.
VR: Did you have, like a lot of us, a mentor or what they call Drag Mother to show you the way?
KL: Tara Leigh. She persuaded me to finally go ahead and let her paint my face. From there, my career took off and she painted me for the next six months. She was one of the best makeup artists in St. Louis and looked so sickeningly beautiful. I lived for her and was flattered and honored to be her protégé. After six months of looking like a Goddess, she told me it was time for me to learn my own face. UGH! The first time I put myself in drag I looked like a hot shitty mess…..everyone was like, “Um, what happened to Khrystal?” It took me another couple months to finally get the hang of it. My art background made blending and shading understandable and easier and I began the process of creativity and began playing with face and trying new and different things. I still haven’t stopped learning new techniques and tricks and will always strive to change and continue to make a different look for Khrystal Leight.
VR: When you perform do you use your own voice?
KL: No and I am sure audiences across the nation are ecstatic that I don’t. My mother sang in the church choir and tried in vain to teach me, but I never got it. I wasn’t gifted in that department.
VR: How about TV or Movies, we all have a little of that in us, have you ever appeared in any?
KL: My first television debut was DB’s Delight when I was in fourth grade. It was a local St. Louis game show for students and I scored high on the written test and was a contestant. Then when I was in high school I was on Scholastic Hi-Q and we made it to state competition. But that was when I was Bobb. LOL. As Khrystal I was in the movie, “Big Brass Ring” starring Miranda Richardson, Nigel Hawthorne, and William Hurt. It was filmed here in St. Louis and I was in the club and riverfront scenes. I played a dominatrix and a vampire siren. Good times. After 16 hours on the set, my human hair wig was flat and my makeup was green. I will never wear crushed velvet in June under the Gateway Arch EVER again.
VR: Where are you performing now?
KL: I am on cast at Club Attitudes, Novak’s and The Complex here in St. Louis. I also work at Magnolia’s and The Grey Fox in St. Louis and Bubby and Sissy’s in Alton, IL. I am a regular guest performer at SoCo in Columbia, MO and Upside Downtown in Carbondale, IL. I have worked at The Complex for 11 years now and love the family and friends I have made here in St. Louis.
VR: I try not to ask about other performers when I interview someone but this question is one I always wanted to ask and girl you’re the lucky one that gets asked. If you were doing a two women show, just you and one other performer, it could be anyone, not just a female impersonator, who would it be and why?
KL: It would have to be former Miss Gay America 1989 Vicki Vincent because not only is she a role model and friend, but she is professional, entertaining and can MC the roof off a building. Her style compliments my style and it would be a great show for the audience and for us.
VR: Everyone sees the world of female impersonation as all fun and glamour, for some reason they think we sit down in front of a mirror and 5 minutes later, bingo a pageant queen arises! Beautiful hair, makeup and clothing, can you tell your fans here what it takes to become you, before a performance?
KL: After planning my numbers and costumes, I am halfway there. It takes me 20 minutes to throw on a face and about an hour to really get involved in my makeup and play. I have to girdle and tape and snatch my hair. I always wear at least two wigs and will never be caught onstage without lashes or nails. I still get nervous before my first number at all my shows. I don’t know why….no matter if I have performed in front of the same audience for years, I always get butterflies. At the end of the show, my feet hurt, my breasts hurt, my nail beds hurt, my scalp hurts and I want a cheeseburger.
VR: We’ve touched on some of the more interesting aspects of the profession – the people, the places – but what are some of the drawbacks or the downside of the business?
KL: In this business, we get a lot of people who think they can do it better….they become judgmental and critical without walking one step in your pump and that is unfair. A lot of newcomers to the artform of female impersonation think they don’t have to pay their dues and that they are hot off the press…..looking like smeared ink. They don’t want advice and think the “old girls” should step aside and let them run a show (into the ground). Also, a downside is getting involved with promoters of pageants who promise the moon and stars and renege on almost everything stated in a contract. It is hard to compete on a national level when promoters aren’t reliable and sponsorship from friends, family and corporations don’t come through. I have had a couple of bad promoters, but when you boil it down….it is my choice, my dream to become a national titleholder, and I have to take the good with the bad and never quit….but do my best to overcome obstacles in achieving my goals.
VR: Tell us about competing for a title, is it pretty cut throat or are the other girls willing to reach out and help you.
KL: My experiences have been lovely. I have competed now for 11 years nationally in three systems and everyone I meet are sweet and helpful. I have made a lot of friends over the years from across the country and are still competing with them. It has become a sisterhood. We know our turn is coming and we are saddened when we don’t present the right package, but elated when our sister accomplishes her dream. That is what it should be about…not the backstabbing, gosspip-spreading, drama that unfortunately does happen….but the helping of one another and the friendship. I have been pretty fortunate to meet sincere and decent girls that I now call my friends.
VR: How many titles do you hold now?
KL: I have won 21 titles and currently am Miss Complex, Miss Rocky Mountain USofA at Large, Miss Northern States International Plus, and I am first alternate to Miss Heart of America Continental Plus.
VR: Any national pageants in the future for you?
KL: I will be competing in Miss International Plus in Wilmington, DE in June and then at Miss USofA at Large in November in Houston, TX.
VR: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date, in or out of the business?
KL: My biggest achievement is finding out who I am as a person on the inside and staying true to the morals and beliefs that were instilled in me by loving parents. I know who Bobb is and I know who Khrystal is and I will never compromise my integrity because it is my integrity that makes me the person I am.
VR: Now we all have these, the things we don’t talk about, the things while on stage we wish we could find a rock to hide under, but it has to be asked<smile> any embarrassing moments while performing you would like to share with us?
KL: When I was the reigning Miss Missouri Continental Plus, I was performing at Faces, the night before leaving for nationals in Chicago. I had on a fishnet dress and sickening stiletto heels and a huge black and gold cape. I performed “Sexual” by Amber and at the right part, I ripped open the cape to the cheers and screams of the audience and proceeded to saunter down the runway. The problem arose when I realized the light in the spotlight was new and the light was blinding me. I kept sauntering and pranced right off the runway and landed on a couple of people lined up to tip me. My heel got caught in the fishnet and broke, a lesbian deep throated her Bud Light as I fell on top of her and I became very intimate with the hand of a complete stranger that found his way inside my dress. A freak accident and I was stunned and devastated. I was so embarrassed, but also, I twisted my knee (which I had to eventually have surgery on two years ago). The crowd gasped in unison and the lesbian still has not spoken to me to this day. They picked me off of her and helped me to the dressing room where I debated about going home early. But, the trooper I am, I finished my last song and got tipped the house down.
VR: Do you have any pet peeves?
KL: Attitude. Who needs it? We are all the same….some may be more beautiful, some may be more talented, some may be more creative…but we are all human….we all have feelings…and no one should ever think they are better than the person they are sitting next to.
VR: Do you think you are a nice person or do you think you can be a bitch at times?
KL: Under stress, I do become a bitch and snap, but I desperately try not to ever hurt anyone’s feelings because that is not the type of person I am. I am always concerned about hurting people’s feelings because I hate it when mine are hurt.
VR: What do you think makes you stand out above others?
KL: My generosity and sincerity.
VR: Do you get nervous when you are asked to speak to a group or perform on stage?
KL: I get butterflies, but I eventually pull through it and let “Khrystal” take over. I have that face mask to hide behind. I can be half naked onstage and confident as Khrystal, but Bobb is way shy.
VR: I don’t ask this question very often anymore but are you a full time woman and if not would you ever consider it in the future?
KL: I live as a boy, but am a full time woman on the inside! LOL. I have started hormones, had body work done, grew my hair, and realized it wasn’t exactly for me at this time. There is always a time and a place for everything and right now, I am still discovering some new things about Bobb that I have to learn. I won’t become a full time woman just to accommodate my career, I will do it to accommodate myself.
VR: Are you in love these days?
KL: Yes, and very madly.
VR: Where do you see yourself in the future?
KL: I see myself as a former national titleholder still promoting the systems I believe in and the causes worth fighting for. I see myself as a spokesperson for gay rights and as a benefactor for local organizations that care for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS.
VR: What do you think you have to offer the gay or transgender community, anything at all?
KL: A huge tater tot casserole. lol. I have made a mark in St. Louis by being myself, being better than myself, and being something other than myself. I am an entertainer and an actor and possess qualities that will hopefully make me someone to look up to and to respect.
VR: What words of wisdom would you give to someone who is reaching out for help?
KL: Seek the advice of someone you trust and believe in and never give up or in to harsh cruelties that are thrown your way.
VR: In closing I really want to say thank you Khrystal, this was a very special interview for me, do you have a final statement, for our readers?
KL: I just want to remind everyone that life is a road trip. It is best to go on those trips with those you love. Try to love everyone and overlook the simple flaws. We are all special creatures and unique and it is better to embrace than push away.
Note from Vicki Rene: I have talked to this lady many times, but to my dismay, only by email. She has become a special person to me, a concerning lady, someone who always remember “time to say hi to Vicki”! Because of that, she is at the top of my list of friends I have never met…isn’t that sad? I know one day we will cross paths somewhere and when we do, the world will know. Khrystal, I wish you the very best with what ever you wish to accomplish. I know you will succeed!