Honey Mahogany: USC Alum on RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Honey Mahogany (Credit: Mathu Andersen)

Don’t miss the 5th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a USC Trojan will be taking on the competition!

Meet Honey Mahogany! Honey graduated from USC in 2006 as a Psychology major and Musical Theatre minor. He was an office assistant for the LGBT Resource Center during their time at USC as well as an RA for the Rainbow Floor and an executive board member of GLBTA (now currently known as QuASA). Read more about Honey’s experience at USC and in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

1. You have been doing drag for some time now, what ultimately motivated you to audition for RuPaul’s Drag Race?
I have always wanted to pursue a career in entertainment and music. This is something that I have been working towards in some way all my life. Over the past few years especially, I have been working on writing and recording my own music, and growing as a performer in San Francisco, while balancing that with the work that I do as a social worker. (One value that I took on during my time at USC was the concept of “breadth & depth”… do they still use that phrase?) I think that over this last year, I finally felt like it was time for me to really put myself out there… I don’t know if it was the pressure of my Saturn’s Return pushing me into high gear, or if I just felt like I had reached my peak in the local drag scene, but I just felt it was time to try for something big.

2. What was the audition process like for RuPaul’s Drag Race? How did you find out you were a finalist?
Well, everyone has to submit a video. I think they usually post the instructions for the audition tape online at the end of the previous season. I’m not sure if the instructions are always the same or if they change year to year (this was my first time auditioning), but when I auditioned, they asked me to basically answer a few questions, talk about myself and my drag, submit a few performance videos, and show them a variety of looks…. Oh, and they wanted me to lip-synch a RuPaul song… All that in just 12 min!

After I submitted my tape, I got an email that I had made it into the top 20. I then had a phone interview and had to go through a psych evaluation. I finally found out I made it on the show about 2 weeks before the start of filming…. Actually, I think it was more like 10 days!

3. You have an amazing voice, did you take vocal training to prepare for the upcoming season?
Thanks! To answer your question: no, I didn’t take any vocal lessons as part of my Drag Race preparation. RuPaul’s Drag Race has never really been about singing, so I didn’t focus on my singing ability when planning for the show. I was more concerned about my sewing skills! That being said, I did take some vocal lessons while at USC as part of my Musical Theater minor.

4. What is a typical (if there is such a thing) Honey Mahogany day?
I don’t think there is a ‘typical’ Honey Mahogany day yet… but here is a typical weekend:

Wake up at the crack of dawn (10am) and head to the office for work. In case-management meetings until 3pm, and then I have youth group and follow-ups until 7pm. At that point I drive home to start getting ready for that night’s show. If it’s an easy night, I will just have 1 show where I am booked. But sometimes I’m booked for 2. I then usually get home around 3:30am. When I wake up the next day, I often times have to get up and almost immediately start getting in make-up. I try and do photoshoots/videoshoots on Saturdays, and then I stay in drag if I have a booking later that night. Sundays are usually a day where I have time to workout in the morning or maybe go to brunch, but it’s also a big drag night, so I often have to get in make-up again that evening. And then Monday nights I host my own show “Mahogany Mondays” at the Midnight Sun in San Francisco and my week starts again.

4. How do you choose the songs for your act?
That is a really good question! It definitely depends on what I’m doing: where I’m performing, the theme of the party/show, the venue, whether I’ll be singing live or lip-synching… While I try to be diverse in the material I perform, if I’m lip-synching, my go-to diva is definitely Beyonce. For some reason, it is really easy for me to get into my Beyonce character and tell a story. But I also love lip-synching to people like Sia and MIA. I also really, really enjoy lip-synching dialogue from films… I find it to be a bit more challenging than lip-synching songs, which have rhythm and music to help guide you. When I sing live, I tend to be a little more old school in my song selection. I’ll sing Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Etta James, jazzed up Sondheim and Gershwin tunes… I’ll mix it up with some Adele and Amy Winehouse too. I do love me some blue-eyed soul.

RuPaul5. You lived on campus while at USC.  What was your fondest USC experience?
I don’t know that I can point to one single experience as being my fondest memory of USC. My time there was just so magical. I loved how I got to do so many things… I was in the USC Repertory Dance Company, I was an RA, I worked at the LGBT Center, I worked for an HIV-Prevention research study, a Psych research study, tutored elementary school children, got to be involved in student films, and so much more… I got to do so much, and meet so many amazing people, some of whom I still keep in touch with to this very day and still love as much today as I did back then.

6. What does it mean to you to be a part of the Trojan family?
Personally, I feel very proud to be a Trojan, and to this day, I still feel a sense of belonging and community. I also think that I hold on to cultural mores from my USC days such as striving for excellence, being well-rounded, and valuing diversity. Lastly, I do try and give back to the school whenever I can. I can’t afford to every year, but I do what I can.

7. What motivated you to start doing drag?
Well I started doing drag at USC! I had never thought about doing it before a friend of mine at the film school asked me to play the role of a man who dressed as a woman in his first film our sophomore year.

8. How did you first get involved with the LGBT Community at USC? What were some organizations were you involved with while you attended USC?
I believe I first got involved because I picked up a flier my Freshman year when the LGBT Center was tabling. But I don’t think I got deeply involved until I became an RA my Junior year. I was an RA at Webb Tower, which is where the Rainbow Floor (LGBT special interest community housing) was located. I started off serving as a helper to the Rainbow Floor RA and then transitioned to being a liaison between the Rainbow Floor and the LGBT Center and GLBTA. I then became the Rainbow Floor RA the following semester, and stayed on as the Rainbow Floor RA until I graduated the following year. I also stayed involved with the LGBT Center and the GLBTA. While I was at USC I also got to work on a research study called the Virtual Sex Project, which was testing HIV prevention interventions in gay and bisexual men. I mentioned some of this before, but I was also a part of the USC Repertory Dance Company for 7 semesters, I participated in AAAS, worked as USC Readers Plus, got involved in on campus (and off campus) theater productions and film productions, was involved at the Caruso Center (Catholic Center)… Looking back on it, I don’t think I ever had a full night’s sleep while at USC.

9. What did you study during your time here at USC?
When I was in school I was a Psychology major and had a minor in Musical Theater. I also did an unofficial advertising/marketing minor.

RuPaul's Drag Race10. Any words of advice for current students (that happen to do drag) about doing drag after college?
Do everything you can. Take risks, make mistakes, and have as much fun as you possibly can.

Catch the premiere screening of Honey Mahogany on RuPaul’s Drag Race  at Tommy’s Place on January 28th at 8:30PM!

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