Some people may know him as Jason Cabrera, but to those in the drag queen community, he’s better known as Vanity Love Diva.
The 36-year-old has actively performed various Las Vegas LGBTQ bars with his Diva drag family, including The Phoenix, Flex Cocktail Lounge, and Hamburger Mary’s.
He estimates he’s done close to 200 shows in which he lip-synchs and dances to some of his favorite artists including Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and the New York Dolls.
Aside from a few brief virtual and public appearances, it’s been well over a year since Cabrera has performed a live in-person show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Cabrera is eager to put on his most glamorous attire and hit the stage once again as more establishments have begun opening their doors.
We spoke with him about his experience performing in Vegas, and how COVID-19 has changed drag shows.
How did you get involved in drag?
I’ve always been a singer. So I always knew I wanted to be some sort of performer or to be in the spotlight. I was probably 19 or 20 when I was at a bar that had drag shows.
I remember seeing a show there and one of the performers [Keyska Diva].
I started tagging along to different shows helping her out with her makeup and such. We were friends for a bit before she had a show one day that everybody canceled on. It was like three other friends of mine and she looks at us and goes ‘I know what I’m going to do. We’re doing a turnabout show, and you guys are all going to do drag.”
I’ll never forget it. I did a Britney Spears song. I went out in this fishnet top. I had this yellow mohawk that my drag mother [Keyska] had put into my hair with all these different wig pieces. It was insane, I thought to myself This is what I want to do. To be able to go from looking like a boy to becoming this beautiful “glamazon.”
What do you enjoy most about performing?
It’s the escape. Essentially it’s like for the next 3-5 minutes all of the troubles, all of the drama is gone. It’s just me making people smile. There’s a look that I get [from the audience]. There’s this look of awe. It’s like there almost a kid again. I can’t even describe how that makes me feel. It’s like I’m causing such a reaction in this person that it’s almost like I get a high from it.
I definitely love to feed off the crowd and build off their vibe and such. I miss that the most.
Has the pandemic changed anything for you as a performer?
I got these little masks that have a little [see-through] window, but now you have to make sure your makeup is on 100 percent. Gone are the days where you can go and do a touchup because now you can’t be touching your face when you’re in a bar where people try to pass you money.
And how do people even tip you? People come and drop their tips in a bucket for you. There are ways you can get around it. There are things we’ve done for different benefits and stuff where we’re not tipping the girls, but we’re putting all the money in a bucket and it’s going to a charity.
I think the biggest thing to overcome is your own fear–I think for me that is.
Do you feel you and Vanity Love are the same people?
There’s two parts of drag. There’s your performance when you’re on stage, but then there’s your performance when you’re walking around. Like when you’re interacting with the crowd and your people.
I feel like I’m the same person, but maybe slightly more bold [as Vanity]. I would have more confidence
When I’m Vanity it’s like you want more people to know you. You want more people to look at you. You want more people to follow you on social media, that kind of thing, so you have to mingle. And then when I’m Jason I can be a little more guarded.
At the end of the day, it’s me. I’m just wearing a ton of drag.
In the beginning, maybe I did think Vanity was a separate character. But I think as I’ve gotten older you start to realize that you know it’s not this other person, you’re not kooky, you’re not crazy, there’s not a split personality. It’s this inner-strength and you can draw from it at any time. The diva’s always inside.
Are there any common misconceptions people have about the drag community?
Just because you’re a drag queen doesn’t mean you want to be a woman. And not only men can be drag queens, anybody can be one. There can be boys who are drag queens, there can be girls queens, there can be someone who’s trans who can be a drag queen.
I used to have preconceived notions about where I was like ‘only guys can do drag. If women are doing drag it kind of defeats the purpose.’ But I’ve opened my eyes and seen that anybody can do drag. It’s not only my lane.
Who inspires you?
Definitely my drag mother (Keyska) and [local drag performer] Alex Serpa. I would say those are my tangible actual people in real life.
I definitely take a lot of cues from Jenifer Lopez. I know I can never dance like her, but there’s a look she gives from her eyes. She’s Puerto Rican, I’m Puerto Rican. To see J-Lo succeeding in anything makes me feel like I’m succeeding.
I just feel like that it’s confidence. Anybody who has confidence is what I kind of what I vibe off of.
Do you have any aspirations for 2021?
I think it’d be fun to incorporate live singing into my drag. I want to give them a live number. I would love to sing some of my own stuff. I wouldn’t mind doing a karaoke night in a sense too.
I definitely see more of a live aspect going forward for Vanity Love. I think that’s the direction I want to go into. It’s more about now pulling through for it.
Realistically I wouldn’t want to do drag full-time. Being in heels for eight hours is no joke.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You can follow Jason Cabrera on Instagram and Twitter at: JJ_Vanity