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‘Drag Race’ favorite Nina West readies Capital Pride set

Season 11 Miss Congeniality winner dishes on her castmates



Nina West, gay news, Washington Blade
Nina West has won fans through sharing her story, raising money for charity and avoiding drama on season 11 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ (Photo courtesy Capital Pride)

Nina West
Capital Pride Concert
Sunday, June 9
Capitol Concert Stage
3rd and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Free admission
Meet-and-greet tickets: $75
Nina’s slot is between 7-9 p.m.

Nina West, real name Andrew Levitt, knows the meaning of “Everything happens in the right time.” The Ohio native has been performing for 20 years and auditioned nine times for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” before earning a spot on season 11. 

He finished the season in sixth place after the “Drag Family Values Challenge,” where West coordinated a look that incorporated the colors of the rainbow pride flag and transgender pride flag, Although she was eliminated, West found herself with some famous fans including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who posted about West on her Instagram stories, and Rihanna, who sent West a DM.

West chatted with the Washington Blade over the phone about her season 11 reflections, her charity work and dished about her fellow contestants. She headlines at the Capital Pride concert around 7 p.m. Sunday. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Congratulations on making the top six on “Drag Race.” It took you nine auditions to make it on the show. How did you stay positive throughout years of auditioning?

NINA WEST: I think I really stayed focused on the end goal which was walking in the Werk Room and wanting to prove to myself and the producers that I could do it. I just couldn’t give up. The road less traveled is always a little more difficult but I had something to prove to myself. I really couldn’t let it go. It was a dream of mine and I just couldn’t let it go.

BLADE: You were one of the most experienced queens on the season. How was that an advantage?

WEST: My experience extended far from the stage. I’ve got experience dealing with audience members and the professional side of the business. I think it’s also why I veered away from the drama. I was much more in the competition and not involved in the nonsense and the noise because I’ve been around for so long.

BLADE: One of your memorable moments on the show was during “Snatch Game” when you portrayed Harvey Fierstein and Jo Anne Worley. What was the thought process behind that?

WEST: The reason I wanted to do two characters is because I really wanted to show off my ability and Harvey and Jo Anne are two very different characters. Harvey is a very low register and Joanne is really high. So it showed off my acting chops. I really also couldn’t decide. I was like, “Oh God, what’s going to be stronger?” So I took them both. I think that played in my favor. I think I did really well in my “Snatch Game.” I thought I was really close to the win but unfortunately I didn’t grab it. 

BLADE: The “Snatch Game’ episode was also memorable for Brook Lynne Heights’ and Yvie Oddly’s lip-sync. What was it like watching that in person?

WEST: Watching the lip-syncs from behind is so very different from watching it on TV. You’re only seeing really the back of them. But watching that lip-sync was truly amazing. It’s probably the best lip-sync that’s ever happened on the show’s history. That was really incredible. I’ve known Brook Lynne for years so I knew she was capable of it. I met Yvie in the process of the show so I didn’t know exactly what she was capable of so it was pretty remarkable to watch it. 

BLADE: During the “L.A.D.P.” episode, Brook Lynne was your partner. You wanted to be the sunbather in that skit but you gave it to Brook Lynne. Do you regret not putting yourself first?

WEST: Yeah. I think one of the lessons I learned is separating what is real life versus what is a reality competition. I was so committed to help him that I forgot to put myself first. If I had put myself first, I would have been able to be much more confident and secure in my ability. Then again, I don’t know if I regret that. Because it’s also a demonstration of who I am. I wanted him to succeed just as much as I wanted to succeed. I was fully aware of my ability. I got insecure and in my head because as it turns out we weren’t judged as teams but as individuals.

BLADE: Brook Lynne had a flirtmance going with Miss Vanjie. Was that a distraction for you? Or did you think it would be distracting for them in the competition?

WEST: I don’t know. It had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t in the relationship. 

BLADE: Some people thought Silky Ganache was playing it up for the cameras. Did you think that was true?

WEST: No, I think that’s who she is. She is an incredible entertainer and she’s a big personality. Because she’s an entertainer, when she walks into a room she commands attention. I think for a lot of girls they were insecure about that and didn’t know how to handle that. I think that’s part of learning how to deal with people in the world. People who are different than you, quiet, loud. I don’t think Silky was putting it on for TV at all. 

BLADE: Yvie was always getting into fights with the other girls for critiquing them. Were they critiques or digs?

WEST: I think she was definitely trying to help people. She was helping people by being direct with people. That is a very admirable quality. Telling people to their face instead of talking behind their back. In this kind of situation, the stakes are raised. Everything is down to the minute. Everything is important. But seemingly, the big picture, the last thing you want to hear is from another queen telling you that you did something wrong. How you’re not changing your silhouette or how you’re not evolving. I think that she was just being honest. But there’s a time and place. She probably also didn’t have the skills fully developed. She would probably say it has to do with people who are confrontational and not confrontational but I think it just shows a little bit of youth and age. I think this is a great place for her to learn that her opinion is valid, it’s just sometimes not everybody wants to hear. 

BLADE: Another person who had some drama was Plastique Tiara. There was confusion about her background. Did you find her story to be genuine?

WEST: I thought it was genuine. We were together for a very short period of time in the contest. I wasn’t there to question somebody’s credibility about their personal life. That would just be really insecure and stupid. 

BLADE: You went home on the “Drag Family Values Challenge” with Suga Cain as your partner. You made a statement wearing the rainbow pride and transgender pride outfits, but it wasn’t enough. What would you have done differently about the challenge?

WEST: Nothing at all, honestly. That statement was who I am and what my drag family values are. The challenge is drag family values, not a twin challenge. Everyone interpreted it as a twin challenge. I interpreted it in a completely different way. As a result, the fans fell in love with me even harder. My story is changing and being written as we speak. The world has opened up to me because I stayed true to myself and was authentic. It’s not always about winning a competition on a show. I learned that too. 

BLADE: You got the attention of some famous people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rihanna. How does it feel to get such high praise on your drag after doing it for so long?

WEST: Praise from AOC specifically and having her give a viral reaction felt like I won the lottery. I mean I wasn’t great on that challenge but it was still so me and if I hadn’t had that opportunity I don’t know if AOC would have reacted the way she did. Or Leslie Jones or Bobby Moynihan or Rihanna. Rihanna is very notoriously private and the fact that she reached out to me is amazing. What she said is amazing. Again, it has to do with my authenticity and who I am as a person and what I represent. I feel really lucky to have this kind of attention. It’s another person who is incredibly good at their craft telling me I’m incredibly good at my craft. Whether it’s music, politics, art or comedy, it’s amazing. 

BLADE: What have you been up to since filming the show?

WEST: Since filming the show, I’ve released two EPs. One is a children’s music EP and one is a comedy album. There’s a video out for a song called “Hucks” which is a parody about Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The video for my single “Drag is Magic “is out. We just wrapped the finale reunion. Busy filling my calendar with special things that will be coming out very soon. 

BLADE: Tell me about the Nina West Foundation. 

WEST: The Nina West Foundation was founded in 2015. I’ve raised two and a half million dollars. Our focus is LGBTQIA. So whether it be Kaleidoscope Youth Center, which is a youth drop-in service and organization which helps connect you with a space to feel safe, or the Human Rights Campaign or the Ronald McDonald House in central Ohio. My goal in establishing the fund was to use my platform, because I initially didn’t have any money. I started asking my audiences at the end of every show to donate. Here we are 20 years later. We just have the first LGBTQIA endowment to an organization in the state of Ohio. We’re getting ready to announce a scholarship. We gave to the Matthew Shepard Foundation during the season when my story came out about the bullying. I’m just trying to put my money and my mouth to work to do what I set out to do.

BLADE: You’ve done some drag queen story times for children. How do you feel about the backlash that these story times are getting?

WEST: It’s people who are so insecure with their own lives that they’re staying in other people’s business. I think drag queens have the potential to change the world. I think they already have. I think there’s something to be said for children who respond to a big, bright character and that’s what drag queens are. Some people put drag queens in the context of nightlife or sexualizing drag and they’re not really looking at drag for what it can do and what it can be. That’s on them.

BLADE: You shared on the show about your Republican roots. Why did you decide to be open about that?

WEST: While I’m not a Republican, my family is. They are registered Republicans and work for different people in the Republican party in the state of Ohio. I didn’t tell my story for fans or viewership. I told my story because I think it’s relatable. I don’t think I’m the only gay man who grew up in conservative family who didn’t get along with his family or being kicked out. That was the reality for some period of time. That’s my story so that’s why I shared it. 

Nina West, gay news, Washington Blade
Nina West (Photo courtesy of Capital Pride)

Music & Concerts

Musical icons and newer stars to rock D.C. this spring

Brandi Carlile, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and more headed our way



Brandi Carlile plays the Anthem this month.

Bands and solo artists of all different genres are visiting D.C. this spring. Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will team up to perform at the Wolf Trap in June, and girl in red will play at the Anthem in April. Some artists and bands aren’t paying a visit until the summer, like Janet Jackson and Usher, but there are still plenty of acts to see as the weather warms up. 


Brandi Carlile plays at the Anthem on March 21; Arlo Parks will perform at 9:30 Club on March 23; Girlschool will take the stage at Blackcat on March 28.


Nicki Minaj stops in D.C. at Capital One Arena as part of her North American tour on April 1; Bad Bunny plays at Capital One Arena on April 9 as part of his Most Wanted tour; girl in red performs at the Anthem on April 20 and 21; Brandy Clark plays at the Birchmere on April 25; Laufey comes to town to play at the Anthem on April 25 and 26. 


Belle and Sebastian play at the Anthem on May 2; Chastity Belt performs at Blackcat on May 4; Madeleine Peyroux stops at the Birchmere on May 5; The Decemberists play at the Anthem on May 10; the rock band Mannequin Pussy performs at the Atlantis on May 17 and 18; Hozier plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 17 as part of the Unreal Unearth tour. 


Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight will sing soulful melodies at Wolf Trap on June 8; Joe Jackson performs at the Lincoln Theatre on June 10; the Pixies and Modest Mouse are teaming up to play at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 14; Maggie Rogers plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 16 as part of The Don’t Forget Me tour; Brittany Howard headlines the Out & About Festival at Wolf Trap on June 22; Sarah McLachlan plays at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 27; Alanis Morissette performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 29 and 30

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Music & Concerts

Grammys: Queer women and their sisters took down the house

Taylor Swift won Album of the Year



When the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court, her answer was simple: Nine. She stated: “I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” RBG did not attend the Grammy’s last night, but her spirit sure did. Women, at long last, dominated, ruled and killed the night.

Cher, in song a decade ago, declared that “this is a woman’s world,” but there was little evidence that was true, Grammy, and entertainment awards, speaking. In 2018, the Grammys were heavily criticized for lack of female representation across all categories and organizers’ response was for women to “step up.”

Be careful what you wish for boys.

The biggest star of the 2024 Grammys was the collective power of women. They made history, they claimed legacy and they danced and lip sang to each other’s work. Standing victorious was Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish, SZA (the most nominated person of the year), Lainey Wilson, Karol G, boygenius, Kylie Minogue and Victoria Monét. Oh, yes, and powerhouse Taylor Swift, the superstar from whom Fox News cowers in fear, made history to become the first performer of any gender to win four Best Album of the Year trophies.

In the throng of these powerful women stand a number of both LGBTQ advocates and queer identifying artists. Cyrus has identified as pansexual, SZA has said lesbian rumors “ain’t wrong,” Phoebe Bridgers (winner of four trophies during the night, most of any artist) is lesbian, Monét is bi and Eilish likes women but doesn’t want to talk about it. Plus, ask any queer person about Swift or Minogue and you are likely to get a love-gush.

Women power was not just owned by the lady award winners. There were the ladies and then there were the Legends. The first Legend to appear was a surprise. Country singer Luke Combs has a cross-generational hit this year with a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” When originally released, the song was embraced as a lesbian anthem. When performing “Fast Car,” surprise, there was Chapman herself, singing the duet with Combs. The rendition was stunning, sentimental and historic.

Chapman, like many of the night’s female dignitaries, has not been public with her sexuality. Author Alice Walker has spoken of the two of them being lovers, however.

The legend among legends of the night, however, was the one and only Joni Mitchell. Not gay herself, she embodies the concept of an LGBTQ icon, and was accompanied by the very out Brandi Carlile on stage. On her website, Mitchell’s statement to the LGBTQ community reads, “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

Mitchell performed her longtime classic “Both Sides Now.” The emotion, insight and delivery from the now 80-year old artist, survivor of an aneurism, was nothing short of profound. (To fully appreciate the nuance time can bring, check out the YouTube video of a Swift lookalike Mitchell singing the same song to Mama Cass and Mary Travers in 1969.) In this latest rendition, Mitchell clearly had an impact on Meryl Streep who was sitting in the audience. Talk about the arc of female talent and power.

That arc extended from a today’s lady, Cyrus, to legend Celine Dion as well. Cyrus declared Dion as one of her icons and inspirations early in the evening. Dion appeared, graceful and looking healthy, to present the final, and historic, award of the night at the end of the show.

Legends did not even need to be living to have had an effect on the night. Tributes to Tina Turner and Sinead O’Conner by Oprah, Fantasia Barrino-Taylor and Annie Lennox respectively, proved that not even death could stop these women. As Lennox has musically and famously put it, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.”

Even the content of performances by today’s legends-in-the-making spoke to feminine power. Eilish was honored for, and performed “What Was I Made For?,” a haunting and searching song that speaks to the soul of womanhood and redefinition in today’s fight for gender rights and expression, while Dua Lipa laid down the gauntlet for mind blowing performance with her rendition of “Houdini” at the top of the show, Cyrus asserted the power of her anthem “Flowers” and pretty much stole the show.

Cyrus had not performed the song on television before, and only three times publicly. She declared in her intro that she was thrilled over the business numbers the song garnered, but she refused to let them define her. As she sang the hit, she scolded the audience, “you guys act like you don’t know the words to this song.” Soon the woman power of the room was singing along with her, from Swift to Oprah.

They can buy themselves flowers from now on. They don’t need anyone else. Cyrus made that point with the mic drop to cap all mic drops, “And I just won my first Grammy!” she declared as she danced off stage.

Even the squirmiest moment of the night still did not diminish the light of women power, and in fact, underscored it. During his acceptance of the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award, Jay-Z had a bone to pick with the Grammy voters. He called out the irony that his wife Beyoncé had won more Grammys than any other human, but had never won the Best Album of the Year. Yeah, what’s with that?

But then, it brought additional context ultimately to the fact that the winner of the most Grammys individually … is a woman. And to the fact that the winner of the most Best Album of the Year awards … is a woman.

Hopefully this was the night that the Grammys “got it.” Women are the epicenter of The Creative Force.

Will the other entertainment awards get it soon as well? We can hope.

Most importantly, in a political world where women’s healthcare is under siege. Will the American voters get it?

A little known band named Little Mix put it this way in their 2019 song “A Woman’s World.”

“If you can’t see that it’s gotta change
Only want the body but not the brains
If you really think that’s the way it works
You ain’t lived in a woman’s world

Just look at how far that we’ve got
And don’t think that we’ll ever stop…”

From Grammy’s mouth to the world’s ear.

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Music & Concerts

Janet Jackson returning to D.C, Baltimore

‘Together Again Tour’ comes to Capital One Arena, CFG Bank Arena



Janet Jackson is coming back to D.C. this summer.

Pop icon Janet Jackson announced this week an extension of her 2023 “Together Again Tour.” A new leg of the tour will bring Jackson back to the area for two shows, one at D.C.’s Capital One Arena on Friday, July 12 and another at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on Saturday, July 13.  

Tickets are on sale now via TicketMaster. LiveNation announced the 2023 leg of the tour consisted of 36 shows, each of which was sold out. The 2024 leg has 35 stops planned so far; R&B star Nelly will open for Jackson on the new leg. 

Jackson made the tour announcement Tuesday on social media: “Hey u guys! By popular demand, we’re bringing the Together Again Tour back to North America this summer with special guest Nelly! It’ll be so much fun!”

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