'Build new traditions': Drag stars BenDeLaCreme, Jinkx Monsoon reinvent the holiday special for 2020

Alex Biese, Asbury Park Press
·6 min read

The holiday season usually finds drag stars BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon on tour, delivering wintertime cheer to audiences in the United States and Europe.

But, as with virtually every other aspect of life that's been up-ended by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Monsoon and DeLa's plans are a little different this year. So they're bringing the spirit of the season directly to your screens, reports the Asbury Park Press, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.

The Seattle native performers known for their time on "RuPaul's Drag Race" — Monsoon won Season Five, DeLa appeared on Season Six as well as the third season of "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars" — joined forces for "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special," now streaming via jinkxanddela.com.

"The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" was filmed in Seattle this September with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
"The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" was filmed in Seattle this September with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

It's not the same holiday show fans have come to expect from these queens, arriving in the midst of an unprecedented holiday season, meaning it ties in nicely with a theme at the heart of the special: sometimes traditions need to change, and that's OK.

“The message of the film is, in many ways, if the current traditions and the current holidays we are force-fed by mainstream media and society don’t work for you, you’re well within your rights as an individual to build new traditions, to choose your own family, to choose the people you want to spend the holiday with and how you want to celebrate," said Monsoon.

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An hour-long holiday variety show about the attempted making of a holiday variety show with plenty of push and pull between classic traditionalism and bawdy irreverence, "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" draws on elements from the duo's tours "To Jesus, Thanks for Everything" and "All I Want for Christmas Is Attention" while re-contextualizing the material for the cinematic setting.

"We take a lot of our favorite and audiences’ favorite elements from the years prior," said DeLa, "but then have really woven them into this more expansive story where we get to take maybe gags that were a specific one-liner or a single funny image and then actually develop them and incorporate them into this odyssey.”

BenDeLaCreme, left, and Jinkx Monsoon of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame co-star in "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" this winter.
BenDeLaCreme, left, and Jinkx Monsoon of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame co-star in "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" this winter.

One such gag started in the introductory video to the duo's 2019 tour, "All I Want For Christmas is Attention" that, as Monsoon explains, “has this bit of me waking up in bed, hungover from the night before, with a fully-naked person who I then pack into my suitcase as one of my essential tour items.

"And in the film we took that one tiny little blip of a naked man in my bed and created a whole character out of it, and he’s the only other speaking human in the entire film.”

That character, for the record, is credited only as Naked Guy and played by Jordan Iosua Taylor. He's part of a creative ensemble that includes Major Scales, a composer and frequent creative comrade of Monsoon, as well as drag star Varla Jean Merman voicing a cup of eggnog, and producers Brian Benson, Gus Lanza and Kevin Heard.

“It’s this balance I love that we found in this film of giving you what you expect from a drag movie starring drag queens, written by drag queens, of a fully-naked, very attractive man," said Monsoon, "but then also this fully-naked, very attractive man has this wonderfully earnest, wonderfully heartwarming and poignant scene that you wouldn’t expect from a fully naked man in a drag queen movie.”

BenDeLaCreme, center, and Jinkx Monsoon, right, on the set of "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special," which was filmed in Seattle in September with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
BenDeLaCreme, center, and Jinkx Monsoon, right, on the set of "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special," which was filmed in Seattle in September with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

Directed by DeLa, who co-wrote the screenplay with Monsoon, "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" was shot over 11 days in September on a soundstage built in a Seattle theater. DeLa and Monsoon's average day on set lasted 17 hours.

The cast and crew were quarantined two weeks prior to the shoot, everyone was masked and shielded except when on camera, and there were regular tests and daily meetings to reinforce COVID-19 safety precautions.

But in a world where live entertainment has been shuttered for months the cast and crew were happy to be back to work, COVID-19 safety hurdles and all.

“Everyone was so ready to go that extra mile for safety because it was so rewarding to be creating and to be creating specifically with people that have been our chosen family and creative community in Seattle for so many years," said DeLa. "I’ve been spending Christmas on stage for 14 years and that’s how I celebrate it, with those intimate friends that I’ve formed those bonds with on stage. And so this was such a special opportunity to get to not only experience that community and its magic but to get to document it.”

Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme attend Hulu "Happiest Season" drive-in premiere at The Grove on Nov. 17, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme attend Hulu "Happiest Season" drive-in premiere at The Grove on Nov. 17, 2020 in Los Angeles.

The festivities continue throughout the season, with the soundtrack album for "The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special" set for digital release on Dec. 11.

Monsoon and DeLa are set to appear in Producer Entertainment Group's marathon drag spectacular "New Year's Queens: Goodbye 2020!" streaming via Sessions Live on Dec. 31.

The queens can also be seen in "Happiest Season," the lesbian romantic comedy feature from director Clea DuVall now available on Hulu. The appearance came about because DuVall, who Monsoon described as "a living angel," is a longtime fan of DeLa and Monsoon's holiday shows.

The film co-stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a couple who visit with the latter's family for Christmas — only for Abby to learn that Harper has yet to come out to her family.

“It’s so nice to get to have queer representation join the canon of these traditional, lighthearted holiday films where there’s none of this narrative that we see so often in queer-centric films where there’s this element of how queer lives are tinged by tragedy," said DeLa. "We just don’t see that in this. We see relatable struggles with family and loved ones and treated in this fun, hilarious, just spirited and heart-warming style. It was inspiring to be part of.”

"The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special," $13.99, now available via jinkxanddela.com.

Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.

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This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: BenDeLaCreme, Jinkx Monsoon holiday special is drag excellence online