Drag Out the Vote with Phi Phi O’Hara 

Written by | Entertainment

1 out of 5 members of the LGBTQ community is not registered to vote and for the upcoming election, we ain’t having it!  100 million did not vote in 2016, and youth voter turnout during midterms in 2018 capped out at 35%.  Given what has happened under our current political regime, our community as we know it won’t last another term.  The future of for trans rights, queer workplace protections, access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and gender-affirming healthcare, and more are at risk.  Put on the heels, tease the wig, and apply the lip gloss – enter Drag Out The Vote campaign, a first-of-its-kind initiative to mobilize drag artists across America to increase voter participation in their communities this November by way of social media and digital performances.  The campaign features some of the biggest names from Drag Race alum down to local bar queens who can’t even blend yet, every queen from State to State is being called upon to help with the cause.

One of the co-chairs of Drag Out the Vote is Jaremi Carey, the man of a thousand faces, one the most prominent one being that of his character, Phi Phi O’Hara, from RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Season 4 and All Stars 2).  Jaremi has been, how do we put it gently, very vocal about his Drag Race experience, the reality of reality TV, and even Ru herself.  But the fact remains, Phi has a huge fan base that was there before Drag Race and has stayed loyal to this day.

In addition to Jaremi’s Phi Phi O’Hara character, he has stayed in the social media spotlight through his photo projects of 365 Days of Drag as well as his Harry Potter inspired Wizardry series, where he recreated looks from both the male and female characters.  Jaremi has one heel in the drag world, and one foot in the cosplay scene.  This week he released an image of himself as a spot on Ruth Bader Ginsburg as part of his The Trailblazing Women series, honoring a different woman who has contributed to American politics.  This series, as a further way to promote Drag Out the Vote, includes trans women, cis women, and gender non conforming people with a knack for makeup.

We chatted with Jaremi, from his gaming room, about the campaign, his many faces, and his time on Drag Race.  Get ready, there’s glitter and spilled tea all over this chat.

Why was it important for you to be part of Drag Out the Vote?

For myself, being part of creating the change I’d like to see in the world is something I have always been passionate about! We add drag into that equation and it just takes my love for inspiring others to another level. The art of drag has always been political and finally, there is an outlet for drag artists to come together around the nation to work together and move towards the same idea for the future!

Take us back to the beginning.  What was it like growing up as a gay boy in Texas?  

Growing up in Texas, in a very Republican and Christian faith household, I was never truly comfortable living my truth as a gay male. I had to discover a lot on my own after being disowned by my Dad and my Mom remarrying and leaving me to figure out life on my own. I had made a lot of mistakes and dabbled in many things I shouldn’t have but I am grateful and lucky I survived it and now can look back at where I was and how far I have come. I believe we are destined for a path and everything is thrown in that path because we can handle it, no matter how big or small. My struggle as a gay boy finding his voice created the strong gay man that uses his voice to amplify others.

When did you first get the “drag” bug?

My Mom, after her and my Dad split, took me to the club on my 18th birthday and introduced me to a 7-foot tall queen named Beyonce! Drag scared me because I wasn’t quite sure why they dress up. When my darkest times happened alone in Texas…it was those very queens that took me under their wing and protected me and fed me! I had great queens around me and they showed me the ropes and then I tried it out as a dare and fell in love with the art.

Who were some of your earliest artistic inspirations?

I have many inspirations for many different forms of art. I have always been a performer and class clown. I was always trying to make people laugh or sing a song, sew, draw, etc. Whether it was me singing to BoyzIIMen or drawing scenes from Disney to become a cartoonist, I used art as an outlet to feel safe and show me.

Name three things that your character Phi Phi has taught you the most about life:  

If I am BRUTALLY honest… nothing; I would say it is the other way around. Phi Phi isn’t real and gave nothing to me but a paycheck. I, “Jaremi” taught myself that this world is filled with people who might not get you or what you do and from that, you have the power to decide…do you let those people define who you are or do you create your own definition. It took a long time to realize I put to much power into the “Phi Phi” name when I was the power all along.

A lot of RuPaul contestants mostly identify as their drag persona, you have made a distinction between the man and the character.  Why is this?  

This goes back to finding your power. Jaremi is the artist and “Phi Phi” was just an art piece. “Phi Phi” was just another medium to display my art on.

What kind of opposition have you received from the drag world in separating yourself from Phi Phi?

In the beginning A LOT! People watch “reality” TV and think they own us or can dictate who we are. For a lot of people, it is hard to let that go and make your own decisions. For me it was a matter of THIS IS WHO I AM. Now, people are listening and they see how not only am I much happier but I am in control of my domain and I think people genuinely want to see others smile. It feels great!

What was your favorite part about competing on Drag Race?

Depends on what season. Season 4 was creating all these fun shady moments with story producers, All Stars 2….leaving! It has become an overproduced toxic environment that is not conducive for my mental health and it wasn’t until about the 2nd day of filming I realized…..I don’t need this show. THAT was a moment for my self-evolution as an artist and felt powerful!

Your least favorite part about competing on Drag Race?

Story Producers. My season 4 story producer was great! She never really forced me to say anything or do what I didn’t want to. All Stars came around and I was literally sat down by my producer who said “if you don’t tell us what we need, we can create it for you.” I was a puppet and I hated it.

What would be your advice for a drag queen just starting out?

Don’t! lol JK! Dabble in ALL KINDS OF INTERPRETATIONS!  But we don’t need 1000s Trixies and 1000s of Miss Fames faces on stage….be you and be unique! If you mess up, it is just makeup, wash it off and start again! Create your own path with this art!

Have you experienced any form of racism in the drag community?

I am Portuguese and Filipino, but many just assume I am Mexican being born and raised in San Antonio. I am white-passing so I don’t experience much first hand if I am honest, but I will be sure as hell to call it out if I see anyone else be treated differently!

How is married life during COVID?  Any relationship tips?

WELLLLLLL lol… My husband and I have been together for almost 10 years and this is the most time we have spent together because I am always on tour.  I am lucky to say nothing has changed except we get to play more video games together and cook, well….me cook….haha I think it was much needed and we get to connect on a new level that I didn’t know we may have needed.

I’m obsessed with your cosplay art.  How did you first get into cosplay?

Thank you! I have cosplayed for years since I was a kid. My original drag name was Phoenix after the X-Men. I love cosplaying and threw myself into that world as a kid because it was an escape, and while I have my capes I was invincible for those few seconds.

How does your creative approach to cosplay differ from your drag?

Cosplay is drag. Drag is cosplay. There is nothing different, if I am honest. We dress up to play a character, instead of me dressing up to be Beyonce….I dress up to be Bowser.

I was astounded when I found out that 1 out of 5 members of the LGBTQ community is not registered to vote.  Through Drag Out the Vote, you are raising awareness for such an important issue.  What can our community do to support the movement?

I gasped too, I was ignorant to that info and couldn’t believe it. I have had many conversations with Drag Out The Vote and [the organization’s Founder and Executive Director] Jackie Huba about the struggle as a gay male growing up with other obstacles in life I had to deal with other than voting. My mind wasn’t even on that when I am thinking…shit I am homeless where am I sleeping tonight. I think with LGBTQ+ youth, many are in the same boat of discovering who they are while at the same time just trying to survive. They may unintentionally not be paying attention trying to register. I ask that our community comes at this from a place of listening and understanding, so when they see youth or members of the community not active or voting, to question “Ok, how can we get you inspired and what can we do to help get you to a place you can where you realize your voice matters and is a beautiful powerful tool!” We need to continue to spread information, and not just any tweet we see, but do a conscious effort to spread ACCURATE well-researched information to help others. I am constantly inspired and in awe by my community and how brave and loving so many are! I am honored to be on this journey with them!

What does the future hold for Jaremi?

I am so happy I have switched management. I have quite a few new deals in the works, a comic book, new music, and more convention and gaming touring! I am at my happiest and I can’t wait to show the world more of me!

You can find out more about Drag Out the Vote at https://www.dragoutthevote2020.org/

Follow Jaremi on IG: @PhiPhiOHara

Listen to our podcast chat with Jaremi:   https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/metrosource-minis-the-lgbtq-world-beyond/id1520754832

Last modified: August 26, 2020