Heat proprietor Shawn Ebert performs at Philadelphia’s Drag Wars as alter ego Estella Sweet
By day, Wilkes-Barre resident Shawn Ebert is the proprietor of Heat Bar & Nightclub. At night, Ebert takes stage as alter ego and drag queen Estella Sweet, and it’s this performance aspect of Ebert’s career that’s taking him to a competition in Philadelphia.
Drag Wars, which starts May 19 and was founded by Mimi Imfurst of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fame, selects 20 contestants, narrows the field to 15 and eliminates one queen per week until three remain to vie for Philadelphia’s Next Drag Superstar.
“This is a beast of its own,” Ebert said. “It’s a combination of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘The Voice.’”
Contestants in Drag Wars perform on the first week and are selected by judges in a similar fashion as contestants on “The Voice.”
“They have to flip their wig and you’re on their team,” Ebert said.
The judge who chooses each queen becomes the queen’s mentor for the duration of the competition.
Ebert said a performer has to be a jack-of-all-trades to compete in and facilitate drag shows. A drag queen has to be a makeup artist and have organizational skills.
“One of the most important things is an eye for detail,” Ebert said. “You’re creating an illusion.”
Typical drag pageants have three categories: evening gown, runway and talent, but Ebert said Drag Wars occurs live on stage and contestants don’t know what to expect.
“Improvisation is a big part of this competition,” Ebert said.
Sweet’s talent is singing.
“Ninety five percent of drag queens are known for lip syncing, so I think my singing sets me apart,” Ebert said.
Ebert said he is excited for the competition because he wants to compete among queens who have made a career, not just a hobby, out of drag.
“It’s nice to finally have a challenge that puts me up against people in my field in the same head space,” Ebert said.
Although Ebert pays homage to queen Sophie Tucker, who paved the way in the ’80s for other queens locally, Sweet is a community leader in her own right.
After the closing of LGBT friendly bar Twist, Ebert held drag nights at The Woodlands and eventually moved into his role as proprietor of Heat. In addition, Ebert celebrates 10 years with Sweet in August.
He is a mentor for aspiring drag queens. Sweet is “drag mother” to West Pittston performer Bobby Light, whose alter ego is Ella Fine.
Ebert said having an apprentice reminds him of why he does what he does.
“At the same time that I’ve been teaching him the art, he’s teaching me how to foster the art,” Ebert said. “It’s a give-and-take relationship. Bobby has breathed life back into my passion for it.”
Light said Ebert’s work as an organizer and fundraiser has made people in the LGBT community feel comfortable, catered to and safe.
“She’s given me a platform to perform and make people happy, and I’m eternally grateful for that,” Light said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts