After losing almost everything during Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Philip Anthony aka Felicia Phillips set his sights on New Orleans. He packed up what he could salvage and moved to the place once described to him as, "the place where old drag queens go to die." It wouldn't take long before he realized New Orleans was actually the place where you come, young or seasoned, when you want to LIVE. As with most tales that begin this way, the plan to step away from the spotlight after moving to the Big Easy did not go quite as expected. It did not take long before his French Quarter apartment was filled with wigs, highs heels, and sparkly dresses as the “Cheese Queen" took the New Orleans drag scene by storm.
You described New Orleans as the place you were meant to be. What was it about our crazy city that lured you here?
I have been visiting New Orleans for years now. Decades ago, while on a family trip to Florida, my father made sure to have enough time to drive down Bourbon Street so I could see it for the first time. I vividly remember all of the neon lights and very adult atmosphere. When we passed the now infamous lady on the swing in front of a bar, my father said, “Son, we are just going to drive and look, but when you are grown and feel you want to experience what this place is all about, you can, but not until then.” So I did just that. Once I was a young gay man, of course I came for all the fun and debauchery. I passed many a good time. I am originally from Texas, and when I would come to New Orleans, I always said, “Oh, I want to live here,” but then would go back home and live life as normal. It wasn't until Hurricane Katrina hit that I felt this unexplainable connection and desire to want to somehow help. A month later, my area was hit by Hurricane Rita, which not only damaged the inventory of my shop that I was selling off, but also leveled the bar that I was managing, as well. Three years later, Hurricane Ike hit and took away what Rita did not. My life changed overnight, literally, pushing me to start the very long process of considering relocating. I had a wonderful job offer in Houston, but before I accepted the offer, I decided to visit my old friend NOLA to see how she was coming back. The minute I took the French Quarter exit, I felt like I had been plugged into electricity. I just knew, no matter what, that this is where I was supposed to be.
The late teen/early adult years of any person's life can be challenging, but you managed to do it as a theater major and the owner of your own makeup and costume business. Tell us how that came to be.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had become a state-honored Thespian, which enabled me to get a great scholarship that I planned on using at New York Academy of Performing Arts. My mother did not want me to go to New York, so, being the worrisome mother that she is, teamed up with my drama coach, whom I adored, and he talked me into trying a year at my hometown university. My mother agreed to invest in Bob Kelly makeup kits that I would be able to sell to the other students, so that when I decided to go off to New York, I would have a good financial foundation. Unlike today, with all of the social media promotion, we had an Ad published in the yellow pages under “Theatrical Makeup.” That Halloween, we started getting calls asking for costumes. Using some belonging from plays, a small rack full of dance costumes, and vintage clothes my mother bought second hand, the Theatre Box, Beaumont's first costume rental and theatrical supply shop, was born. Lasting over 20 years in 2 different incarnations, original with my late mother, and the second with business partner Thomas Burns, who is now the operations director for Creole Cuisine here in New Orleans. At its peak, we had nearly 5,000 rental qualitycostumes. Starting a business at the age of 18 kept me so occupied that my late teens and early adult years were a blur.
Speaking of your costume business, you told me you still have one plastic bin left from what you salvaged after the hurricane... I am dying to know what's inside.
Well, during my move to a new apartment, I actually discovered that I have three bins left, not just one. Some of the highlights are a couple of Renaissance ladies and wenches, a matching red sequin flapper and male zoot suit, a Flamenco dancer costume, and a Cinderella ball gown.
Tell us about what led you to become a female impersonator. The story about your first night performing in drag was one of my favorites during our chat. Please share with our readers what happened the night of your high school graduation. Also tell me more about the decision to not finish college in order to pursue a career in entertaining.
My best friend in high school was dating a guy that worked the door at our town’s only gay dance bar, The Copa (originally named “Discos”). We were both underage, but would hang outside, older friends would come out and sneak us drinks and tell us all the scoop about what was going on inside. Most of the talk was about the drag queens and what numbers they were doing. With only my imagination to go by, I was fascinated.
I turned 18 during my senior year, and the minute I did, I went to see the Miss Gay Beaumont Pageant. I won't tell you the year because some people know how to add and might figure out my age. I was blown away by everything about drag. I truly saw it as another form of acting, just with a lot more character, makeup and better costumes. I knew right then that I could do it and just had to learn the craft. The night of my graduation was on the same night as the monthly amateur contest at the bar. Although, a family and friends party had been planned for me at home, I put on a dance belt and a full set of tights and panty hose under my graduation robe, and the minute I got that diploma, I was out the door and off to the bar where a friend was waiting to paint my face. I won that night, and later on, came back and won the finals. After a year of guest spotting and co-hosting, I was asked to join the weekly cast of the Sunday Super Show. With all of this happening so fast, along with the shop growing, I dropped out of college and forgot about New York all together.
You had your hand in helping the drag careers of some of our local entertainers and even those known nationwide. Spill... we all want to know more.
Well, the only one I may have influenced early on in her career is Gia GiaVanni. She was dating a former roommate of mine when she started, I won't spill all her tea, but I will say she had at least two other names back in Texas before becoming the Louisiana legend that we now know and love. She came out the gate with the most beautiful makeup and an obvious drive to be her best in all she aspects of her drag. I was the show director of another club at the time and decided to start booking her. That is one decision I do not regret. She quickly went off to Houston where she became even better before coming here, which was quite a while before I did. She came through for me when I decided to hit the stage again in 2014 by making me the perfect mix. On the national level, I'm proud to say I gave Kofi her first headliner booking in Beaumont, and she was such a hit that I continued booking her at every club where I was show director at over the years. Not only has she won almost every state and national title she has competed for, she won my heart the first time we met, and we have been best friends and sisters for over 30 years now. I have had the honor of booking and working with so many national entertainers, both still going and those that have passed. Those include Nicole Dubois (who taught me how to make a cowboy cocksucker shot), Lawanda Jackson, Tommi Ross, Vanessa Raye, Vancie Vega, Hot Chocolate, Jimmy Emerson, and many more, as well as legends lost such as Naomi Sims, Donna Day, Whitney Paige, Tiffany Jones, Jimi Dee, Kandi Delight, and Dana Manchester.
When you moved here, you had zero intention of starting a second career as an entertainer. What or who influenced your return to the stage?
I literally never dreamed I would do drag again, and only had one wig, a pair of platform boots and couple of dresses that no longer fit. It was while running a shop on Bourbon Street, which is now Bourbon Pride, I met Coca Mesa and Dominique DeLorean, who frequently came by. It was a while before I shared my past with them, and then found myself giving Coca makeup tips and sharing my fond memories of Naomi with Dominique because of their similar eyes. They both got me itching a little, but I knew no way to restart so put it on the back burner. Jack Jones also kept my memories of stage days gone by alive through our chats about mutual friends. But, it wasn't until three years after moving here that I met Arthur Severio, whom I knew him as a photographer. I had never heard of Reba Douglas, until she performed at a Southern Decadence fundraiser. The numbers she did just hit me, classics like Natalie Cole’s “Something's Got A Hold On Me” was my talent number the year that I won Miss Golden Triangle. The next time I ran into Arthur, I had to tell him how good his old school numbers made me feel. During our chat, she recalled the first drag show she ever saw with her brother, Pearl. She mentioned Naomi, whom I adored, along with some others, but she ended with the name, Dietra Allen. I almost fell off my bar stool hearing that because Dietra was my drag mother. After telling her my past, she grabbed Maybelline Mascara and said “Mary, listen to this queen’s history.” When they asked why I wasn’t still doing drag, I said, “because I'm old.” Maybelline then responded, “well, my dear, I am the oldest crowned Miss Gay Louisiana America, so that's no excuse.” It was soon after that Reba was chosen SDGM and asked me to be in her entourage, as Felicia, and my 'comeback' was as guest and co host with Frankie Fierce, who also pushed me to throw the heels back on. Tiffany Alexander lent me a wig and Paul Davis touched up my make up, before I came out of a coffin to a “I'm Coming Out” mix. After the final push back, my newly found best friend forever, Misti Gaither, continued encouraging me to do more, as did both Rip & Marsha and the Legendary, Lisa Beaumann, up until her last days. It's all for her that I continue and have hopes to honor her advice and to do more.
With the passing of the legend, Lisa Beaumann, you took on the responsibility of being the host of the corner pocket. Can you tell the readers more about your new role and what kind of fun activities you all have for them in your 'corner' of the quarter.
The Corner Pockets’ Friday Fresh Meat Night is in its 36th year. For 18 years, it was hosted by the legendary, Miss Fly, up until her passing. Another 18 years by dear Lisa that we all miss, dearly. Needless to say, I have huge shoes to fill, and can never replace either of them. I can just be me, and that was one of the last things Lisa told me, “just be you and you will succeed.”
The Friday night “Fresh Meat Contest” offers a cash prize to the dancer picked by judges, which I randomly select each week. We try to involve out of towners so they can feel involved in our little 'Ballet on St. Louis'. I actually leave the DJ booth throughout the contest to run around with the mic and talk to the crowd to get them excited about our Bootyfull boys.
How would you describe Felicia Phillips? What inspires the look and the choice of performance material?
I describe Felicia as classy trashy. As far as performance material, I always tried to pick out songs that I could connect with on an emotional level. When I was younger, I could actually dance fairly well, so, of course whatever was hot at the time was a must to make those coins. Even though I'm now in drag twice a week, Fridays and Sundays, I’m a host at The Corner Pocket. I haven't been performing in a traditional sense, but there may be some surprises coming soon that will include me doing a number with the boys. So, I will have to consider updating my material.
When you described your experience as SDGM as the "best and worst time of your life", I was intrigued. Can you tell me more?
It was the worse experience because of the stress involved of non stop events leading up to it, people being quick to tell you what they don't like about anything and everything, panicking to finish costumes, and the aftermath of it all. It makes you crazy during it all, and depressed when it's over. I call it PTSDS (post traumatic southern decadence syndrome). But, in all honesty, it was the best experience due to all the overwhelming support, the true friendships I built from bonding with my co grand marshals and my entourage who worked so hard, and becoming a part of a long lineage of true New Orleans characters that are the formers. But, most of all, the actual parade was the best experience. Passing tens of thousands of smiling and cheering people along the route was so surreal, it is a memory that will last a lifetime
Enough about Felicia, what does Anthony have going on?
Yes, enough about that little tramp Felicia. I just switched day jobs, leaving bartending at Grandpre's after nearly four wonderful years, to being behind the bar as the little bald bartender at, yes you guessed it, The Corner Pocket. At the same time, I was blessed enough to move to a great new apartment which is directly across the street from The Corner Pocket and has a huge room just for Felicia. Also, I now have enough time to start giving tours, which was my original career goal when moving to town.
Tell our readers 3 things that we may not know about you?
Hmmm... 1.) I have never watched Game of Thrones, 2.) I still have a vintage suit dress from my shop that was worn by Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias, and 3.) I was once arrested for selling dildos (don't worry, the charges were dropped).
What do you have planned for the future? Anything exciting or important that we should know about?
As far as the future goes, I never make plans. I believe if we hang on to the past, or live too far in the future, we miss out on the present. And, I like my present. For some reason, the universe continues to give me daily blessings.
Written by: Lana O'Day. May Issue. FM Media Group. FLAME Magazine.