Under The Wig With Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside
Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside can be seen hosting Richmond Varietease, the city’s monthly burlesque variety hour. Eric Russell caught up with this “Southern Fried Socialite.”
Who is Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside? Where did she come from and how did she get her name?
Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside, or as some have come to call her “Mahogany Peanut-Butter-n-Jelly,” is formally known as the “Southern Fried Socialite of Richmond”. Her heart belongs to the South. She is passionate about love, life, and, well, bourbon. She is a firm believer that humour can be found in the darkest of times…if you remember to turn on the light.
Okay…let’s get out of third person. I was born in the Burlesque World. My Drag Mother, Dolli Holiday (a female-to-female impersonator), was seeking a host for this monthly burlesque-variety show she was starting. She suggested that I create a character to do the job. At the same time, Ms. Esta Bunny was hosting her first Drag Race at Nations, and I said, “Well hell! If I’m gonna do this, I might as well dive right on in.” So Magnolia was born! She was in the top three of the Drag Race, beating out queens who had been performing for years, and she has helped Richmond Varietease become one of the most successful monthly shows here in Richmond.
One of the most important parts about creating a character is having a name that fits the character perfectly. I’m a very southern woman. I was raised here, and I wanna die here! I wanted something strong, yet elegant – classic. “Magnolia” was perfect! I grew up on Magnolia Avenue, used to play in my Momma’s Magnolia tree, and I immediately get transported back home when I smell their glorious fragrance. Now, it’s very obvious that I’m a whole-lot-a-woman, so I needed a whole-lot-a-last-name. “Jackson Pickett Burnside” originally came from the musical “Mame.” Auntie Mame marries a southern gentleman who happens to have 3 last names. It was the most southern thing I’d ever heard – so I took it as my own! So that, my dear, is where “Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside” came from.
What diva inspires you the most and why?
Now I could talk about Cher, or Dolly, or even Lucille Ball – but the ladies, or “Divas,” that inspire me the most are my Momma, Grandma, and college professor Deidra Arrington. My Momma and Grandma are the strongest, most fabulous women I know. Kinder than Mother Teresa with the mouths of a sailor! It’s the perfect combination! They love to laugh, they love to have fun, they love god, and they don’t take life too seriously. All these gifts they passed on to me…and I am forever in their debt.
Now, Ms. Deidra Arrington became my accidental Diva. I used to sit in her class and write down all the funny things she would say with her Alabama Accent. “They were as ugly as a mud-fish flappin’ on the shore…bless their heart!” She was always dressed to the nines, and didn’t put up with bull s**t. I loved it! So every time I brush my red hair, I think of that Southern Diva.
You perform regularly with the Trailer Court, The Faces of Nations, cast you are also the Mistress of Ceremonies for all of the shows with Richmond Varietease, what do you like about ensemble performances?
It’s all about the community. We learn and grow with each other’s help. It becomes not only a support system, but a creative breeding ground. I’m not Bea Arthur; I don’t think I can command an audience by myself for 2 hours…at least not yet.
And all the girls have become family. It’s like hanging out at home with the people I love. These shows are always the highlight of my week because I get to spend the time with my extended family.
You mix burlesque in to your drag numbers, and you tend to use a lot of music with a 1940s feel to it. What is its appeal to you?
It’s all about the unexpected. The audience doesn’t expect a drag queen that is not augmented to go down to pasties and twirl some tassels. It’s about shock value and just being different. I get bored easily, so I perform the way I do to entertain myself. The music also fits who I am: classic, but with a comical twist to it. When I stumble across a song that is melodically like Mozart, but whose lyrics are about auto-fallacio – that is a gold mine for me! I’m not gonna prance around doing windmills with a crown on my head lip-synching to ABBA…unless I can figure out something to pull out of my bra!
You recently did a big Drag benefit show at VCU, where you work and also where you graduated from. Do you feel that you (Magnolia) are a role model for LQBTIQ youth?
Damn straight! I want nothing more than to liberate all these beautiful humans from the chains society has put on them. For so long I hid so much of myself: my sexuality, my creative expression, and my opinions. But one day I just decided to start my own revolution. Viva la Revolution!
I look back on all the bullies and cruelty society dealt me, and I think, “These lowlifes could never do what I do, because they hold nothing but fear in their hearts.” I have let go of the fear. I have liberated myself. I know it is all about love. And to all the LGBTIQ youth reading this, know that you are beautiful and you have the right to be yourself and the right to love who you are.
What are three things we don’t know about Magnolia’s alter ego Justin Brooks Castonguay?
I’m a fairly talented visual artist. I considered going to school to be an art teacher…which I’m still considering.
I’m scared of balloons.
When I was little, I wanted to be a wicked witch when I grew up.
You've probably seen Eric "Pop My Flash" Russell around town. The Richmond-based photographer has captured everyone from celebrity drag queens and puppets to international bodybuilders. When not behind the lens, Eric can be found in front of it with his two web series that he hosts and produces Out and About and Under The Wig for GayRVA.com.
After a night at a drag show in Omaha, Nebraska, Marine Ryan Langenegger and his two gay friends (one in drag) were having a late night snack at a local bar. But before long, the 3 were verbally assaulted and followed outside the establishment. Lagenegger, who identifies as straight, then told the strangers he and his [...]October 31, 2013
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