"How’s this?” says Minneapolis drag performer Max Malanaphy as he vamps in an out-of-order vintage phone booth at Vita.mn headquarters. Phone in hand, he contorts his long, lithe frame in the booth like a seasoned fashion model. Next, he brings his posing skills to the building’s freight elevator and abandoned basement, in which the spray from an industrial showerhead is cheerily deflected by a vintage umbrella.
When the seventh season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres on Monday on LGBT cable channel Logo, Malanaphy will be the third contestant from the Twin Cities (after Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet and Season 3’s Manila Luzon) to appear on the reality TV show produced and hosted by iconic drag queen RuPaul.
Malanaphy’s polished drag look is equal parts vintage glamour and haute-couture goth, set off with a silver wig and blood-red lipstick. “There’s a dark magic to it,” he says. “I take from Old Hollywood and bits and pieces from literature and films, like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and all the ‘Wizard of Oz’ books. It’s always a little mad.”
In drag, Max is as prone to don a black satin cone bra, a la “Blonde Ambition”-era Madonna, as a vintage fur coat and figure-skimming gown. Out of drag, the 6-foot-5 Malanaphy is an equally striking figure as he strides into Spyhouse in Uptown wearing a black collared shirt and skinny jeans with a black fur stole and an aviator’s cap worn cocked to the side, Brando-style.
M alanaphy, 22, was the middle child of five siblings in Portsmouth, N.H., where he worshiped Judy Garland, Julie Andrews and Lucille Ball. At the age of 8, he moved with his family to Hudson, Wis., where he lived until relocating to Minneapolis in 2013. It was then he began to develop the persona and look of Max, the drag queen.
On why he performs under his given name instead of a drag nom de guerre, he says, “Nothing felt right. Someone said, ‘Malanaphy? That’s a silly drag name.’ It sounds like one of the characters from ‘Cats,” like Mr. Mistoffelees. It’s a little bit of a riddle, which is why I just go by the first name.”
The comparison to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical based on a T.S. Eliot book about whimsical cats isn’t that far off — Malanaphy comes from a theater background, while most queens get their start in the gay club circuit. Malanaphy says he initially developed his drag act while performing in community-theater stagings of the musicals “Cabaret” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” — both of which have a propensity toward glittery costumes and gender-bending.
Accordingly, the trailer for the “Drag Race” season premiere previews a few of Max’s theatrical looks, including a red-stained white silk gown, complete with hidden blood pack, that Malanaphy calls the “Bleeding Heart.”
“Once you see it on the show, you’ll see that it functions, it actually bleeds,” he says. The look is meant to portray the way his drag persona would have died, with Malanaphy carrying the “heart” that was ripped from his chest in a Snow White-esque glass casket as he walks the runway. “It was very fairy-tale,” he says. “I wanted it to be tragic.”
So far, it’s looking like Malanaphy’s stint on “Drag Race” will be anything but tragic. He says he’s already lined up a handful of U.S. gigs and has received interest from promoters in Berlin, London and Australia. He also plans to make a splash at Twin Cities Pride in June. Eventually, he dreams of stepping beyond the club circuit and performing in films and staged productions — and even working with Disney.
“I think drag can transcend the boundaries of just the LGBT community,” he says — and he thinks “Drag Race” is the perfect launching pad. “It’s pushing drag into something that’s more globally accessible than it ever has been before,” he says of the show.
One thing’s for sure: He’s definitely going to give the “Drag Race” queens a run for their waist cinchers.
Ru Paul’s Drag Race
What: Season 7 premiere.
When: 8 p.m. Mon.
Viewing parties: Max will appear and perform at Camp Bar (490 N. Robert St., St. Paul). Also, the Gay 90s (408 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.) will have drink specials, giveaways and contests.