Hi there Kari! Condragulations on winning Miss Barracuda! I hope you’ve gotten a few moments to rest and relax after your four week sprint to the crown!
It was absolutely a whirlwind month. Exhausting! I spent the weekend a little sleep deprived but with a big smile on my face.
How did you decide to run for Miss Barracuda?
Its honestly something I’ve thought about for the last few years. I’ve watched the previous competitions and always been really impressed by the category challenges. They are so creative and different, they really push the girls to create such unusual and fun drag. It was something I wanted to be part of.
How long has this competition been going on for?
I am the fourth Miss Barracuda and there are three amazing formers ahead of me. (Ari Kiki, Jasmine Rice and Maci Sumcox). So Barracuda has a twenty year drag legacy, but the competition is fairly new, coming from the twisted mind of Tina Burner!
Let’s go back in time a bit. Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, but I started drag in Columbus, Ohio. I went to art school in Ohio (I’m a graphic designer) and started performing with my drag mother Nina West for three years before moving to NYC.
What prompted your move here?
I came to New York City to go to graduate school. I wanted to study design more, and did a masters program at Pratt so I moved here in September of 2012.
And because we don’t have enough drag queens here?
What got you interested in drag?
Queens enter drag from so many different places, but I think most NYC queens are theater or dance people. I came from a completely different place. I’ve always been a visual artist, having first been an illustrator and then a graphic designer. I see my drag as an extension of that visual art. I love the conception behind a number. I love to create things that I’ve never seen before, to bring life to an original idea. But before I started drag I was anything but a trained performer. I was actually pretty uncomfortable and awkward on stage (and some would argue still am *laughs*). But that fear was weirdly alluring, and something about drag always pulled at me. So after I graduated undergrad, and after hosting a number of drag events on campus as a student, I finally mustered up the courage to do a bar competition. The night of the show was literally my first time in drag (real drag at least, aside from silly Halloween costume). I won the competition out of pure fearless gumption because I certainly wasn’t pretty or graceful.*Laughs* But that win was how I met my drag mother and the amazing family that encouraged and taught me.
Well of course! All the queens here have that backgr….wait, did you say you DIDN’T go to school for musical theater??
*Laughs* Right? I seem to be an anomaly, especially in NYC drag. Please don’t quiz me on musicals… because I will fail! It can make a Hell’s Kitchen drag suicide very challenging!
I’m a petite 5′ 14″ so you’re one of the few queens that I literally look up to. How tall are you in heels and hair? What kind of unique challenges does being tall present to you?
So out of heels I’m 6’5″. When I decide to wear pretty hair, I’ve got to be around 7 foot (Which is monstrous)! It goes back to my awkwardness though – I’ve never felt I was a graceful person. I grew up seeing myself as this lumbering goof. *laughs* Drag has been a way I can reclaim this. I get up on stage and own my height and my movements. Its very “OWN network”-ish empowering actually. And anyway … Chandelier (Period) is taller than I am by a few inches, so I’m not the freak of NYC until she gives up that title ( I WOULD PUT A WINK EMOJI HERE IF I COULD BECAUSE THAT’S COMPLETELY OUT OF LOVE)!
Where did the name Kari Kerning come from?
Kerning is a graphic design term so its a shout out to my nerdy design brethren. I wanted a name that sounded good. that had some alliteration so Kari came from a lesbian bartender who worked at a club in Columbus. My drag aesthetic has always been informed by my love of strong lesbian women so I had to take her name. *Laughs*
So does that mean you have several she-mullet wigs and flannels in your drag closet?
*Laughs* Not much flannel, but I probably own every shortcut wig they sell at Beauty 35. I think that mix of masculine and feminine energy is just so great, like Grace Jones or Brigitte Nielsen, beautiful women who are confident in who they are, and can also kick your ass, neither of them being lesbians but they were styled after lesbians! *laughs*
So one of the videos you did for the competition, the one featuring everyone’s favorite racist drunk uncle, Donald Trump, proved to be a big hit and was even promo’d by World of Wonder. How did you come up with that video?
Yes! That was so exciting – I was really honored to have them repost that! I’ve always been very interested in politics. As queer people we should all be paying attention to and concerned about this upcoming election, and I think humor can be such a great tool to have these discussions. It makes these conversations fun and accessible. Not everybody is going to be reading the NY Times and following these primaries, but if we can get a room full of gay people laughing at Donald Trump, being reminded of the issues that part of this election, then that’s a good thing. Plus what an easy Target. Its so scary that a man this comical is front runner in the Republican party. What kind of bizzaro world are we living in? Drag is at its best, in my opinion, when it is used as a platform to talk about social issues like this. These conversations should be fun, not intimidating.
But how did you get that badger to stay on your head?
*Laughs* You can’t give away ALL your tricks!
Of course not. If you give me your tricks, how will you pay your rent?
That’s how my career has been made.
The field of contestants for Miss Barracuda was SO loaded this year! Was that intimidating for you to see so many talented queens competing?
Absolutely – but that was part of the draw. We pushed each other every week. Every time I see Holly Box-Springs flip some amazing costume or Kim Smallz walk around looking a god damn Galliano model, it makes me jealous and want to one up them. It’s such a great creative environment to be in. I think that’s one of the reasons each week was so incredible. We were all clawing over each other to that crown! *Laughs*
You turned some fabulous looks, including your ET look. Where did the inspiration for that come from and if you say the movie, I’ll slug you!
This bitch just loves Reeses Pieces. If you eat as much of that peanut butter candy as I do, you’re bound to have that idea.
*Laughs* Hey whatever you need to do to get to the crown right? Take my leg! I really wanted a gown that people wouldn’t expect so the idea of a hoodie gown was so funny to me, mixing high and low brow like that. So once I doodled the idea in my notebook, I ran with it. Chris Haynes helped me make that come to life. He’s INCREDIBLE! I had to get that plug in there.
When the time came to announce the new Miss Barracuda, did you think you had done enough to win? What was going through your mind at that moment?
I’m not sure if other queens work this way but I am COMPLETELY fueled by fear and self doubt. I never think I’ve done enough and I’m constantly anxious about it. Until they pinned that crown on my head I was nervous, its the only way I can function. *Laughs*
Is that the struggle of the creative person?
I’m going to say that so I don’t feel as crazy as I actually am! *laughs*
No….you’re crazy honey. But if it works, it works for you.
Until I end up in a straight jacket… oh wait I bet I could turn a straight jacket into a cute costume! Never mind, I feel better!
So what is next for you my dear?
I’m still trying to figure that out, but its an exciting time! Hopefully I will be around the city, no dates yet to post (that’s my subtle hint to all the girls reading this article, super tactful right?). I’m going to be on Fire Island August 7th doing my first Brunch at the Island Breeze which is super exciting. And I have a few video projects and possibly a few more pageants I’m toying with. So there will definitely be fun things happening.
Get the hint bitches! Miss Barracuda needs some work!
I’ll bring a puppet with me, so its basically two for the price of one discount!
Looking ahead, what goals do you have for yourself?
I’ve always had this conflict between my day job (which is fairly time consuming at a design firm) and my nightlife – life. But I’ve come to realize that I can’t really live without either of these sides to my personality. So I guess my goal is to keep growing in both lives, and maybe weave them closer together. When I went back to school, I slowed down my drag career quite a bit; I want to start putting more effort and energy into Kari. That’s my 2016 goal. She’s going to polish up and come back stronger than ever. So be prepared for some more weird prop numbers in the near future,
Thank you so much for your time tonight honey….and for you attempts at emoji restraint. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our readers?
Its been a lot of fun thank you so much for having me! Other than plugging my social media (instagram, youtube, facebook), there is only one thing I’ll leave as a word of wisdom. Drag is such an important queer art form, so get out there and support it. And by it, I mean me. Just come out and support me. Those other girls are doing fine.