'RuPaul's Drag Race' Season 11: Honey Davenport, Ariel Versace serving New Jersey realness

Alex Biese
Asbury Park Press
Honey Davenport, Asbury Park's Miss Paradise 2018, is among the contestants on Season 11 of "RuPaul's Drag Race," premiering 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28.

"RuPaul's Drag Race" is having its most Jersey season ever with two Garden State queens competing on the newest season of the VH1 reality competition show. (The second episode airs Friday at 9 ET/PT.)

This season's 15-queen line-up includes Ariel Versace of Cherry Hill, the self-proclaimed "life-sized Bratz doll," and Honey Davenport, who reigned over Asbury Park's nightlife scene as Miss Paradise 2018.

And New Jersey has long been represented at the judge's table by Michelle Visage, who mocked her South Plainfield roots in the Season 10 courtroom TV sketch "Jersey Justice."

Davenport, a 32-year-old West Philadelphia native now based in New York City, has been performing in the drag scene for a decade. Over that time, she has seen drag vastly expand its mainstream visibility and crossover appeal.

“I think that the world is starting to realize this is just another way that an artist can display their talents," Davenport says. "And it happens to be a really cool one where you can create music and create visual art and all of that rolled into one.

"And it’s called drag, but it’s so many things, a huge collection of many types of art and it’s quite unstoppable.”

Davenport had ties to "Drag Race" even before stepping into the show's "werk room." She's the drag niece of Season 2 contestant Sahara Davenport, who was in a relationship with Manila Luzon (Season 3 and "All-Stars" Seasons 1 and 4) before she died in 2012. And she herself is a drag mother, or mentor, to Monet X Change, who competed in Season 10 and tied Trinity the Tuck for the "All-Stars" Season 4 crown.

Honey Davenport, pictured on stage at the 2012 Jersey Pride festival in Asbury Park.

But even with that significant legacy surrounding her, Davenport says she competed on Season 11 on her own terms.

“Honestly, from the moment I started getting ready for the challenges at hand, I realized that throughout those years I have been carrying the suitcases and rhinestoning the garments of these people, and giving them hope and inspiration for their piece too, and this was just my turn for me," Davenport says. "So I don’t really care what they or anybody else thinks about my art, I just feel like I have a message to share and I’m getting to convey it.”

Davenport's message, as a queer person of color who said she struggled for a long time to find beauty in being black, is a clear and powerful call for acceptance and self-empowerment.

“I’m overwhelmed with the platform that I’ve been given to spread that message that everybody’s beautiful and everybody should love and appreciate themselves and everyone else," Davenport said. "Because just that we’re different doesn’t mean that anybody is more or better than anyone else.”

Versace, 26, has been a drag performer for six years. Finally arriving on "Drag Race" after auditioning for four years, she said her time on the show offers her an opportunity to expand her audience beyond South Jersey and her 170,000 Instagram followers.

“I have my thing going on here, my little Jersey scene that I have, and I’m content with that and everything," Versace said. "But being the social media queen, I want to start having a bigger following online for this area.

"I want to be able to start touring, going around and meeting people and going places that I never would have been able to go before. So 'Drag Race' is an amazing platform, obviously, to get your name out there.”

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The show is also giving her a chance to showcase products from Drag by Chariel, the wig company whose name is a portmanteau of her stage name and that of Chasity St. Cartier, her romantic and business partner and a fellow queen.

Versace says her classically Jersey look and demeanor – big hair, bold make-up and an attitude she described as "go big or go home" – should make her a formidable "Drag Race" competitor.

Ariel Versace of Cherry Hill is one of the contestants on Season 11 of "RuPaul's Drag Race."

"I think it’s going to be something really fun to see on the runway, where it’s like that large, over-the-top style (and) persona with big hair, big make-up," Versace said. "I think it’s just going to be a really fun thing for people to see come to life on the stage rather than just seeing pictures online.”

The queens' local communities have shown them plenty of support as they each compete for their place in what RuPaul calls "Drag Race herstory."

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Davenport's family owned a beach house in Point Pleasant when she was growing up. In college, she and her New York City friends would travel to the house and spend nights a few miles up the shore at Paradise.

“It was a cool, big, gay nightclub and it was just a really awesome escape from New York City, with all of the hustle and bustle and everything,” Davenport said of the hot spot.

After first being taken to perform there by her drag aunt Sahara Davenport, Honey eventually found pageant victory, and another home, at Paradise.

“It’s just given me a place where not only I can create my art, but also a family that truly loves and supports me and everything that I do," Davenport said, "which was something I never really had performing in New York City: a whole city that stands up for me.”