This coming Tuesday is the first day of summer and the beginning of a fabulous new weekly, Amanda Lepore’s Penthouse. The gala will be at the ever adaptable Ganesvoort Park. Joey Israel and Kenny Kenny will add to the magic, and Marco Ovando will host. The rooftop pool deck and penthouse will be the scene of the action for a crowd that loves nothing more than to dress up and be seen. The amazing Joey Arias will perform. This is a can’t miss event for the fashionista, gay, and fabulous crowd, which is finding a renewed resurgence in the new hotels we talk so much about.
Susanne Bartsch, the grand dame of this world, is of course doing her “On Top” thing over at the Standard on Tuesdays, so everyone will be all dressed up with at least two places to go. For a while, this crowd was pushed to the fringes as bottle service bucks pushed these fabulous ones to off-nights in irrelevant clubs. Now, the new world of nightlife is embracing this clan again, as they want their guests to have a true New York experience to tell all their friends back home about. Today’s interview is with Amanda Lepore, a true NY experience. She has an album coming out and a huge soiree slated at the Highline Ballroom to support it. She seems ready to expand her brand and re-re-re-invent herself.
I’m sitting with an old friend of mine, Amanda Lepore, who has worked with me many times. I don’t wanna say ‘worked for me,’ because in nightlife everyone has their roles, and my role might have been a director or whatever, and Amanda certainly was part of the entire circus that we tried to create. She’s a brilliant persona and has created an international brand with her appearance, performances, and parties. I’ve learned so much from her. Talk to me about your gender and how you became what you are today. Well, I started out in life thinking I was a girl, and my parents and stuff and everything would cut my hair and not buy dresses for me. And I didn’t even understand what they were doing. I just thought they were punishing me for something. And then, you know, slowly when you like get older, you realize, oh well, I’m stuck with this guy’s body. I did everything I could to change it, because I was really disturbed by it. I definitely have a female mind, I took hormones when I was 15, and I started getting breasts, and I saw talk shows, and people getting sex changes, and heard that it was possible, so I did it as soon as I can. I met a boyfriend that was supportive, and his father paid for my sex change, and I became a girl and didn’t really have any ambitions, I just wanted to be a pretty girl and maybe work in a mall doing makeup or something.
Your look is iconic. It’s a Marilyn Monroe caricature. What are you trying to say with your look, and when people you don’t know see you, what is their reaction? Well, I think at first I actually didn’t even have breast implants, I had little hormone breasts. And it was a wave. I’d always watched movies and stuff, and I really liked the Hollywood bombshells. I always liked like hips and breasts and all that, and I always thought it was the most feminine body type. So I wanted to look sexier, and I would buy clothes, and try on a top and I wouldn’t fill it out, so I could only wear certain things. I got more fascinated with girls in Playboy, so I got my breasts done, and I got lips.
You also have a persona. You always are classy. You are always on. You are always performing, if you will. Is there a time when you go home at night and turn it off? Is Amanda Lepore a 24-hour thing? It’s a 24-hour thing. I mean of course, I do errands and everything and I’m not made up. I’d like to think that people don’t recognize me, but people recognize me and say hi and treat me exactly the same. I’ll be insecure about it, but sometimes I’ll meet guys I went out with and they’ll say, “Oh, you look pretty and don’t worry about it.” But I feel better made up.
Well now you have a record coming out and you are doing an event, which coincides with this record. This is really important to you. Tell me about the production of that record, which has involvement from some of my old friends: Roxy Cottontail, Larry Tee, Cazwell. Your life is a performance art piece, but now you’re actually performing as an artist, a different step altogether. Now you have put out records before, but this album is different. A lot of people are talking about the legitimization of Amanda Lepore as a music artist. Well, it was a slow kind of a thing. Around the time we worked together at Life and Spa is where it all started. I would have those birthday parties once a year, and I always admired the scene, like there was the electro scene with Larry Tee and Cazwell—he was one of the best, we really liked his music. We would hire him for my birthday parties every year and he would perform. And then one day, he saw me partying with champagne. And he said, “I wrote this song ‘Champagne’ for you, would you do it?” And I said, “Sure, that would be great.” It took me a long time to learn it and do it well, but it was a success.
Tell me about the songs on the new record. “Turn Me On, Turn Me Over,” is I guess a sequel to “My Pussy.” There’s “Convertible” and “All I Wanna Do Is Get My Nails Done.” Roxy Cottontail does a rap on it with Cazwell.
Sounds like so much fun. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
So, the Highline Ballroom. We were just there for the Night of a Thousand Stevies, the Jackie Factory tribute to everything Stevie Nicks. It’s becoming this very legitimate venue for the fashion and gay set. Yea, Lady Gaga had her record release party and me and Cazwell performed at it, so it was really cool.
Did you talk to Lady Gaga that night? Yea, she knows who I am.
What does Lady Gaga talk to Amanda Lepore about? She just said, “Hi Amanda.” She was busy.
You didn’t talk about hair. Well actually, one time, when David LaChapelle was photographing her for Rolling Stone, and we went to her house and she cooked dinner for her boyfriend— it was at her boyfriend’s house at the time—she just talked a bit about getting up in the morning, she seemed like just a girl from Queens, kind of, she had her Jersey Shore kind of friends, you know, they were calling her Stefani, and you could really tell that it was Lady Gaga in the making.
Your relationship with David LaChapelle has been famous. You’ve been called his muse. We know David from the beginning, he was hanging out at the clubs when he was younger. He was this great up and coming photographer who became this mega photographer. Has your relationship changed with David over time? We’ve been friends all along. I didn’t see him as much when he moved to LA and then to Hawaii. He wanted me to come to LA but I don’t drive or anything, I’m just used to being in New York. We’ve been really close friends over the years, he’s great.
Where is the connection between you and him? Where do the minds meet? I think that we see things that other people don’t see. We’re kind of perfectionists, we’re both narcissistic, you know, he was attracted to me. He’d seen me in a club and was attracted to me because he actually used to draw girls that looked like me when he was like 15. They were always naked with big boobs, big lips and cheeks, and always had different hair. He actually showed me the pictures at his mother’s house once. It was really wild. They looked identical to me.
Why are you shy? I think from being harassed in school. I wasn’t an outgoing person, you know, when I first left my husband. I worked as a dominatrix, and they would really tell me not to tell guys that I was a transsexual. But in nightclubs, we were sort of celebrated for being a transsexual. I really related to these kids, they came from other cities and grew up being harassed and had the same kind of thing.
I’ve talked to the Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, Carmen Xtravaganza, a dear friend of mine about how difficult it was for her to find her true self, make the change, and to move forward with her life and have a productive life. You are, in a sense, a leader, an icon, and you are an example to a younger generation. It must be easier nowadays, but still impossibly difficult. The surgeries are easier, more accessible. And certainly, your gender, or your definition of gender, is more acceptable than it was 20 years ago or 10 years ago. Talk about how you feel about that responsibility to people and how young people approach you and talk to you. I think it’s a great responsibility, you know, it’s really hard for them. It’s a struggle to come up with the money, it’s very expensive, and the main problem is the bullying.
What do you have to say to that? The key to overcoming that is to feel proud of who you are.