The men’s restroom at The Cavern Club in Ann Arbor is draped in all things feminine, with an assortment of wigs, corsets and costumes scattered about. The sound of Diana Ross’ voice faintly sings from a tiny boom box as Paul Bowling, 22, stares curiously at his handsome reflection in the mirror, before plucking a brush from the overwhelming heap of makeup on the counter.
As the music plays, he contorts his face, applying white powder with each swoop of the brush, propelling it in the air. He sways gently, looking at his features from different angles while telling his humble beginnings of creating his drag persona Jadein Black.
“I looked horrible, girl!” Bowling said with a giggle. “I wish I could find the pictures.”
Bowling was a part of the bar scene since the age of 16 and was so fond of drag queens that he decided to try out for an amateur competition. He lost but was determined to try again. A drag performer named Deja Van Cartier from Gigi’s Cabaret in Detroit noticed the young queen and took him under her wings and taught him the ways of drag, which helped developed the look and allure of Jadein Black.
“She always taught me to blend my makeup,” Bowling said. “A lot of queens wear a lot of makeup. I know that I will eventually have to wear a lot of makeup, like really paint my face as I get older. If I have youthful features I want to use them to my advantage at the time.”
In the streets of Ann Arbor, Bowling has morphed into Jadein Black, who walks proudly with confidence and femininity while passing out fliers for drag queen bingo to pedestrians on the street. He noticeably received a warm reception from women of color and often cold reception from some Caucasian women.
“I don’t mean to be racist but I get a lot feedback from black girls. I say, ‘Hey girl! What’s going on girl?’ And they live!” he said. “A lot of them don’t have an attitude, [but] a lot of white girls get jealous.”
Bowling, a native of Ann Arbor, is in his sixth year at Eastern Michigan University. He is majoring in vocal music education where he sings baritone and will be a student teacher next fall for music education. Prior to transferring here, he attended Washtenaw Community College and transferred to Kalamazoo Community College.
After losing his father at the age of 12, he focused his attention on his love of music by playing piano and singing in choirs, which helped him cope.
“This is why I love performing arts,” Bowling said. “My goal is to make an impact on someone’s life.”
As far as support or knowledge of his drag persona on campus, everyone is aware and has been receptive, including some of his professors.
“I use to be very closed about it. Some of my instructors come out to the shows,” he said. “My instructor freshman year told me that I shouldn’t make it public since I’m going to be an educator. You know, that it would hurt me finding a job and they will do searches of ‘Paul Bowling’ and they will see a drag queen.”
Despite that, Bowling feels fortunate to have the support of his drag family, like Crystal Harding and Chanel Hunter, fans, as well as his mother, who has attended his drag shows. He laughs recalling a time he received a call from her, telling him that his grandmother tried to fit into his high pumps, exclaiming, “How in the hell can he get into these?”
“I think a lot of the queens don’t have that and I’m very lucky to have something like that that’s available to me and I can go and talk to my mom, who knows everything about my life,” he said. “She knows everything, she’s very supportive. I think it’s a blessing to have that upbringing with somebody that supports me like that.”
One question that almost every drag queen hears from fans is “Will you audition for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race?’” If drag was his primary source of income, possibly. He has worked alongside former ‘Drag Race’ competitors like Chad Michaels, Jinkx Monsoon and Shangela but personally, but competing isn’t in his sights.
“I can go out and around to get my name known,” he said. “I don’t need to jump out on some show in order to make more money only because this is my second job and I choose not to. If it was my primary source of income I would definitely take out a $10,000 loan, go around places, show my shit off, get in touch with managers and be on TV shows because that helps.”
You can see Jadein Black and Chanel Hunter during the Boylesque Halloween Bash on Sunday, Oct. 13 at Woodruff’s, 36 E. Cross St. Special guest will be Miss International Entertainer of the Year 2009 Bianca Nicole. There will be a costume contest with prizes for first and second place winners. Doors open at 9 p.m. and cover is $5.