You have seen her. She has performed everywhere, and if she hasn’t, she will eventually. Most commonly known as Detroit’s Drag Princess, Bentley James is one of the beautiful faces that are seen all over Detroit and all over social media when she isn’t performing. An ever evolving and growing force in the drag scene here in Detroit, this queen has captured our attention with sass, class, and an attitude.
So, where did the name Bentley come from?
I was going to make up some big extravagant story, about how I wanted something sleek, sexy and powerful, but that would be a total lie. Honestly what happened was, one day before I started performing and I was still putting on my wet and wild and not getting a close shave, like every other newbie queen. I got into a big fight with my sister about something stupid – I can’t even remember what about now – and I remember telling her I was stealing the name Bentley from her because that’s what she wanted to name her first kid, Whether it was a boy or a girl. And I did just that, and it has stuck ever since. I actually grew to like it though; it’s a fun and unique name for sure, so I stand out among the crowd. And I love the mix of the masculine and feminine qualities of the name as well. It’s kind of fun being at new venue, and having them announce me, probably thinking its a male by male entertainer, basically a stripper, because it is a more masculine name, and then out comes me, looking like a chubby Victoria’s Secret Angel, the looks on peoples faces still gets me every time.
Are you originally from Detroit?
Surprisingly enough, no. I was actually born and raised in Flint, MI. A few years ago, I finally decided to move down the Detroit area with my roommates Kyle and Jon, and going 3 years strong, we have been inseparable ever since. Now you can find me in the fabulous town of Ferndale, acting up and causing trouble at the Local 7-11, most likely getting my Slurpee and taquito fix. I guess it’s true what they say, you can take the girl out of Flint, but you can’t take the Flint out of the girl. Not to mention the scenery in Ferndale really is some of the prettiest I have ever seen. I now know why everyone raves about it and it really is an amazing place to live. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should.
Is drag your only occupation?
It used to be, I worked as a full time female illusionist for the first 3 years of my drag Career. But now on top of drag, I’m a Barista at Starbucks at 12 and Mound in Warren, MI. It is honestly a huge change from what I’m used to, and sometimes I miss the days of having no responsibilities and being my own boss, but the security that having a day job gives me is worth every second of it. At my job, we are literally like a family, we all care about each other so much, and to find something like that in the work force is very rare nowadays. So I honestly consider myself blessed. Not many people can wake up and be excited to go to work every day, and for me, I get to do that twice as often with having both jobs. So I would say it’s well worth it, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
Why are you called Detroit’s Drag Princess?
It actually started as a tagline given to me by my friends Michael Christian and Teddy. As you probably know I emcee and entertain at all the shows that they and their company, the Motor City Drag Kings, put on and produce. We figured it made sense because I’m obviously not a king, And I was still really fresh and young at the time, princess just seemed fitting, rather than queen. It showed I have room to grow (and still do). But now I like to see it as my seal of approval for myself. It’s really awesome knowing that when people think of the best Detroit has to offer – the Royalty if you will – like Nickki Stevens, Deja Van Cartier, Sabin, DeAngela, etc., that people now think of me as well. And I’m really grateful for that. Trust me when I say I’m going to do my best to continue being the best I can be, and give you all the best show that I can give, Detroit’s Drag princess isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I can promise you that.
What is your personal style of drag, and/or how would you describe yourself?
At the end of the day I’m a glamour girl at heart. I LIVE for big hair, flashy costumes with rhinestones and beads for days, feathers, etc. But I’m also not afraid to get into the darker side of drag, too, very dark, vampy and sexy. No matter what I do with my shows, there is always going to be an element of sex appeal. That’s my calling card I guess you could say. I have a wide variety of characters and illusions as well, ranging from Adele and Jessie J, to more over the top illusions like the Grinch and Fat Bastard from Austin Powers. Essentially, if you have a paycheck, I have a costume and a gig to back it up. I’m ready for any occasion at any time, which to me is the best, most professional way to be.
Many queens are or have been inspired by other drag queens. Who are your inspirations?
My biggest Inspirations have got to be the girls from the Continental Pageantry System. People like Erica Andrews, Monica Munro, Sasha Colby (my biggest inspiration), Mimi Marks, and Candis Cayne, just to name a few. They are the epitome of everything that I love about drag – big hair, extravagant costumes, jewelry, and beauty in spades. Those are the things I value the most in the entertainment industry, and girls like that are the ones who represent that for me. Other Inspirations are the girls like Candi Stratton, Aurora Sexton, and Jasmine International.
On a local Front, My inspirations here have got to be my drag mother, Deja Van Cartier, Melony Von Kruz, and Shauntrelle Blu. All three of them are absolutely stunning and have a stage presence that’s unmatched by anyone in the area in my opinion. And I’m honestly lucky enough to call them all mentors, and am proud to show off the fact that they taught me pretty much everything I know. I seriously wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today if it wasn’t for them, and for that I’m very thankful.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the more popular and successful queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Who are some of your favorites?
Two Words, Alyssa Edwards. I have worked with her on more than one occasion, and she is the only girl from Drag Race I still keep in semi-regular contact with. She is seriously one of the funniest, most talented people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I can’t wait for the next time she’s in town. Courtney Act and Willam are pretty awesome, as well. But as far as the others are concerned, they all seem to be pretty cool for the most part, but honestly, with them doing the meet and greets, and getting ready, as well as us local queens getting ready in our own space, contact and chitchat were pretty limited, unfortunately. But those shows are still some of the best times I’ve ever had, and the memories I made and the people I met are seriously something I will cherish for a lifetime, and I’m very lucky and grateful for that.
Do you have any aspirations to be on Drag Race? Do you have any other professional goals?
I would like to be on Drag Race one day. I think I have a lot to offer as an entertainer that America would like to see. I’m extremely versatile with a wide variety of looks and talents to offer. I can sew all of my own garments, do hair, makeup, make all of my performance mixes, as well as have a quick wit, and a loud mouth, as we all know. But, on a professional level, one day I would like to be a teacher in the special education field. Those kids are some of the most beautiful, genuine people out there, and to be able to work with them, and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives, would be extremely fulfilling to me. I’ve been told it can be an extremely stressful field, but at the end of the day, I honestly think I could do that and live a very happy life, and be a very happy man.
As a younger queen, and with Drag Race changing how drag is perceived and expanding the audiences into the mainstream, what do you think the future of drag will become?
Drag has honestly changed so much in the past five years it’s insane. With Drag Race blowing it up into such a huge phenomenon, we have been given a platform we have never been able to access before. Before the show, drag was honestly on a huge decline, with the economy and all, and that was right around the time when I first started performing, so I never really got to experience the “glory days” of drag, as the girls like to call it. I honestly think that if the new platform we have been given thanks to Drag Race is used correctly, that we can take drag back to the way it used to be. But that all starts with all of you, come out and see the shows, support your local kings and queens, and enjoy the things that we have to offer you, because let’s be honest, you never know who’s going to end up on that TV next.
You’re a regular cast member at Inferno in Inkster, right? What are you up to over there?
I sure am! Inferno is probably one of my favorite establishments I have ever worked for. The owners are a complete joy and being right in between Ann Arbor and Detroit, it’s honestly the perfect party destination. We have a little something for everyone, as well. Being such a large building, you can pretty much find something for whatever you are looking for. In one room, if you want to see drag, we have a full cabaret showroom, with a stellar rotating cast of entertainers, as well as a large dance club on the other side, complete with fog machines, an over the top lighting and sound system, and music videos playing on large screens all night long. You can catch me there on Friday nights hosting my all male erotic dancer revue. Very Magic Mike-esque is honestly the best way to describe it – professional male dancers with costumes and themes. There really isn’t a show in Michigan like it, so it’s worth checking out. I will also be there on Wednesday nights starting mid-September, as we host the Detroit Drag Race, a competition where the best and the newest in the Detroit drag scene battle it out to see who’s going to come out on top.
What is your advice for queens who would like to jump into drag now?
The most important thing for a new girl to know is to watch your mouth and watch your ego. I see it all the time in the bar, a new girl walking around like she’s the hottest thing in the club, only to get cut down by the more experienced girls in two seconds. Being humble is the key to being successful in any field, but more so in drag because it’s probably one of the most cutthroat and competitive fields you can be in. So stay humble and keep an open mind and a willingness to learn and you will be just fine. Also, network the hell out of yourself; you are your own brand and your own business, so it’s up to you to make yourself successful, nobody else is going to do it for you. I myself learned all of these things the hard way, so take it from me ladies!
You can find Bentley on Instagram @bentley_james or Facebook at facebook.com/benltey.james.98