From teetering in his mother’s heels as a child to becoming one of the most-loved performers currently on the North East drag circuit, Jonmichael Samuels has managed to come back from the brink of ill health to make his name known. Well, maybe not his name. He’s better known as Dixie Swallows, the camp, musical-theatre loving drag queen who in 2014 romped to the final of Drag Idol Newcastle. Now, he’s branching out, bringing his ‘one-woman show’ to Sunderland’s Quayside Exchange this Friday.
Seeing Dixie Swallows up in her ‘box’ as she calls it (a DJ booth to you and I) you wouldn’t believe that this was someone who once lacked confidence. But before turning his hand to performing, the man behind the make-up lived quite a different life.
“Before I did drag, my health wasn’t too grand,” he tells me. “I was unable to work due to ill health. But I’m not going to turn this into a sob story!
I’m jokingly known locally as ‘Deaf Dixie’, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. I suffer from arthritis and I’m also epileptic.
To cut a long story short, I never thought I’d be able to work.”
But when he heard about the Drag Idol competition, he decided to try out something completely new. “I was a fan of Drag Idol but never once did I think it would be something I could do as a career. But, I’m very much a ‘live in the here and now’ kind of person so I pushed myself to give it a go.”
And give it a go he did, reaching the final and becoming a firm favourite of head judge, Miss Rory. Dixie’s eclectic performance style ranged from a take on Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques: The Musical to Mrs Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances. He become the ‘comedy queen’ and had audiences in stitches week after week. “The competition was very difficult, both technically and physically. However, the enjoyment of meeting new people and the sense of escapism outlawed any of the difficulties.
I came first runner up and it was a totally overwhelming experience.
Before Drag Idol, the only experience I had performing was playing the piano once at a school music festival when I was 15. Oh, and trotting up the garden path in my mother’s stiletto boots as a child,” he says with a laugh. “Goodness knows what the neighbours though.”
After finishing Drag Idol, Jonmichael bagged job as a DJ in various bars and clubs across the North East but it’s this show that he’s most excited, and nervous, about. “There’s a little bit of magic that happens when I step out in front of an audience. There’s nowhere to hide.
I think nerves are good, though. I don’t think I would carry on doing it if I wasn’t, as nerves make the performance real. They show we are human and bring a little something extra to the show.”
The show will take place in the Quayside Exchange, a historic, Grade II-listed building on High Street East, in Sunderland. Tickets are £2.50 for general admission or £10 for VIP, which will get you table service, a sharing platter of food and a glass of fizz. “The show is a night out for all. It’s a chance for me to have some fun and you to have some giggles along with me, all whilst enjoying some fabulous food and a glass of something nice.
The night is jam-packed with cabaret and lots of little surprises along the way.”
“Without spoiling too much, you can definitely expect musical theatre, a little Disney, the occasional diva and the odd bit of audience participation.
It’s going to be fabulous.”
Dixie Swallows’ One Woman Show starts at 8pm on Friday July 1. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are available by calling 0191 514 4574 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: LAH Photography