Ashantee Black DeFox and Ivana Tramp bring Grace Jones and Tina Turner to life each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge
“It’s drag … but with a twist.”
That’s how Ashantee Black DeFox explains the Illusions show that she and Ivana Tramp host each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.
Both Ashantee and Ivana are veterans in the North Texas drag scene. Both have been performing in clubs — locally and elsewhere — for several years, and both have pageant titles to their credit.
Their names and faces sure to be familiar to fans.
But then again, it’s not really their faces you’ll see onstage each Saturday at Rainbow Lounge.
“We’re hired to do specific characters, to give the illusion of specific performers, and we bring in special guests each week not just to do drag, but to do specific performers,” Ashantee continued. “It’s drag, with a twist of Las Vegas.”
Ashantee is known for her illusion of Grace Jones, and Ivana for her illusion of Tina Turner. In recent weeks, they have welcomed to the Rainbow Lounge stage stars like Tommie Ross performing as Diana Ross, Sweet Savage performing as Cher and Candy Cane performing as Mariah Carey. They brought in an entertainer from Memphis to perform as Reba McEntire, and one from Houston presenting the illusion of Selena.
You never know, the two show hosts agreed, who you will see on the stage. And their Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge has a reach that extends beyond the LGBT community, Ashantee said: “We cater to the hetero community, too. We have a lot of people who come in for private parties, wedding showers and things like that.”
Neither Ashantee nor Ivana is new to the drag scene, nor are they new to the art of illusion. “We work nationally,” Ashantee said. “We do cruises, events, private parties. I went to the Grace Jones concert [dressed as] Grace Jones, and people just freaked out. I went on America’s Got Talent and performed as Grace Jones.”
Ivana described one job where a client “booked me [as Tina Turner] and the B-52s — the actual band — to do a show for his wife, who was dying of cancer.”
Another time, she said, she went out in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, again dressed as Tina. When she stepped out of the car, the crowd around her went wild, grabbing at her and taking photos.
“I had someone fly me to California to perform as Tina Turner in a double-wide trailer. I performed at the side of a pool, at expensive hotels, even at children’s parties,” Ivana said.
“Illusion and drag are different,” she added, “and there’s good things and bad things about doing mostly illusion. On the bad side, I’ve gotten stuck doing Tina Turner; I don’t have the chance to do a lot of other stuff. But on the good side, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and gotten to meet a lot of people because of performing as Tina Turner.”
“We live these characters,” Ashantee said. “Anybody can say that they are [performing as] a certain singer, but can you really look like that person? Illusion is more than just lip-syncing somebody’s song.”
Ivana added, “That’s true. We get really upset with some of these queens who think they can just throw on anything and be a character. That’s not illusion.”
Ashantee said that she and Ivana have known each other for about 25 years. But since they started the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge, they have become family as well as coworkers.
“If I am having a bad day — like I forgot a wig or some shoes — she’ll have something for me to use. We pick up for each other, and help each other out,” Ashantee said.
But their connection goes beyond the stage; they are there for each other in their personal lives, too. Ashantee explained that when her mother died recently, Ivana was there to keep her going.
“It’s always been my dream to be Miss Texas USofA, but when my mother died, I was ready to give up. This lady right here,” she said, reaching over to wrap an arm around Ivana’s shoulder, “this lady told me not to give up. She knew I wanted to just give up, but she told me to keep going, that my mother would want to see me happy.”
Ashantee said she is also taking care of her special needs sister and her little brother, and that she knows Ivana is there to support her in those efforts, too.
“I’ve never lost my own mother, so I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I know how you feel,’” Ivana said. “But I know what it’s like to love your family and to worry about them.”
In fact, Ivana moved back to her parents’ home in Arlington to help them after her father was injured in a fall. And, she said, she had given up life onstage.
“I wasn’t having any fun, so I had stopped performing for about five years,” Ivana said. She said she had moved back to her parents, and eating her mama’s cooking had added a few pounds. Then a friend opened a restaurant in Dallas called Tallywackers and asked her to come out of her early retirement to stage a show there.
“He made me an offer, and I told him give me six months to lose some weight,” she said. “But then the restaurant closed. Still, Ivana decided that she did want to perform again, and the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge was the perfect opportunity.
“Coming back to performing made me come to life again,” she said.
Ashantee and Ivana both say they know they are getting older, and they started at a time when all drag was more like illusion — “Everybody was trying to be their hero,” Ivana said — but they both also know that they have something special to offer their audiences.
“We’re still kicking it!” Ashantee declared.
“Sometimes,” Ivana added, “you’re just tired. You just don’t want to get dressed up and go out on that stage. But then, we start putting on that makeup and — boom! We are ready to go.
“We feed off each other,” she continued. “There’s just that little click — you put on that last bit of lipstick or spray on your perfume, and there it is. You feel that click and you know, it’s show time!”
“We do love it,” Ashantee said. “That’s the most important thing, the thing that makes us the best. We have that passion, a passion to make people smile and give them a show that leaves them feeling good.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.