Tony Soto is coming for your weeknights.
The Chicago native and Silverlake icon calls herself “the most reluctant drag queen you’ll ever meet.” Still, it’s been a big year for Soto: with a role in a music video and three monthly shows, Soto also stands to win “Hostess with the Mostess” in the upcoming DTLA Queer Choice Awards.
“I’m very fortunate,” Soto admits.
After moving to Los Angeles three years ago Tony Soto linked up with actor/producer Adam Silver, who starred in Soto’s production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Columbia College Chicago. Together they created Learn the Words, Bitch!, a lip sync competition hosted by Tony Soto on the first Mondays of the month.
Learn the Words, Bitch! — now celebrating two years at Akbar — snagged the attention of Precinct owners Thor Stephens and Brian McIntire, who invited Soto to host drag events downtown.
“I like to do shows that incorporate bar patrons,” says Soto. “My events are for the audience.”
Popularity Contest, Soto’s inaugural Precinct event, falls on the second Monday of every month. A nod at biting teenage social pageantry, the contest is as it sounds: regular folks compete to be popular for one night. Over several rounds the audience grades contestants on their looks, prepared monologues, and a special talent. Winners receive a tiara and sash, and a one-hundred dollar cash prize.
Read to Filth, Soto’s most recent event, is still in its infancy. In the style and tradition of Paris is Burning, bar goers compete in what Soto calls “a battle of wits and shade.”
For all her recent success, Soto also understands that being a drag host comes with challenges.
“A lot of people think that drag is consent,” Soto says. “Consent for anything. Like, ‘Oh, I can come up and squeeze your boobs. Oh, I can try to kiss you, or lick you…. Or go up your skirt.’ ”
Drag performance can also feel like a thankless duty. “There are times when I have spent my entire day not feeling it. Not feeling good about myself, or going out, or doing anything. But you know you have a gig. So you have to put that aside because there are people who maybe need it more than you. So that’s why I do it. And that’s why it’s fun for me.”
“Like any other entertainer ever in the world — might be a TV actor, a singer, whatever — it is [my] job to take the person who’s watching [me] out of whatever reality they’re in.” Soto reminds audiences, “I’m saving you a lot of money on therapy.”
Occasionally Tony Soto takes her drag performance outside of the bars, and into broad daylight. Earlier this year STRFKR released a John Waters-inspired music video for “In the End,” which features Tony Soto acting alongside drag performer Meatball.
These days, Soto scored a nomination for Hostess with the Mostess at The Betties, the DTLA Queer Choice Awards presented by Beatchu’s Boudoir on July 23rd. Soto’s category includes fourteen other drag hosts, including Rubella Spreads and The Boulet Brothers, with events that range from weekly bar trivia to monster-drag reality shows.
“What I do, I do very well,” says Soto. “Don’t come to see me and expect me to ‘slay the house down boots mama’ on the dance floor. Don’t expect to see something choreographed.” Fair enough.
“But if you want to laugh and have a good time, then you should come to my shows.“
Ever the humble queen, Soto gives credit where it’s due. “I have a team of people when it comes to anything I do. Adam Silver, who is a producing partner. Masi Thomason… she does everything that I don’t want to do. Which is everything. Juan Chavez, who makes my clothes. Jay Fink who makes my hair. It’s a village to make me do anything. I’m really just banking on personality.”
Looking down the road, the Matron of Monday Night has no intention of being a “career drag queen.” Soto admits she’d make a great talk show host, “But I’m not racing toward that.”
During her out-of-drag hours Tony Soto produces two weekly podcasts: The Tony Soto Show and The Gay Power Half Hour with Casey Ley. That doesn’t mean, however, that Soto plans to ditch her drag persona any time soon.
“She’s paying half the rent now. So she can stay.”
Follow Tony Soto on Instagram @TheTonySotoShow. Twitter and Facebook @TonySotoDrag.