How this bombshell drag queen went from a ‘nasty homophobic town’ to big city greatness

Behind the Drag” aims to showcase the off-stage lives of some of America’s most talented drag queens. The intimate series gives us the opportunity to meet the people behind our favorite over-the-top drag queens.

Drag performer Paige Turner describes herself as a “tawdry, blonde bombshell, theater-loving queen.” Both completely extra and effortlessly confident, Turner knows how to command a stage in copious sequins and hair teased to the gods. But this NYC-based queen was born from humble — and challenging — beginnings.

Paige Turner is the alter ego of Daniel Kelley, a New Yorker by the way of Indiana. Kelley doesn’t mince words as he describes his hometown as a “mean, nasty, little-homophobic-Republican town.” But thankfully, Kelley found theater at a young age, calling it his escape from a town that didn’t allow him to flourish. His passion for theatrics ultimately lead him to NYC at 18, both to find himself and channel his interest in stage acting.

“I’m a performer because it is in my DNA,” Kelley tells In The Know. Through theater, Kelley eventually found drag. It’s a calling he has now pursued for more than 10 years as the host of one of NYC’s longest running drag shows, “Slurp!

“It’s like truly being able to express myself. So much fear is ripped away when you do drag,” Kelley says. “You really feel like a superhero.”

Credit: In The Know

Kelley describes his usual show as “a kid’s show for adults,” channeling his inner child and bringing community together through laughter.

“It’s kind of like, you know, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ — but maybe a little dirtier,” Kelley says.

And there’s a freedom and creativity to drag performance that Kelley loves. The kitschy art, he says, gives him the chance to create a character true to himself through music, costume, jokes and makeup.

“I always like to make sure I still see a little of Daniel,” Kelley says, as he applies makeup to transform into Paige Turner. “I like to look and still know I’m there somehow.”

Matt, Daniel’s partner of 15 years, is a big supporter of his work. Yet, Matt does cheekily admit housing a drag queen’s wardrobe in a small NYC apartment can be challenging

“I love him as a performer and as a man more every time,” Matt says of watching his partner take the stage.

Throughout his joyful journey with drag, Kelley says he’s learned life is about “finding something you truly love and being able to do it.” Needless to say, Kelley has found that fulfillment through his decade as Paige Turner.

“I really love feeling pretty and feeling ridiculous and making people laugh. And I am really glad that I have that,” he says. “There’s a lot of laughter in my life, and I’m so grateful for it.”

If you enjoyed this story, check out Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down syndrome who is the face of Gucci.

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