If you’re a fan of drag or pageants, you’ve probably heard of Sasha Colby, Miss Continental 2012. If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend learning who she is.
Miss Continental is one of the most prestigious international female impersonation pageants. Any additional exploration on Youtube of her club performances over the years will further show her talents as a dancer and her great ear for music. You’re likely to find a new song or two you like in the process.
Recently, Sasha took the time to speak with me about her career and music taste:
(Along with her answers, I’ve added songs by artists she’s performed to in the past and whom we discussed.)
When did you start performing? Do you have musical or dance training?
I actually grew up dancing in Hawaii. I started dancing and taking class at the age of thirteen. I was taking ballet, jazz, hip-hop and all kinds of different dance classes and doing recitals, so I already knew I was a natural performer. I started sneaking into drag shows at seventeen. I did my first drag show at seventeen years old and haven’t stopped performing since.
When did you start competing in the Miss Continental? When did you move from Hawaii?
At twenty-one, I represented Hawaii. I won Miss Hawaii Continental when I was twenty. By the time Nationals came around I was twenty-one and I made the Top 5. That’s when I did the “Beautiful People” mix. The next year the owner of the Baton Show Lounge offered me a job. The owner of the Baton is also the owner of the pageant, so that’s how he ended up wanting to hire me because he had seen me there. So I moved to Chicago when I was twenty-two and started doing drag full-time. I stayed there for 7 years and I loved it.
Then I moved to Orlando for two years and worked in Florida a lot up through Miami and Jacksonville, all up and down. I was there for two years and then I moved to L.A. July will make three years of being in L.A.
That’s three cities with pretty large drag scene. Have those different environments and drag communities influenced you as a performer and artist?
And they all have very different music tastes. Chicago is great, a lot of fun. When I got there I was hired as the dancer, so I just did exactly what I knew from Hawaii. I loved weird music. I loved Roísín Murphy, Moloko, Sneaky Sound System, Amanda Blank and Imogen Heap. I would do all these crazy songs that no one else would know. It was a mostly Top 5 oriented bar, so I was pushing it. It worked and I was known for that.
The best compliment I’d get is that they wouldn’t know the song I’m singing or even understand the words half the time, but they’d just love it. I’m always doing stuff no one else has ever heard.
Who are some of your main music inspirations? I noticed that you’ve performed to Roísín Murphy a lot in the past.
A jazz teacher and a ballet teacher would lead stretches and warmups to Moloko, so I had fallen in love with that already. And I loved when Roísín Murphy broke out on her own. One of my favorite albums is Overpowered. I actually just saw Roísín Murphy here in Los Angeles. She was doing a show the night before Coachella where my best friend and I got to go. It was like when we were young kids back in Hawaii. It was such an amazing experience and she’s such an amazing performer and crazy artist, kind of like how Björk is.
Another person I really love who I think hasn’t gotten enough credit is Esthero. She has a beautiful voice. Everybody knows her songs, but no one knows her. It’s that kind of thing, but I love her. She’s so great and I love her voice.
Right now I’m loving Kaytranada. I just love his beat.
I love going onto Soundcloud because there’s such good music. I’ll just wormhole all day and start adding songs that I’ve never heard of and love.
How does your personal music taste compare to the music you choose for lip syncs?
Whem I’m not performing, I love songs that I don’t have to perform to. I never really like to listen to a lot of words. When I first started, I really loved house music. We had this dance troupe that used to have our own party night on Sundays in Hawaii and it was nothing but our friend spinning house music. And this was back when DJ Colette and Kaskade were just coming out. It was happy music. And I’ve always been drawn to happy house. I got into tropical house, deep house, but that’s where I really feel like the
sound I like to listen to comes from. Also stuff with jazz influences like Thievery Corporation.
Right now I’m listening to Hawaiian music a lot, which just reminds me of home and it’s totally something I can’t perform.
What qualities do you look for in songs for your performances? Rhythm, lyrics, or a combination of all of these?
I’ll know if I like a song in the first three seconds. It just has that right note. And then I’m more a beat person. I’ll listen to the tempo, the beat, the rhythm. I need a dreamy whispery vocal, either male or female, or a soulful power-house anthem, that’s what I’m drawn to.
I love music so much that I want people to understand what I feel when I hear a song, and I try to express it with my body as best possible.
To what extent does the audience’s expected response influence your choices? And how does the audience’s taste weigh against your own personal tastes in music?
I always want to give them something that they don’t even know they want; then they want it after they watch me.
The crowd does matter. I really need to feel the audience out at that moment and then I can decide what to do, because sometimes they just might not get a song that they don’t know.
I just did “Bon Appetit” and that’s because lately here I’ve been feeling a need to do songs that they know sometimes. With bachelorette parties or Hamburger Mary’s kinds of events, it’s not like you’re trying to have a connection with them musically. They just let you live and sing along, so I usually do Top 40s, old school 80’s and 90’s music. If I need to do a song everyone knows, then I do what I grew up on.
Then there are moments where I hear a song and I know I want to do it and I imagine myself doing it over and over again, so I’ll have to do it.
What amount of choreography do you do prior to performances? Do you largely plan that out or is part of it improvised and in the moment?
Usually, if anything, it’s all ad-lib. I listen to it all the time and in my head I’ll hear parts I want to accent. If I do a backbend or a death-drop or a jump split, it’ll be for a part where I know it sounds effective. I’ll do a mental note. I probably won’t even practice it until I’m on the stage. So long as I stretch beforehand, I just go for it.
If I have a new song or a new outfit or number, I’ll do it for that whole month because I’m in different areas. It might be the same number, but the people aren’t. The more I do the same number, I keep the parts that I know got good reactions. And then it becomes automatic. I can just hear it and anticipate the sound and that’s why I do it. That’s what makes me live.
Even when I’m on the stage, my mind is always going while I’m performing. I’m constantly looking at a different vignette or a different area to stand on or crawl on, just to make your eye keep traveling. I’ll jump on a bar or a table if I can and pose there and do little moments. I’m always thinking while performing.
By the time I do a new number, the anticipation is over. I’ve done it, it’s out there, I’m almost kind of over it now and I need to get another one.
How does planning for pageant talent performances differ from club performances?
Pageant talents are fully choreographed. And I guess this is a testament to my friends knowing how I work: My last one- the one I did with “Drama” and Azealia Banks at the end- was put together a week before, in five days. Everyone came to Chicago, but I had been there for a week. I was working every day performing and doing pageant things like the registration, rehearsals, interviews, so while they were rehearsing I was running around doing other stuff. They just made sure that they were super clean. My friend who was helping me put it together – he’s Janet Jackson’s lead choreographer and creative director and just happens to be a really good friend of mine from dance school – jumped in at the last minute to make sure it was clean so I could do my thing. He understood that Sasha will just do Sasha things. She’ll learn the choreography that the dancers know and she’ll break off and do her own thing. And so long as the dancers know what they’re doing, I can fall back in whenever. And that’s usually how it works with me. So when I’m not doing what they’re doing, I know exactly when to jump back in.
Do you make your own mixes or do other producers mix for you? The mix for your Miss Continental 2012 talent seems like it had a lot of moving pieces: Kevin Aviance’s “Rhythm is My Bitch”, The Crookers’ “Royal T (ft. Róisín Murphy)”, Club 69’s“Drama (ft. Kim Cooper)” and Azealia Banks’ “212 (ft. Lunice & Lazy J)”.
On the regular, when I have to do shows, I’ll do the mixes myself. The mixes for my pageant talents, are usually another friend of mine from Hawaii, a dancer here in L.A.. He knows how to edit music so well; all the musicalities I want he puts in and makes really apparent. And he also danced with me so it’s a perfect one stop shop. He would know what I’d want to hear so he’ll put in a hit or a crack. He put in those two slaps and that whip of something. They didn’t know what I was going to do, so when I heard it I said, “I’m gonna whip my hair a few times”. They didn’t know I was going to lift it up and hit them until I did at rehearsal and then they realized they had to fall when that happens.
How many people do you usually have involved when you do the pageant?
Dancers, I usually don’t like to make it more than five or six. Visually I think it’s nicer having it more condensed. Then there’s usually my best friend who’s a makeup artist. He’s Janet Jackson’s makeup artist and he also does Erika Jayne and a bunch of other people. He and I have been doing pageants since we were in Hawaii and started in our first pageant together. We always come up with all the clothes and the hair, and put it all together. Usually my drag mom will come and help to do the hair. There are always friends who want to help. As far as putting it all together, I keep it pretty tight, just a handful of people. I know good wigmakers and good dressmakers, so it can be very undercover which I like. I don’t like people all up in the business, because then they want to know everything and there’s hype.
I just want them to gag in the moment.