She rarely looks the same twice, but you can’t miss Louisianna Purchase when she walks into a room.
The self-proclaimed femme fatale of Austin favors a retro-minded glam, cast in a spooky shadow. On stages and at bars in Austin, Louisianna prowls the floor in corsets and diaphanous negligees. Pussycat pastel or hellfire red, perhaps. Depends on the night. Or, she might show up as the collared vamp of your nightmares, poured into something tight, shiny and black. The hair’s up in the air, too, but you can usually expect a starlet’s wave or Bettie Page’s bangs.
Of course, you can’t miss her eyes, feline as they are, or the flashes of ink with every tattooed slink. A cauldron, a bat, a cat ever so black. Serpentine fingers will take that folded dollar bill off your hands, too, with a warm smile.
You’re probably watching Louisianna’s lips, though. Two slashes of red, mouthing words to a track you’ve heard before — Lana del Rey, maybe — but that you’ve never heard like this.
It’s been a while since one of the city’s most popular drag queens has put the usual crowds under her thrall in person. But though the coronavirus pandemic has consigned Austin nightlife to purgatory, hell’s belle hasn’t slowed down. See a plum role on the spookiest reality show Netflix has to offer during quarantine; a slot as the first drag queen on the Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup; and haunting new music, just in time for Halloween.
Louisianna Purchase is a creature of the night, and her virtual spell is getting stronger, too.
Summoning the spirit
Louisianna — who uses she/her pronouns in drag and prefers not to reveal her government name to the public —actually does hail from Texas’ neighbor to the east. The 43-year-old was an only child until age 8, when her brother was born, so she found company in comic books, music and drawing.
"I was one of those kids that lived in their own little world," she says.
In 2011, she moved to Austin for a change of pace and eventually started dating local drag performer Bulimianne Rhapsody, producer of the Poo Poo Platter shows at Elysium. Louisianna dipped her toes into drag causally at first. "After we started dating, my friend group quickly became just mostly drag queens," she says. "I basically just wanted to do what my friends were doing."
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Her drag debut was Oct. 18, 2013. At first, she figured it would be a once-a-year-at-Halloween kind of thing. Instead, the performance bug bit. Transforming into Lousianna became "one of those things that just took off on its own."
It felt similar to childhood creativity, she says: "That's kind of what you do. You use your imagination. When you get into drag, you go into your own little world."
Growing up, Louisianna loved monster movies and had a fascination with Dracula. Another influence: Vampira, the icon of 1950s B horror movies. (Louisianna even has a tattoo of the spooky actress.) That macabre sensibility seemed like the most natural route to take for drag, she says, married with a flair for old-school fashion.
"It’s gotten more edited," she says of her aesthetic. "The character has definitely evolved into something sleeker and more polished."
In just a few years, Louisianna became a fixture on the Austin queer performance scene. She hosts Die Felicia, the revue she co-created, and the annual Butch Queen contest, but she’s everywhere, honestly.
You might catch her hosting "RuPaul’s Drag Race" watch parties at Jo’s Coffee on Second Street, slithering through packed tables as she performs her own lip sync numbers during the commercial breaks. She hosts bingo nights at places like St. Elmo Brewing Company, dishing out dirty jokes while reaching for balls.
Oh, and Louisianna’s been named best drag performer in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin poll four times. Not bad for someone who just turned 7.
But her home bar — the place where, in less dire times, you can usually find her performing — is Elysium, which she says has become a "real home for the drag that happens on Red River." She considers the staff there to be family. When in-person shows return in force, she hopes to start there.
The monster unleashed
If "RuPaul’s Drag Race" is the Super Bowl for drag queens, then "The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula" is Mortal Kombat. It is a creation of the titular hosts, who are influential in the spookier side of the U.S. drag scene. The Boulets scout performers who represent four pillars: drag, filth, horror and glamour. The competition challengers are artistic, physical, mental and extreme — everything from creating a vampire-inspired costume to swallowing live spiders — all for the purpose of crowning a drag "supermonster."
Sounds like a job for Louisianna Purchase.
The show cast her to compete in its third season, which premiered in August 2019 on Amazon Prime Video before later moving to Netflix. Quite the visibility boost for a queen who normally haunts Red River. In fact, the Boulets introduced Louisianna in the season premiere as a big fish in a small pond back home and, in the manner of all reality show psych-outs, questioned whether she could hold her own in the TV big leagues.
"It definitely was scary at first," Louisianna says now — which, y’know, if it scares her, it must be frightening.
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But, wanting to make Austin proud, she put the nerves on the back burner (or back cauldron, perhaps). Drag is live theater, Louisianna says, and she thought of "Dragula" as another new job to work. "I’ve always said that the greatest skill set a drag performer can have is being adaptable," she says.
And — some spoilers follow, so skip the next five paragraphs if you need to add the show to your Netflix queue — she had a pretty magical run. After a stumble in the first challenge, Louisianna landed in the top among her competitors for several subsequent episodes. She created a colorful couture outfit from trash, and her killer nurse look was a scream with the judges.
She also emerged as a compassionate competitor, offering fiery pep talks to drag queens in crisis and baring her soul, including about a health scare and finding community later in life.
"When you’re thrown into this, it’s like being thrown into war," she says of the show. "You’re all instantly bonded concretely. You cling to one another." For Louisianna, showing "concern, empathy and compassion was very easy." It was painful seeing people struggle with self-doubt.
"I didn’t go on ‘Dragula’ to compete against people not on their A-game," she says. "I wanted everyone to feel confident. I wanted everyone on their best level."
Still, a dark-but-tender heart wasn’t enough to win "Dragula," and Louisianna was eliminated right before the finale. No matter — she’d felt lucky just to be cast, and more opportunities awaited back home.
Louisianna kicked 2020 off right. She toured Europe with the Season 3 cast of "Dragula," which felt like payoff for all that hard, horrifying work. But then the pandemic happened, throwing the entertainment scene for a loop that hasn’t stopped twisting.
This year’s been tough for someone whose career is based around live performances in venues, which are largely still closed; Louisianna is concerned about the livelihoods of the city’s venue workers and the artists.
So, instead of club shows, she’s conjured prolific digital magic. Between March and mid-October, she created 24 performance videos for social media. She does the drag, and one of her collaborators, drag performer Chique-Fil-Atio, produces the videos. The range is stunning, and usually a little trippy. In one particularly gothic example, Louisianna lip syncs under a spotlight to the Pixies’ "Velouria," candelabra in hand. In another, she haunts a disco ball to ABBA’s "Lay All Your Love On Me." Viewers can tip virtually via Venmo (@LouisiannaPurchase).
She also puts on a weekly show called Banshee via the streaming platform Twitch with two of her "Dragula" castmates. But one virtual gig in particular befitted a true queen. Earlier this month, Louisianna became the first drag queen to land on the ACL Fest lineup, securing a slot in its pandemic-era virtual event.
C3 Presents, which puts on the annual music fest, "approached me and thought it would be a great idea, as a local Austin entertainer and someone who has been creating digital content all throughout quarantine," she says.
"They put me right before St. Vincent and Radiohead," she adds with a laugh. "That was amazing."
Louisiana had worked with the promoters before, opening for masked country singer Orville Peck during an ACL Fest late night show at the Scoot Inn last year. (The two kept in touch, and Louisianna also performed virtually for Peck’s second Rodeo event this fall.)
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There’s more night music in the air. On Oct. 30, Louisiana will release a single called "Whip Crack." The song will appear on her upcoming theremin EP, "Rituals." Yes. Theremin EP.
"I’ve always loved the theremin," she says of the eerie electronic instrument. "It’s featured heavily in a lot of ’50s B and sci-fi movies. It’s one of the few instruments when, the minute you hear it, it evokes a mood."
She has a musical background, playing guitar, bass, keyboard and a little drums. "I’m a jack of a lot of trades, but a master of none," she says. The theremin’s been in her home for two years, and Louisianna took to it quickly.
"It sounds dramatic. It sounds like an opera singer, like you’re controlling the voice of this amazing singer," she says. "I love the mystery of it. It produces sound by using your body as a connector to the current. It’s so extra, I love it."
Louisianna says the five-track "Rituals" is all about atmosphere, with some vocal elements thrown in to enhance the mood of music. (It’s decidedly not a singer-songwriter album.) The project’s been in the works since last year, and when COVID-19 broke out, Louisianna had the time to work on it with her collaborator, Austin electronic artist Mr. Kitty. The video for "Whip Crack" will premiere during Poo Poo Platter’s third annual Drag Supreme Of Halloween Pageant on Friday.
Someday, she’ll explore incorporating the music in her live gigs. Maybe something like the one-woman show (with six costume changes!) she once performed at a converted convent in Philadelphia.
For now, Louisianna is waiting out the pandemic like the rest of us. She’s happy to have the digital outlet right now, but she’s not sure things how things will look when in-person venue shows return in earnest.
Even with her recent visibility boost, she’s aware that every performer on TV starts out as a local artist. "Dragula" was never meant to be a career stepping stone, Louisianna says; she hopes it shines a light on the Austin scene. "I think everyone should be invested in their local queer community and in local art," she says.
The current situation is scary, Lousianna admits, and she should know about fright. But even the femme fatale of Austin is clinging to hope these days: "Otherwise, what’s the point of going on?"