In 1995 Jade Esteban Estrada became a woman. And like so many things alt-culture in those days, it was all thanks to Jerry Springer.
"I was asked to play a transgender singer, Candy Box, for the Springer show," recalls the 29-year-old actor, writer, recording artist, dancer and choreographer. (Wha? You mean Springer's guests aren't real?) "And I thought, 'I gotta get into this.' So I lived as a woman for three days. I changed my thoughts, changed the way I spoke I was very convincing." So convincing, the Springer folks brought him back for that year's Best Guest show.
Of course, Estrada was a woman for only a few days. But the experience taught the young performer how to really get into character. Good thing, too, as he'll be playing 12 of them in his one-man show ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 this week as part of a Pride celebration. He'll also host a Latin Pride party on June 24, ride on a float during the Pride Parade on June 25, and dole out Pride float awards on June 26 (for schedule and details, visit www.pridehouston.org).
The Houston stop marks Estrada's 144th Pride headlining gig. "The Pride circuit is a growing industry -- it's almost a revolution," the San Antonio native says. "I can safely say that it launched my career. But at the end of the day, I look forward to when we no longer have a need for Pride events and can just celebrate our diversity."
Which is why he created ICONS. In the show, he appears as Sappho, Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Rivera and Ellen DeGeneres. ("I made sure to start with Sappho because I've noticed that there's a huge divide between lesbians and gay men," he notes.) Characters like the sultry Sappho, the wise Stein and the flamboyant Wilde speak to the audience from their respective time periods, focusing less on their sexuality and more on their lives and perspectives. It's funny, stirring and even educational.
"I'm happy that people don't know what they're gonna get from my show," says Estrada. "But one thing that really drives me crazy," he moans, "is when people say, 'Oh, you're doing gay history? Will you be Cher or Judy Garland?' And they say it with stars in their eyes! I want to scream out from the top of the Empire State Building: 'I'm not a drag queen!' There's more to the gay culture than just those people -- who aren't even gay! Those are cultural icons, not historical. That's why it's important that these gay icons are redefined and revisited. Otherwise, they get lost in history and become myth," he says.
Estrada is a bit of an icon himself. He's an accomplished Latin pop singer, comedian, public speaker and now producer (he's releasing a film adaptation of ICONS next year). Chances are you'll see him hosting more Pride events, doing stand-up or even snagging a Billboard chart. "I want to make people happy -- to laugh and dance," he says. "Whatever that means for me and my future and destiny, I'm cool with that."
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