Max Malanaphy is a man, but he's also a glamorous woman. He's only 22, but he's already an international entertainer. He's a rising star in the drag queen world, but he's dying to prove he's more than stilettos and wigs.
"I dressed in drag for Pride and walked all around [Loring Park] and thought I was the most beautiful thing in town," Malanaphy remembers at Spyhouse Coffee in Uptown. "But it was so early... [laughs]. It's funny because it was two years ago."
Forgive Malanaphy if the past few years are a blur. The handsome, 6-foot-5 performer strutted onto the Twin Cities theater scene three years ago in a college production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Two years ago, he made his drag queen debut at the Gay 90's' amateur night. And just last February he competed on the cult-adored reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, lasting an impressive seven episodes before his elimination.
"It's an audition, that's what I saw most of my Drag Race time as," says Malanaphy, who goes by the mononym Max onstage. "Drag Race helped make me smarter. It helped me become stronger in my convictions. It helped me become a little bit less of a worrywart. It's weird [to have] cameras all up in your face all the time — it shows everything."
For Malanaphy, who grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, with four siblings, the Logo TV cable show was a chance to show the world his glammed-out, old Hollywood-informed drag persona that also borrows from '70s David Bowie androgyny. "The actual character isn't a character — it's a more confident extension of who I am without the hair and the makeup on," he explains.
The show — which Malanaphy likens to a triathlon ("You're basically running and scared the whole time") — boasts the added perk of initiating past contestants into its global network of club promoters. For Max, that meant parlaying drag into a full-time gig that sent him to Australia in April; trips to perform in Ireland, the U.K., and Brazil are on the docket this summer.
The globetrotting drag star says he and his live-in boyfriend, Danny, are still exploring Minneapolis's "very strong" LGBTQ culture. And exploration is central to Malanaphy's career goals. He wants to act live and in film. He belts out hits from Elvis, Judy Garland, and Jessie J while singing live as Max, but hopes to have an album of original music out by the end of the year.
"I don't want to be booked as a drag queen for the rest of forever," he says. "Drag will always be a part of what I'm doing. Drag is really just about putting yourself out there. I'm always going to be Max — there's no escaping that."
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