Nashville has more than its fair share of talented drag performers, but probably the most nationally recognizable is The Princess, Adam Biga, who appeared on Season 4 of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Though The Princess was eliminated in the third episode, that brief time was enough to galvanize people: some people loved her, some people hated her, but almost no one was indifferent to her!
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a dragaholic: I only recently discovered that Dragaholic.com was an actual thing. And I had only seen The Princess perform once (no, not on Drag Race) before I met Adam to discuss his career. The main way I identified Adam was by the Miller Lite can tattoo he sports on his arm.
Adam’s interest in drag was sparked at 18, but by thirteen he was already questioning gender norms. “It wasn’t that I wanted to dress like a woman. I just wondered, ‘Why do women wear skirts and men wear pants? Why do we feel the need to fit into these boxes?’ It didn’t make sense to me, even then.”
Adam’s family took his coming out it in stride, though not everyone found out at the time. “When my grandmother Agnes found out later,” he said, laughing, “she explained that I couldn’t be because I was Catholic. She just couldn’t imagine! I explained to her that was not how it works!” But don’t worry about grandma. She came around. “When I was doing a show, once, mom and my stepdad brought her to a show. They even moved a couch right up in front of the stage for her!”
When Adam turned 18 and some friends took him to a drag show, everything clicked for him. “I always wanted to perform, to be on stage and really perform for people. I was drawn to theatre, on the one hand, and to rock and pop with more theatrical stage shows,” Adam explained. “But then I saw drag and it became clear to me that that was what I wanted to do! But I think you still see those rock and pop influences in my drag.”
Within a month, Adam was in drag, but it was a “hot mess.” As he described to Christine Fitzgerald of SocialiteLife, “I was wearing some cheap Halloween wig, cat ears, a tail and hot pants. I was a mess! We all have to start somewhere, right?” So where did he learn his polish? On his own. The drag culture in Lincoln, Nebraska was heavily steeped in the pageant mode. “Almost all the queens were doing pageants, and they really weren’t interested in helping you if you were trying to do something outside the box,” Adam says.
That independence may have made learning harder, but it also gave Adam the opportunity to develop his own style. Just a few years later, in 2003, Adam had won Miss Gay Nebraska and was preparing to compete in the now-defunct Miss Gay National being held here in Nashville. “One of the papers put me on the cover of the ‘Entertainment’ section. The writer was very supportive. It wasn’t long after that that I heard from my dad, who lived out of state. My grandfather had sent him the article.”
Nothing in Adam’s earlier coming out experience prepared him for what followed. “My dad wasn’t overjoyed when he found out I was gay,” he said. “He wrote me a letter and told me I should change my name and move away, that what I was doing was a disgrace to the family name. I was stunned.” Adam is now circumspect about this rejection. “You know I’d never told him anything about my drag, how involved I was. Finding out took him off guard. I think he probably regrets saying it. It’s not an excuse, but it helps understand it.”
In 2005, Adam competed for Entertainer of the Year, which was a turning point for him. “My mom was with me, and while she was there, she met Joey Brown. I got a lot of offers from that competition but the only person I called back was Joey. I guess it made an impression that he talked to my mom!” Barely a month later, Adam had relocated to Nashville and joined the Playmate cast.
“It was a tremendous opportunity to be able to really work in drag, to have a regular gig. It’s an opportunity not many queens get,” he said. “But the best advice I got was, ‘If you can make it in Nashville, you can make it anywhere!’ It was tough at first, but eventually I think I won people over.”
For four-and-a-half years, Adam worked at Play week in and week out. “Finally, I got to the point where it was mechanical. I didn’t love doing it anymore and I decided to walk away on a high note, so I packed up and moved to Chicago.” For nearly a year, Adam stayed away from drag. “It was amazing to go out into the community and not be The Princess!”
Eventually, however, friends convinced Adam that he should at least consider Drag Race. He and a friend put together a quick audition video and sent it in. “Two weeks later I got a call to interview by phone, and really quickly after that, maybe a week, I was asked to do a Skype interview. That’s when I found out I had made it.”
When asked what he learned from the whole experience, Adam was practical. “People love the fame, of course, but I learned a lesson from watching a lot of people involved. You have 15 minutes of fame when you’re making a lot of money, but people don’t plan for what happens after! You can’t live on a booking a week when your fee goes down. I guess it was an easy lesson for me because I had worked a regular gig before so I didn’t expect too much from my 15 minutes.”
Thus, Adam’s career trajectory is easy to understand. Shortly after Season 4 aired, Adam was booked for a show in Nashville at Play. “While I was there, Joey and I discussed Play Louisville, which was still in the works. He asked my thoughts on returning once the second location was ready to open. It was up in the air whether I’d be going to Louisville or Nashville, but in the end Joey wanted me to come to Nashville.” Leaving Chicago was hard, Adam admitted, “But here I get to do what I love and get paid for it!”
After his year off and his time on Drag Race, Adam’s enthusiasm for drag was renewed, and so far it shows no sign of flagging again. “I’m trying to keep it fresh and remain mindful of what a fantastic opportunity I’ve been given. Working with the Playmates is wonderful. You know, with big personalities in tight spaces there’s gonna be drama, but we really do like each other and we work it out. Sometimes the special guests remind us how lucky we are,” she added. But that’s a topic for another time!
There’s a lot I still want to know about Adam. Given his history with developing his own drag, how does he deal with queens who want his help? We talked for a long time about why he doesn’t have drag daughters. “I’d be happy to help, but I want to see the commitment first. It may sound rude, but I generally tell them to go work on their drag for a year and that if after a year they still want help I’ll take them on as drag daughters. So far no one has taken me up on that.”
But as I begin to ask about tattoos, there is a moment when Adam’s face shows strong, raw emotion. “You know, I didn’t forget him,” he said heavily. “But I did have a drag daughter – Brad/Angel – way back when I was in Omaha. He liked how independent my drag was, and he had that same spirit. He helped me out a lot and put a lot of effort into everything. Maybe that’s why I expect so much from girls who want to be my drag daughters,” he added reflectively. “He's why I have the Guardian Angel with two guns tattooed on my chest. And the bee tattoo on my arm. He took his own life in 2002.”
After taking a moment aside to discuss loss and mourning, we returned to the interview, and I asked him about the Miller Lite can, the tattoo that caught my attention the first time I saw Adam perform. He laughed and said, “It’s for my grandma!” I wonder out loud whether he mean’s his Catholic grandma, Agnes. With a nod, he explains, “She was my favorite person in the world. She and my granddad would sit at a table in the kitchen and watch the Wheel of Fortune on a little TV, grandma with a can of Miller Lite in one hand and a cigarette in the other. But around 6, she’d snuff the cigarette and put down the beer, then go to the living room, shut the door behind her, get out her rosary and pray with the nun on TV. Then she’d come back into the kitchen and go back to her routine.” Agnes, like Adam, it seems, enjoyed spending time outside the box.
As I later said goodbye to Adam, I still felt like there was a lot I wanted to know about him, so much that we hadn’t touched on. But I also felt like I couldn’t really have understood The Princess at all without hearing about his angel and his Miller Lite can.