Kings and Queens of Grand Forks


Miss Bad Karma performing a number during the B. J. Armani Cabernet Pride Drag Show. Photo by Devon Abler

Devon Abler, Arts & Community Editor

Hair was high, personalities were loud and love filled the American Legion Saturday night. The venue was filled to capacity as the community came together for B. J. Armani’s Cabaret. Performers from the Grand Forks area and the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area came together to put on a show highlighting the different talents the performers possess.

J. Armani is a UND alumni who began to get involved in drag 15 years ago.

“I am a straight drag king,” Armani said. “I came up to UND and went to my first drag show and went ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”

The Cabaret was nothing but amazing. Each performer showcased their individuality with each performance. Many performers had started as volunteers, then discovered the king or queen inside of them as time passed.

“We are family here, volunteers and performers together,” Armani said. “Most of our performers start as volunteers then slowly transition into a performing role.”

Drag has been a part of Grand Forks history for many years. The first shows were started by former UND educator Chris Stoner, also known by stage name JanessaJay Champagne. The Ten Percent Society is a group that strives to be a safe place for all sexualities and genders, educate the community and promote advocacy within the region. Shows began to decline and transitioned into the Cabaret that we know today.

Five years ago, Armani started B. J. Armani’s Cabaret with the goal of giving back to the community. The proceeds made from the shows go to a different organization each month. Organizations that have been impacted by the Cabaret have been Toys for Tots, Circle of Friends Humane Society and different shelters.

The shows are also a place where everyone can be who they are. Acceptance and love are key components to the shows. Drag itself is one of the most unique forms of entertainment.

“Drag is the most fluid genre of anything,” Armani said. “You take a song, you put a costume, you put on makeup and it’s yours. Drag is the most fluid way you can express yourself on stage.”

Professional performers are not the only types of performers found in the Cabaret. Two friends, Jessica Porter and Charles Vondel, were born and raised in North Dakota and have been key advocates and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Performing a duet together to open the show, they both became involved in the show in different ways.

“This is a community that I believe in,”  Porter said. “I became involved because of Charles.”

“I started helping with B. J. Armani through the Ten Percent Society,” Vondel said. “I’m an officer in the organization and we had shows once a month, but when they started to decline, I began to look for different shows here in Grand Forks and found the Cabaret.”

The two began to volunteer for Armani and became a part of the family. Armani describes the show as a family.

“When you volunteer with us, you are a part of the family,” Armani said. “We are here to support one another, to love one another. If you need something, someone has your back.”

A family indeed. From volunteers taking care of the performers during the show, to hugs being given to one another, there was no doubt that this community has tight bonds. Having a strong community does come with difficulties.

“These shows are impossible without our volunteers,” Armani said. “Without our volunteers helping by the door, helping with set up and take down, we would not have a show. If you want to support this community, come volunteer.”

For those interested in the Cabaret, the next show will be on September 15th at the American Legion in East Grand Forks. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m.