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‘Alyssa Will Be The First Person To Tell You She’s a Diva’: A Q&A With The Producers of ‘Dancing Queen’

She’s back, back, back, back, back again — and this time on Netflix. Alyssa Edwards, who recently stopped by INTO’s series The Kiki, has graced our screens with her presence once again via her reality docuseries Dancing Queen, which chronicles her life as a dance instructor in Mesquite, Texas.  

While Edwards might be the series’ star, the series would not exist without the tenacity of its two executive producers, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. Barbato and Bailey spoke to INTO about their experiences on the five-year journey getting the Drag Race star onto Netflix.

Dancing Queen had quite a long road before it ended up on Netflix. Can you talk about one of the biggest setbacks you had as producers and what made you want to keep with the project?

The biggest setback as a producer is always the word, “No!” We heard it a lot on this project.  Actually, we hear it all the time. But at World of Wonder, we like to say that “no” is the beginning of “yes!”

One of the best parts of the show is that it’s just as focused on Justin Johnson as it is Alyssa Edwards the personality. Were you nervous at all that people would only be interested in Edwards?

We had no anxiety about folks just being interested in Justin’s drag persona because really they are just different sides of the same coin.  There would be no legendary “backrolls” without Justin. We always saw the show as featuring both.

The show feels like an amalgamation of several different reality genres: it’s a little bit of Dance Moms plus Drag Race plus smaller, more personal shows. Can you talk a little bit about how you pitched and packaged Dancing Queen?

We pitched the show based on Alyssa’s real life. We weren’t being prescriptive or trying to fit a formula. That’s what made us feel that there was a great show here, the combination of her profession and real-life elements made for something totally fresh.

Shows like Drag Race fill a void in scripted TV, namely that there aren’t a lot of queer characters to be found there. How do you think Dancing Queen fits into the current TV landscape?

Visibility has always been the way to fight prejudice and judgment. The more visibility, the more people get to experience LGBTQ [people], the more people realize we are all virtually the same. What’s super about Dancing Queen, that will hopefully help contribute to progress and evolving some people’s way of thinking, is the heart-filled relationships and connections with Alyssa and her students and their parents. It’s a totally integrated self-made family unit, in a Red State to boot!

I think a lot of people want to know what it’s like to work with both Justin the person and Alyssa the drag queen. What is one of the most rewarding things that has come with working with Justin/Alyssa? What about the most frustrating?

Well, Alyssa will be the first person to tell you she’s a diva. That’s a good thing, we love divas. As long as they are on time! She’s a perfectionist, and that makes for great art and great TV.

What was it like wrangling all of the children and mothers to be a part of this show? Did you find there was any pushback from certain parents or kids who didn’t want to be a part of the show for any reason?

The kids and parents were amazing. They sensed we were trying to do something different and were incredibly trustful. The first season of any show is always a huge challenge, and with so many folks and logistics involved, it’s a test of patience and trust. We are so keen to move on to season two.

One of the biggest tensions of the season was between the moms and one of the dancing coaches, Marcella. Do you feel that this was a story that would’ve played out anyway, or did you think that the pressures of filming influenced the events in any way?

It’s pretty safe to say that we followed this, we didn’t produce it!

Throughout the show, Justin dives a lot into his upbringing in Mesquite, Texas and his relationship with his family. Can you talk about what that was like for you as a producer to kind of guide or talk someone through that potentially difficult or traumatic experience?

Justin is an open book, that’s why he’s such a great subject for a docuseries, and why he is so compelling. His survival story is against all odds and is inspiring to people. To fully understand his journey, sharing the trauma and emotional hardships is key.

What was it like transitioning from shooting a traditional reality show to then making small lip sync music videos? Was it fun testing a hybrid format like that?

The hybrid nature of the show seemed totally natural and reflects the hybrid nature of Alyssa’s reality. She is living in a music video and her show needed to reflect that.

A lot of people might watch Dancing Queen because they are LGBTQ or they love Drag Race. How would you describe the show or entice people who don’t have any drag knowledge to watch it?

Dancing Queen is about an extraordinary individual leading an extraordinary life. You don’t need to know drag, or dance to enjoy it, you just need to be curious (and like bringing joy into your life).

Will there be a Season 2? What are some stories you’d like to see in another season?

We’re planning on it. Netflix hasn’t officially picked it up yet, but we will produce it come hell or high water. [tongue pop]


Mathew Rodriguez

Mathew is a staff writer at INTO. His work has appeared in Mic, Slate and Complex. He loves "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Flannery O'Connor and female rappers and is working on a memoir.

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