‘Drag Race’ ex-contestant hung up on playing Madonna now has a business plan

Take a quick glance into Adam Guerra’s room and you’ll find it fits the college student stereotype. Clothes, shoes and books alike are sprawled across the floor, with a single clear pathway of carpet from door to equally cluttered bed.

But when you pay attention to the details, the unexpected pops out. The glimmer of a sparkling purple dress in the closet catches your eye. Green-heeled boots stand out amidst sneakers. And that’s the moment you realize this is no ordinary room. This is a room fit for a queen.

Dubbed the No. 1 Madonna impersonator by MTV and VH1, Guerra, a 33-year-old Orange Coast College business major, has been performing as Venus D Lite since he was 18.

“Everybody watches drag,” Guerra said. “Gay, straight, black, white, any culture, they all watch a guy dressed as a female and get entertainment from it. It does something to the human psyche, you could say. There was a time when I was embarrassed, but I’m not anymore. People just enjoy what I do.”

And there’s no denying that people love what he does. As downtown Los Angeles’ celebrated gay bar Precinct began filling with diverse spectators, one could sense the excitement.

Venus D Lite’s show was set to begin at midnight, and it was surprising to see the high, blonde ponytail bobbing its way through the crowd half an hour prior. As Venus effortlessly worked the room, a sense of warmth and comfort began to build.

“When I found out about drag, I think there was a part of it I was using to explore myself,” Guerra said. “With drag, I have found a lot of talents within me. I’ve learned how to communicate with people. Entertain them. Keep them interested.”

Everyone’s eyes in the dimly lit room were focused on the red velvet curtain. The music began, and a hand stretched out, undulating to the rhythm of the music. When the curtain opened, it became abundantly clear why Guerra has been featured on three prominent reality TV shows.

From the dancing that could only have been a product of years of practice to the way that the crowd was so effortlessly entranced, Venus D Lite’s star power shined through.

It wasn’t always easy. Following Guerra’s elimination from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2011, which arguably launched him to stardom, he admits that his drive for drag began to fade.

“It was having to see yourself kind of look just formless,” Guerra said. “You can’t really learn about yourself. The only person I was really learning about was Madonna and Venus. But I wasn’t learning anything about Adam.”

Guerra said he owes his return to his fans. When the world wanted to know why he was quitting drag, when audiences begged him not to, he felt the love that had been lacking during the dark period that culminated in his decision to quit.

It all started as sheer curiosity. Madonna had always been Guerra’s idol, but it wasn’t until he entered a Madonna contest in Hollywood and won first place that he realized exactly what he could do with this passion. By the time he was 21, he had his own show in Riverside, “Flawless.”

“I had nothing,” Guerra said. “I had no clue what the hell I was doing, and it made me want to really succeed and continue it. I had that show for six years. It was like sink or swim. It was my job to produce a show.”

Having long been a part of the drag scene, Guerra has seen the way its predominance has evolved.

“When I first started doing drag, we were changing in alleyways,” he recalled. “We were like the clowns. We were the outcasts of the community, of the clubs. We just did it because we loved it. Then, after ‘Drag Race,’ it just became this whole big pop culture phenomenon.”

He is now working on earning a bachelor’s degree in business so that he can open his own nightclub. An ambitious and market savvy individual, he admits to also wanting to start his own makeup line.

Guerra plans to attend his Wednesday night class in drag for the remainder of the semester. He hopes that it will inspire other students, both the curious and the hesitant.

It’s ironic to think that across the street from where he can now cultivate his hopes and dreams sits Costa Mesa High School, a place where Guerra was once bullied because of his sexuality.

Guerra can now look across the street knowing that he has won. That Venus D Lite has won.

“I can’t say it’s an alter ego. No. It’s a louder version of Adam,” he said.

Margherita Beale writes for the Coast Report newspaper at Orange Coast College. This article has been reprinted with permission.