Drag king tenderoni poses in sunglasses and a striped animal print suit suit
Image Credit: Instagram, @tenderoni88

The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be… Tenderoni.

The Chicago-based drag king knows a thing or two about razzle dazzle, wowing audiences all across the country and quickly becoming one of the hottest names in the world of drag. Period!

That’s because Tenderoni knows how to put on a d*mn good show, and has the unique ability to get everybody on their feet—just don’t even try to keep up with his fancy footwork.

With a drag aesthetic that combines ’90s boy bands, Latin excellence, and iconic A Goofy Movie pop star Powerline, he’s also got a style game that’s unmatched.

In 2021, he even won Alaska and Lola LeCroix’s Drag Queen Of The Year pageant, and his career’s only continued to explode ever since. So much so that, whenever fans call on RuPaul’s Drag Race to finally starting casting kings in the competition, they often cite Tenderoni as the example of Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent that the show’s been missing out on.

Next, he’ll be one of the spotlighted talents (alongside ballroom legend Kevin Aviance and Drag Race‘s Rosé) taking the stage at The Ali Forney Center‘s annual SERVE dance-a-thon on November 12 in NYC, an incredible cause that raises funds to fight food insecurity and provide resources to homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

But before he could hit the dance floor, Queerty snagged some time with our favorite king and welcomed him as the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our chat, Tenderoni opens up about the biggest misconceptions around drag kings, his wildest shows ever, and the childhood TV crush who still makes him weak in the knees. Have mercy!

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, theater, video game, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey, or that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness? Why does it stand out to you?

The top 2 pieces of pop culture media that had a huge part in shaping my queerness, and love for drag, are The Birdcage and To Wong Foo (Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar). TV and movies were basically my babysitter growing up and these two hold a special place in my heart. I always wanted friends like the girls in To Wong Foo; it was my first introduction to RuPaul. My sense of humor is strongly based on the jokes in that movie. The first woman I ever fell in love with was Chi Chi Rodriguez…

I always wanted to dress like Robin Williams in The Birdcage and deeply related to Nathan Lane’s character when he wanted to blend in but kept his pink sock on for “a hint of color.” My drag persona is strongly based on the one boy dancer that is surrounded by queens in the closing scene of that movie. The slick leather jacket and the cute latin gay boy vibes… That’s Tenderoni.

This weekend, you’re performing at the Ali Forney Center’s annual SERVE party, which is in part a dance-a-thon raising money for LGBTQ+ youth. In its honor, what would you say is your go-to lip-sync dance move (describe it as best you can) and why?

My signature dance move is a high kick. It’s kind of like that Karate Kid hitch kick, but it’s almost always accented by a whip crack that I mix into my tracks. I love it because it’s a crowd pleaser and a great way to kick off the beginning or ending of a performance.

Drag is everywhere these days, but drag kings are infamously underrepresented in media. What would you say is the biggest misconception about kings, and why is it so wrong?

The biggest misconception about drag kings is that we can’t coexist with drag queens. Drag kings have just as much stage presence and star quality as queens; we just don’t get the same opportunities to showcase our talents. I work shows with queens all the time and enjoy every minute of it. I think we compliment each other well and create well rounded entertaining shows. I think of drag shows as a buffet, try to get a little bit of everything on your plate so you get a taste of it all.

What’s the worst/strangest/most interesting drag gig you’ve ever done?

Some of the most interesting and crazy drag shows I have been in have got to be in San Francisco! That city has its own wild subculture of drag and I absolutely love it! I’ve seen food disappear into bodies, I’ve seen animals on stage, fire, you name it! What I love about it is that every type of drag is welcome and everyone cheers everything on!

Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age (or maybe still do!)? What do you remember loving about them?

I always had a crush on Uncle Jesse from Full House—beautiful hair, beautiful face, best fashion, sooo cute. I also base a lot of my drag fashion choices on his outfits too! The crisp white sneakers with the colorful suits are very Tenderoni! ’90s Uncle Jesse will always have a spot in my heart.

You’ve been traveling and performing all over the country lately, but Chicago is your home base—what’s your favorite thing about living in the city, and what is it that makes Chicago’s queer community so special?

Chicago is such a great city for drag. You can go to a drag show every night of the week here and see tons of different things! The queer community here does a good job of creating spaces for everyone and building supportive audiences. There is a rich history of pageantry here with Continental being hosted here and The Baton Lounge showcasing the divas weekly. The gay neighborhood here is full of fun drag shows hosted by all types of drag artists.

There is also a great club/house scene here because of all the great local DJs and the history of house music starting here. I love everything about the city and love it being my home base. (We need better late night food options though!!!)

What’s one article of clothing Tenderoni would never be caught dead in and why?

I would never be caught in a garment with no shoulder pads!!! Soft shoulders are my enemy! I need big shoulders to offset my big butt and wide hips. It helps with the “illusion.”

Who is a queer or trans chef/artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

My favorite performer right now is King Molasses! Do yourself a favor and look him up now: insta @kingmolasses. His drag is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. His signature is performing with an old school mic stand (he travels with it) and the energy he brings is so immaculate! He is sexy, his suits are always perfectly pressed and he performs music from all genres and hits every beat of every song and always commands the stage. If I sound like a fanboy, I am!!! He needs all the attention and he deserves it! This is a King Molasses stan account!

The Ali Forney Center’s SERVE dance-a-thon fundraiser is today Sunday, November 12—but it’s not too late to join the party! Even if you’re not in NYC, you can still donate to this amazing organization and its worthy cause.

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