Iowa City resident hosts virtual talent show for LGBTQ performing artists

At a time of mass closures and cancellations for the arts and performance venues nationally, one Iowa City resident put together a virtual talent show to give artists a new way to perform.


Katie Goodale

Lil Ronnie Belle hosts Gays Got Talent via Instagram live video on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Josie Fischels, Arts Editor

By means of a livestream on Instagram Wednesday evening, six performers showcased their talent virtually for the first round of “Gays Got Talent: a Virtual Talent Show for LGBT+ Artists.”

The contest, organized and hosted by Iowa City resident Sydney Speltz, allowed LGBTQ+ artists to come together virtually and perform at a time when performance venues across the nation have closed in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Speltz performs as a drag king under the name of Lil Ronnie Belle, and organized the show after noticing many of their peers in the drag community had gigs canceled as news of coronavirus spread across the country.

“[Drag performance] can range from something you do for extra money, but for a lot of performers that’s what they do, and they’re paid regularly that way,” Speltz said. “So, I mean obviously it stinks not to have new shows, but for some people it really is a big loss of income.”

Speltz said that while their job as a beauty advisor is providing paid leave for employees, they understand many other companies are unable to do the same. Because of this, they decided to host a talent show with a cash prize to help provide a boost for performers with no current income, and also to provide them a space to perform outside of traditional performance venues.

The two-round competition is being organized and held entirely over social media. Speltz sent out audition information over Facebook, Twitter, and on both their personal and drag Instagram accounts, calling for artists of all mediums to participate. Interested artists were able to send in a clip of themselves showcasing their talent that were later selected for the final competition, which was streamed live on Speltz’s drag king account, @lilxronnie, on Wednesday night.

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Performers included other Iowa City residents, including UI third year theatre arts major Sydney Kuhel. Others came from all over the world — the farthest contestant sent in a clip of their performance from their home in Melbourne, Australia.

While performers like Kuhel sang for their act, others, including Bay St. Louis, Mississippi resident Alana Freimanis performed in drag. Other acts included stand-up comedy routines and lip-syncing, according to Speltz.

Freimanis said that it has been difficult for performers like herself to find opportunities to showcase and grow her craft during this time. Her daytime job at a Crocs store was also forced to put some of their employees, including herself, on unpaid leave.

“I am very grateful that so many creative people have gotten together and immediately jumped onto this whole new digital era of entertainment and performance,” Freimanis said. “I think that it’s going to stick and bring people from different states together. I think it’s the start of a new movement in performance.”

Kuhel said performing in Marat’s Dead — the last show the UI Theatre Department was able to put on before the department canceled the remainder of its season — meant realizing later than expected that she might not be able to perform for several months.

“Once that show finished, I was like, ‘What am I going to do if I don’t have the one thing I love, the thing that I’m going to school for?’” she said.

Kuhel sang “So, Anyway” from the musical production Next to Normal for her virtual act. She said that the opportunity to not only perform as an artist, but also as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, was especially important to her.

“As someone who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community, who is in a heterosexual relationship, I often don’t feel like I am a part of that community. Because Sydney has allowed me to be a part of this, it’s just been really helpful to feel part of not only the arts community, but also the LGBTQ+ community,” she said.

Speltz echoed that people from all walks of life coming together in any way is important during times of uncertainty.

“It’s knowing that there’s a community,” they said. “Almost everything in the LGBTQ community, I think, should be about banding together, sharing struggles as well as sharing passions.”