GREENSBORO — Growing up in his Randolph County hometown of Ramseur, he was Trevien Anthonie Cheek.
Now, she is popular drag queen Heidi N’ Closet, winner of the 2019 North Carolina Entertainer of the Year Pageant, dedicated to the betterment of diverse LGBT cultures.
To watchers of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Channel VH1, she is a current contestant in Season 12 of the reality competition TV series.
The show airs Friday nights. In the fourth episode last week, Heidi escaped elimination and remains among 10 eligible contestants still in the race. One contestant was disqualified after filming.
Heidi, 25, calls it “very surreal” to appear on the Emmy Award-winning show that she has watched since its first season.
“It’s crazy watching the TV, and then there’s my face,” she said from Trinity, where she now lives. “It’s been a crazy, out of body experience.”
The show features drag queens — men who dress in women’s clothing and makeup — competing in different weekly challenges, such as designing and constructing outfits, dance and lip-syncing, with more than a touch of humor. Last week, they dressed and danced like bees.
Actor and model RuPaul Andre Charles, perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen, hosts the show. He heads the panel of judges — often including celebrities such as rapper Nicki Minaj — that critiques contestants. Typically, one contestant gets sent home in each episode.
The winner will receive the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar and $100,000.
“It is one of the most entertaining shows,” Heidi said. “But also, it has so much meaning behind it.”
All episodes have been recorded, except for the reunion and finale. Heidi isn’t allowed to say how she fares, a rule common to reality TV competitions.
The show addresses topics that wouldn’t be discussed in other settings, she said.
In the first episode, “My fellow contestants talked about how they are of Persian descent, and it’s pretty much of a taboo in their culture to be gay or to be a drag queen.”
Heidi herself has faced challenges.
She was raised by her grandmother in Ramseur, in an area she describes as having more chickens than people.
Trevien Anthonie Cheek was bullied in his younger years, “just for being black, gay or effeminate and all these things that I couldn’t really change about myself.”
After graduation from Eastern Randolph High School, he worked in a fast-food restaurant and a convenience store.
He attended his first drag show at age 18, at a Winston-Salem club. His eldest sibling, a transgender woman, was celebrating her birthday and invited Heidi along.
The drag show “looked like a lot of fun,” Heidi said. “I was like, ‘I think I could do that.’ I started getting my stuff together, and two years later, I tried it for the very first time.”
Heidi started her drag career at Chemistry on Spring Garden Street more than five years ago.
“I didn’t get booked as much starting out, because you have to work your way up most of the time, especially here in North Carolina,” she said.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, she was still performing occasionally at Chemistry, as well as at Twist Lounge on Dolley Madison Road. She became known for incorporating humor with her dancing.
“I love a good laugh, and making others laugh as well,” she said.
She also organizes Rainbow Brunch, which raises money for local charities that benefit the LGBTQIA+ community.
But until last year, she worked a variety of other jobs in a factory, hospital and convenience store.
Last year, she auditioned to compete on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” completing an online application and submitting a video. When she got the call from the show, “I threw my phone, and ran in the opposite direction and jumped on my bed,” Heidi said.
She had just spent all of her money preparing to compete in a national pageant. So she skipped that pageant and instead, borrowed money to prepare for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Although the show’s producers never told her why she was chosen, “I like to think it was my winning personality,” she said, laughing.
Clothing, makeup and hair are important in the transformation to drag queen. Other drag queens who are seamstresses make most of her clothing, she said.
“But I think the most important thing is to be entertaining,” Heidi said. “That’s what people are going to remember you the most for, is the performance that you give.”
The show has brought her more attention on social media. When she left for filming, she had 557 followers. As of last week, she had 82,700.
“It has opened up a lot of different avenues that I can now partake in,” Heidi said. “It’s put me on the platform to where I can reach out to more people and hopefully change things for the better, and hopefully make this a long-lasting career out of this as well.”
“I want to be a voice and a beacon of light for those young kids out there that are still not able to be fully themselves fully 100% because of maybe their surroundings or their parents,” she said. “I want them to know that it’s OK, and things do get better.”