When Malta’s Got Talent semi-finalist Trihanna Wildé flew high on stage, billowing gown and all, while suspended from the ceiling, thousands of viewers gasped. The moment was iconic, and the collective disappointment when she didn’t make it to the finals was real.
But getting the ‘sashay away’ treatment is not stopping this drag queen from going places. She’s been going places since 2015, in fact, with the first tentative costumes and performances that saw Tristan Zammit gradually morph into the Trihanna that we know today. Like all transformations, it was more of a journey rather than an overnight thing.
“I have been creating looks for about seven years now. Lady Gaga was a favourite, before Trihanna came into being, I would dress up for Halloween and Carnival. In 2018 I took part in a competition for the first time, during Pride Week, and won. You could say that this was the defining moment when Trihanna came into being,” she says.
From this side of things it sounds indeed like a natural progression. But I suspect that in practice it can be tough for someone to take that first step and publicly embrace the drag queen side of their personality. Was this the case for Trihanna? She stops to think about it, and tells me that mixed feelings are to be expected initially, especially when friends and family are trying to figure out what’s happening.
“At one point, even I, myself, wasn’t quite sure. I could see that I was growing more interested in things that are stereotypically associated with women, such as heels and makeup. And I wasn’t sure whether this meant that I wanted to transition to female or whether this was simply a character that I wanted to create for entertainment. I spent some time questioning things about myself, but I soon realised that for me, Trihanna was a stage persona,” she explains.
Her family took it in stride, as did her partner. More than in stride, as he actually helped come up with the stage name Trihanna. This was about seven months into their relationship, she tells me, when her partner wasn’t even familiar with the world of drag queens. Did this put a strain on the relationship? Refreshingly, he was on board from the get-go.
“I remember telling him I wanted to take part in the lip sync competition and he was like – go for it. Then we were brainstorming names and I mentioned that I wanted a similarity to my birth name, Tristan. He came up with an earlier version of Trihanna and eventually we settled on the pronunciation,” she remembers.
Thus, the diva was born, and immediately started leaving a mark wherever she performed or competed. So much so, that when Below Deck Mediterranean – a Bravo reality TV series with millions of viewers – were looking for a drag queen to take part on the show, it was Trihanna’s name that cropped up.
“At first I didn’t believe it was real. I mean, I received this random Whatsapp from someone claiming to be an American producer and I’m like…right. I asked to meet face-to-face and she agreed. As soon as I got to the Excelsior hotel and found it crawling with camera crews, I realised it was the real deal,” she says with a grin.
It was, indeed, real. The show, which was nominated for an Emmy award for its sixth season, follows the lives of crew members living aboard a custom-built superyacht. As it happens, season 7 participants decided they’d quite enjoy a drag show. Enter Trihanna, and the rest made maritime and TV history.
“We took a water taxi to a small yacht, where I spent the day putting on make-up and getting ready. The sea was quite rough, so that part wasn’t much fun. Then it was off to this super yacht where I suddenly realised what it means being on reality TV. There are cameras literally everywhere, you can’t do anything without a camera recording your every move.
I can’t help but ask whether reality shows are fake as we all suspect. Turns out, not so much. With most of the cameras being fixed to the ceiling, once you get over the first shock, it all becomes par for the course and you go back to being spontaneous.
“It doesn’t take too long to forget, and to be your very real self. It’s only when you bump into an actual cameraperson that you remember, and then you need to get back into character, but for the most part the cameras are not in your line of sight,” she says.
I turn the topic to some practicalities. How long does it take to get ready? And, given the elaborate costumes and accessories, how much does it cost? The question strikes a strong chord, and with good reason. Clients, it turns out, need a bit of educating in terms of what being a drag queen involves.
“Artist fees in Malta are a slap in the face. A good quality wig costs hundreds of Euros. Fabric is also very expensive.There’s the hours of make-up, the costumes, the accessories. Stunts cost money too. My aerial stunt on Malta’s Got Talent was the most costly out of the whole performance. Sometimes you end up spending more than you make. But I do call out people who offer an unfairly low fee,” she tells me.
She remembers one particular incident when a local influencer requested her services. Trihanna sent all the quotes and details, and they moved on to discussing the show itself. At one point, the realisation hit her: the fee hadn’t been formally approved.
“So I double-checked with the client, since she hadn’t referred to the fee at all. The reply was astounding – how about I take over her Instagram account for the exposure, instead? I refused the job and booked another, more reasonable, client.” She smiles ruefully at the recollection.
This isn’t a one-off, but it’s not all bad. Trihanna describes another client who had requested a day-long shoot for a commercial, and also offered a sub-par fee.
“I politely explained everything that my performance would entail, including a full day in makeup, heels, wigs, corset and all it takes for Trihanna to be the professional Drag Queen that she is. My explanation changed their perspective and we renegotiated to a more reasonable fee,” she tells me.
Although she values herself rightly by expecting a reasonable fee, she’s aware of others’ devalued pricing. But Trihanna is determined to make it work. And working it is, with the start of the year seeing her booked solid, including at the iconic Nigret Nightclub drag nights.
“Sometimes, people show up not knowing what to expect. I’ve had members of the audience debate to my face whether I’m actually a man or a woman. Others just make it clear that they are not liking what they see, zero claps and all. Well, we’ve all got a right to our opinion, so that’s fine.”
The part that causes most raised eyebrows, however, is the shade. Anyone familiar with the world of drag queens will know that throwing shade is an intrinsic part of the performance. A Maltese audience still has trouble getting that – when Trihanna threw some shade in Valentina Rossi’s direction, everyone was shook. In reality, compared to international shows, said shade is quite tame. Trihanna may be a bit of a bisch on occasion, but the shade is very much part of the act.
“Incidentally, this is all self-taught. The makeup, the moves, everything. It’s the result of hours checking out YouTube tutorials. I devised the aerial stunt myself and basically, I just went for it. Bruises and injuries are part of the deal, as the saying goes, no pain no gain,” she chuckles mischievously.
What’s next for Trihanna? More performances, and possibly producing her own show. What about all those who are clamouring for her to have a go at Eurovision? Any interest there?
My question elicits a mysterious shrug. She is grateful to all thosewho commented that her performance on the Malta’s Got Talent stage is “Eurovision worthy” as this stunt had never been attempted by a drag queen before this. But that’s all we’re getting for now.
“Who knows what the future has in store?” she asks, a glint in her eye.
One thing’s for sure, Trihanna’s going to continue slaying.