We saw her only briefly on Season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but Orion Story, who will headline Kalamazoo Pride on Saturday, June 4, made quite an impression. Self-described as “what would happen if you took Barbarella and put her on a runway in the middle of Sesame Street,” Orion is more than her quirky, sex kitten image. There is a depth to Orion (the stage name created by performer Chance Lambert), the kind one only develops once they’ve been through something. And Orion has certainly been through some things.
The Grand Rapids native, and first Michigan queen to ever appear on “Drag Race,” came to the show at what she describes as one of the worst times in her life. She was still recovering from her beloved mother’s suicide, she had just moved out of her apartment and had no idea where she’d call home once her time on the show was up and, perhaps most challenging, she was dealing with substance abuse issues and going through withdrawal while she was filming the show.
“My ‘Drag Race’ experience was quite a ride, to be honest,” Orion shared with Pride Source. “I had a really rough time at first adjusting, but it was through the ‘Drag Race’ experience that I really came into my own and overcame a lot of the things in my life that were bringing me down.”
Even if her mother — whose maiden name, Story, inspired Orion’s stage name — was no longer physically with her, she said she could feel her while filming “Drag Race.” Orion also says she based some of her looks on her mom.
“My mom would be so incredibly proud,” she said. “She was always proud of everything I did, and we just got each other. She’s the one who originally pushed me to do drag.”
With suicide in the media spotlight in the wake of country music superstar Naomi Judd’s death, Orion reflected on the pain that suicide brings to the survivors left behind.
“I’ve lost a lot of people in my life to suicide, and it really affects the way you look at the people in your life,” she said. “You never know what people are going through, and nine times out of 10, people won’t come forward about it.”
Even as she struggled with her grief, Orion believed she would make it onto “Drag Race.” She had faith in her talent and, despite it all, a strong belief in self.
“I’ve always really believed in myself and what I do,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in my work, and I really care a lot about the art of [drag] as well as the creative process.”
Orion returned to Michigan following the show, where she felt so much love from her hometown.When she attended RuPaul’s DragCon in L.A. recently, she ran into lots of Michigan folks and felt proud to be there to “represent the mitten.”
But don’t go thinking there’s not a drag scene right here in Michigan; in southwest Michigan, especially, Orion says the drag scene is on the upswing.
“The Grand Rapids scene has really been slowly starting to blossom a lot lately,” she noted. “I’ve had a lot of queens in Michigan reach out about how they never felt like they could do ‘Drag Race’ and watching me shows them that they can do whatever they put their minds to.”
Orion, who will be taking the stage for a Pride event for the first time, said she’s thrilled to be headlining Kalamazoo Pride. “I’ve been so many times, and it’s always a blast,” she said.
But Orion hasn’t been able to spend much time in the Great Lakes State as of late. She’s taken advantage of everything “Drag Race” has offered her and secured national management, which has kept her zigzagging the globe. Her life has changed considerably, and in some ways, for the better. She’s doing exactly what she loves for a living, and she’s proud of what she accomplished while under duress. But perhaps most importantly, she says, “getting on the show really made me fall in love with myself again.”
Orion Story takes the Kalamazoo Pride stage on Saturday, June 4 at 10:40 p.m. following a meet-and-greet with fans starting at 9:30 p.m. For more information on Orion, visit theorionOrion.com or @theorionOrion on all socials.