Scarlett Fever Is Burning Up Brisbane
“I’ve never wanted to look like a woman. I’ve always wanted to look like a painting of a woman.”
That’s Jack Lucke, or rather Scarlett Fever.
She’s masterfully applying a drastic eyebrow to her forehead, chatting through the reflection of her vanity mirror.
Tonight, she’s getting ready for her weekly karaoke appearance (she only sings The Spice Girls) – a process that will take four hours to transform the lanky Jack into the elegant and commanding Scarlett.
She’s in a small box of a room in her Albany Hills home, stuffed with wigs and heels, containers of makeup exploding at capacity, accessories strung across a dresser that is crowded by photos of Scarlett. Her costumes are metres away in a garage that is more reminiscent of a seamstress’ hideaway. It’s a man cave for drag queens.
Jack grew up in Redcliffe in the 90s, a town he calls “not homophobic, but maybe just a lot less accepting.” As the only gay student at Redcliffe State High School, Jack felt alienated and was forced to grow a thick skin to slurs and teases. But he soon found solace in theatre and performance with the school’s drama department – the stage a supportive haven that, along with RuPaul’s Drag Race, sparked his love for drag. His tall thin frame often meant he couldn’t fit the school’s costumes, motivating Jack to sew his own. This hobby quickly turned into a passion and now a fully-fledged career.
Four years ago, Jack first burst into the Brisbane drag scene as Scarlett Fame. The name grew from Jack’s love for the colour red, but also his favourite character from the 2011 Australian drama SLiDE, Scarlett Carlyle – “the really hot girl who parties a lot but is probably the only real person” – as well as a nod to his dream to be famous. This name soon evolved into Scarlett Fever, inspired by an influx of play-on-word characters entering the scene. “I wanted something like a natural disaster, because I’m fun, I’m crazy, but I’m dangerous... she’s like a spicy little eruption!” Jack explains.
Having performed drag professionally since 2014, his life has revolved around the drag world. Most people are more than their job, but Jack is one of the lucky few who live for their work, with his spare being taken up by designing, sewing and performance rehearsals. As a result, he has transformed dramatically both as his self and his persona.
“You hear people say, ‘Oh, my drag character has taught me so much about my boy-self!’ and it’s actually really true how that happens,” says Scarlett, now creating what will apparently become her eye socket when her makeup look is complete.
One person who can attest to that statement is Jack’s mum, Jody, who has been his biggest support since entering the industry. “Seeing Jack become confident in his own skin and falling in with a group of creative people has opened a whole new world to him... To me, I couldn’t imagine him any other way,” she said.
However, Jody was also nervous about Jack putting himself out there, especially in a bigger city like Brisbane. She was worried that Jack, who has a notoriously big mouth, would say something to the wrong person.
This feeling of unease crossed over to Scarlett, causing her to carry a Stanley knife in her clutch for the first few months.
Scarlett explains that high school name-calling isn’t the worst of the problems when going out in drag. “You could get punched in the face if you f*cking talk bad about somebody... I still do it anyway. Because drunk Scarlett doesn’t give a shit about anything,” says Scarlett, winking through the mirror.
It’s this ‘I’m-doing-me’ attitude that has carried Scarlett through the troughs of her career and propelled her to the forefront of Brisbane’s drag scene. Having performed alongside the likes of Ricki-Lee Coulter and Sneaky Sound System, as well as appearing on Geordie Shore and being taken to Alice Springs for a Priscilla Queen of the Desert inspired show, it’s evident she is in demand.
Perhaps the toughest period was at Scarlett’s humble beginnings, when Jack’s dad, Andrew, wasn’t interested in what was viewed as a “phase”. Tales swirl around about Jack being asked to dress-down for family dress- up parties and to act less like his self. For years, Jack’s relationship with his father deteriorated, until it became almost non-existent.
As Jack talks about his father, he turns away nonchalantly – poker face in full force. It is still evident that that period really hurt him but he doesn’t want to let it show.
This year, however, there was a change of heart.
“I think he’s realised that it’s not just me playing dress up, it’s a career,” Jack says about his dad reaching out. He came along to one of Scarlett’s shows for the first time in February this year – a competition featuring a Muriel’s Wedding medley, performed alongside a puppet. Jack presents a photo of Scarlett and Andrew together after the performance, both radiant and overjoyed.
Jack’s eyes don’t give much away, but you can tell that a wound is beginning to heal, and he’s ready to let it be mended.
As the hours of makeup build together, Scarlett Fever is coming alive. With the final touches of a large ginger wig and layers of necklaces in place, she is ready and she looks incredible. It’s like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon and makes you wonder if Jack is more comfortable in this state than in his day-to-day life working at Woolworths and going to cafes with his drag roommates.
In no time at all, she struts out the door in her monstrous heels with an ease all girls would envy.
She swings around in the doorframe.
“Hi, I’m Scarlett Fever! It’s like thrush, but harder to get rid of!” she says, as she flashes a smile before continuing to the car.
And she’s right. The drag queen scene is infected and won’t be getting rid of her any time soon.
Ten Drag Queens To Learn If You Don’t Know Drag
RuPaul has produced the incredibly popular reality television competition series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, since 2009. She is considered the most successful drag queen in the US, having been named in Times 100 list of influential people in 2017 and being the first drag queen to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lady Bunny began her career alongside RuPaul in Atlanta’s drag scene. She’s New York based as the creator and emcee of Wigstock – a major drag festival held in NYC every Labour Day that Bunny describes as “the hipper version of Gay Pride Day.”
Bianca Del Rio
Bianca Del Rio won the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Following her success, she has written and toured several stand up shows in the US and has the second highest social media influence in the drag world, to RuPaul.
Chad Michaels is a drag performer best known for her impersonations of Cher. She competed in the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, coming runner-up to Sharon Needles. She went on to compete in the first season of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race, taking out the title of ‘Queen of all Queens’.
Conchita Wurst is an Austrian drag queen that rose to international fame in 2014 after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with her song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. This win established her as a gay icon and gave her the opportunities to perform at many pride parades, the European Parliament and the United Nations Office in Vienna.
Alaska Thunderf*ck 5000
Alaska Thunderf*ck was a contestant on the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and winner of the second season of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race. She’s released two albums: Anus and Poundcake.
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna is possibly Australia’s most famous drag queen, created and performed by comedian Barry Humphries. She is known for her greeting, “Hello, Possums!”, her “wisteria-hue” hair and cat eye glasses.
Jinkx Monsoon was the winner of the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She describes herself as, “Seattle's premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen.”
Detox auditioned for every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and became a contestant in the fifth season, finishing in forth place. She then competed in RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race Season 2, where she came runner-up. She’s most well known for her unique and put- together dress sense, and has appeared in music videos for Ke$ha and Rihanna.
Sharon Needles took the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” in the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She stands out with her ghoulish makeup and fashion sense. She’s released three studio albums, the most recent being Battle Axe in 2017.