‘Keyboard Courage’

Kelly Mantle, contestant on season 6 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” is about to release her new single/video this month titled “Keyboard Courage,” a dream, pop, electric, anti-bullying encouraging song. She even played every instrument on the track!

However, besides “Drag Race” and music, there’s much more to Kelly Mantle. She is a serious actress and has appeared on television numerous times, on shows such as “CSI,” “Judging Amy,” “Will and Grace,” “NYPD Blue,” “Southland,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Cold Case” and many others. As a standup comedian, Kelly was featured on Logo (“Dragtastic NYC”) and has also appeared in more than 50 theater productions. Film has also played a part in Mantle’s career as she recently costarred in “Confessions of a Womanizer” with Gary Busey as well as “American Dream” and “Middle Man,” two films set to be released next year.

You might recognize Kelly as part of the band Tranzkuntinental, which included fellow drag stars Willam and Detox. And if that isn’t enough, she is also the nephew of the late Yankee legend, Mickey Mantle.

I found Kelly to be brilliant, talented, well spoken, funny, candid and every other quality that you’d want to find in a human being.

What exactly is your song “Keyboard Courage” about?
It’s funny, because I’m a singer-songwriter for years, long before “Drag Race” ever came around. But what was interesting, especially ever since my appearance on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” I have had so many of the fans – a lot of them are very young kids in junior high school and high school – either message me online or see me at shows and tell me that they are a victim of cyberbullying. It’s online bullying, and some kids have talked to me about how it’s made them feel suicidal, and I have gone through it since my appearance on “Drag Race.” For me personally, because I have a very strong skin, I find the mean tweets to be hilarious. I read them laughing. But I can see for some of these kids that don’t have a tough exterior, it is hard, so I thought, let me write a song that would be like an anthem to them, just don’t get discouraged by “Keyboard Courage.” Let it roll off your shoulder, stand up and fight them. Let’s win.

It’s a very inspirational song, especially to those young kids tortured by that kind of harassment. A lot of that stuff goes around.
Yeah, for the most part I am a singer-songwriter, and I live in that world. I just wasn’t aware of how intense it really is. When I got into this “Drag Race” thing, I thought, wow, these people can really turn out some hateful tweets. I was laughing with a friend the other day. I mean, even with Madonna, the picture on her Instagram, you go down and read the comments like, ”You’re so old,” “Kill yourself.” I’m like, OMG, you guys, it’s Madonna! How can you be mean to Madonna? It even happens to someone as amazing as her.

Oh yeah, people can be mean online.
You know, one little slip comes out of your mouth. Kelly Osbourne went through that recently talking about the Donald Trump and the “who’s going to clean your toilets” thing. Just a little slip and for weeks just comments [like] “racist pig,” “I hate you.” OMG, crazy. I’m the first to admit, I can sit behind my computer and listen to a song, see a picture and think to myself, “Oh, you don’t look so good” or “Your song sucks,” but I never in a million years would take my fingers and type “Your song sucks.” I would just think it in my head. I don’t want to put that energy out there.

Well, the words in the song were really powerful.
That’s so cool to hear. For me the reason I write music is because I love the rhythm of words. That’s really where my passion lies, and I just layer that with music.

But you also play like every instrument in the world too, correct?
Yeah, I do. It’s kind of like my first time I ever get to play the instruments. I play keys, guitar and I just started recently playing the drums. I’m so excited that there are actually clips on the video with me playing the drums.

That’s so amazing. Where do you find the time in your life?
That’s what keeps my sanity. When you’re out on the road and you’re touring, I love to just come home and just sit with my instruments. That’s where I find my peace and tranquility. I definitely have to make the time or else I get too scattered.

You do so many things – you’re a singer, songwriter, actor/actress. Do you enjoy working in or out of drag better on a film or television show?
I don’t have a preference as long as it’s a great role. What I really love to do, and I’ve had a few opportunities, [is] where I get to play a role where you get to see the character both in and out of drag. I love those, but I don’t really have a preference. It’s a hell of a lot easier to do it out of drag. I consider myself to be a true spirited individual. I’m Native American, actually, from Oklahoma. My whole life I’ve traveled back and forth between genders.

That is the coolest thing ever. So do you have a favorite project?
Currently it’s my new song, but my favorite project that I’ve ever done is my one-person show. It’s called “The Confusion of My Illusion.” It was at the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Theater at the Gay and Lesbian Center here in L.A. I wrote it. It’s amazing, and the thing that was super cool about it is that when I was growing up in Oklahoma, I got my hands on Lily Tomlin’s one-person show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” I remember watching that and saying I want to do that, so it was like a full circle moment for me to actually be doing my own one-person show at the Lily and Jane theater, and Lilly and Jane came to see it.

Nice, that is super cool! Now I have to ask you a Yankee question, since Mickey Mantle was your uncle. I am from New York, and I love the Yankees.
What was it like having Mickey Mantle as your uncle?
I was not born at the time he played baseball; he was already retired. So to me he was just Uncle Mickey. I used to spend summers with him, his kids and Aunt Merlyn. They had a place in Dallas. I didn’t get the big deal. I knew there was something special about him, because every time we would go somewhere to eat there would be a swarm of people asking for autographs. Like, why do people like this man so much? Then it was the day he died, that next morning I went into a convenience store. I saw his face on the cover of every newspaper and magazine. I realized he was like a legend. He was a great guy, he was hilarious. I just love the legacy behind his success and his story. I love Uncle Mickey. He’s my dad’s older brother. It’s just super cool, and he is right up there with Uncle Sam and apple pie.

So you were in a musical group with Detox and Willam. How did that go?
[laughs] Well, it was interesting. In the beginning it was fun. It was a cool project. Listen, I love performing. I love performing rock and roll. We did covers, but there were a lot of personalities included. Put five or six drag queens together … it can get a little shaky.

Were you around for “This Boy Is a Bottom?”
No, it had already been dismantled by then.

You’re new addition to a crayon box. What color are you?

That is original. Pick two celebrities to be your parents.
Meryl Streep and Madonna.

Good answer. Do you recall the first time you put on a dress?
I remember dressing up in my grandmother’s nightgown all the time when I would stay the night with her, and always playing pageant and dress up. I can’t remember specifically the first time, but I used to do that all the time, when I was a little kid, five years old. I would go to her house to play dress up, because she would let me.

What is your favorite thing about dressing in drag?
I always say I started doing drag to attract the straight boys. When a lot of people go, “Oh, you need to raise your eyebrows,” I was like, “Babe, I’m trying to look like a girl here to pick up a straight boy. I don’t want my eyebrows all the way up to my forehead line. Boys don’t like that.” I think that’s what I like most, attracting straight boys. I’m just being blunt here.

Anything else you would like to say?
I’m just really, really excited about my new single and the music video coming out. It feels good getting back to my roots and making music. I’m working on my fourth album. It’s going to be coming out around February.


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Eileen Shapiro
Best selling author of "The Star Trek Medical Reference Manual", and feature celebrity correspondent for Get Out Magazine, Louder Than War, and Huffington Post contributor, I've interviewed artists from Adam Ant, Cyndi Lauper, and Annie Lennox to Jennifer Hudson, Rick Springfield, LeAnn Rimes, and thousands in between. My interviews challenge the threat of imagination....