By Michael Vorndran
MOST PEOPLE KNOW diva-in-waiting Kat Graham from her two seasons as the witchy Bonnie Bennet on “The Vampire Diaries” or from her collaborations with superstars like Will.I.Am. But most people don’t know that she is an extremely supportive and active ally to the LGBT community. Kat took a few minutes to sit down with Fenuxe to talk about her love for drag queens and her life as an Atlantan.
Fenuxe: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kat: I was born in Switzerland to a Liberian father and a Russian Jewish mom. They got divorced when I was around five. I moved from there to Los Angeles with my mom and got started immediately in the whole film and TV world of going to auditions.
Fenuxe: How did you get into the music side of things?
Kat: I became a back-up dancer and then when I was about 15 they let me go into an engineering school to be able to engineer. I was simultaneously learning how to engineer my own music and working as an actress. I eventually got the attention of producer Will.I.Am and he asked me to get on a couple of his songs and took me on a world tour as an actual artist and not a back-up dancer
Fenuxe: How would you describe your music?
Kat: One of the biggest communities and the biggest scenes that really accepted me before I was on “the Vampire Diaries” and the only people who would let me get on the stage and perform was the gay community. My music is very gay, pop, dance. We have other songs that are kind of more like black girl music, you know, a little bit more attitude and stuff like that. The foundation of my music is really from the music that I listen to and the music that embraced me and the people that embraced me.
Fenuxe: Did anything inspire the music on this album?
Kat: I watched a movie called “Paris is Burning” and looked at all the balls and different clubs and studied things like old school drag queens and RuPaul. I wanted to make an album that was like that. I wanted to make a “Paris is Burning” album about self acceptance and empowerment. I wanted to make an album that shows you can come from nothing and still feel fabulous and still be amazing and you are all you need.
Fenuxe: Does your love for the gays go beyond just making music?
Kat: Yeah, yeah big time. I think I first started doing gay activism with the NOH8 campaign. Adam Bouska let this young black girl kind of hop into the picture and from there it grew into the Trevor Project and other things. People are like, “You are not gay, so, what does it mean to you?” And I am like well, love is love. I come from a place where my parents were told they couldn’t be together because I had a black dad who was with a white woman. At the time, you know, it just wasn’t that cool.
Fenuxe: Being active is a very personal thing for you then?
Kat: All my friends, my manager, my team are gay. I was raised by people who were gay and it never really crossed my mind, until I got older, that the people who were taking care of me didn’t even have the same rights that I did. I made it a part of my mission early on. The second I get on, the second that somebody gives me an inch I am going to run a mile for the gay community and I am never gonna to stop until we win. It has just been a huge passion of mine. Even coming to Atlanta, I remember the first season of “The Vampire Diaries.” I don’t think our cast or crew knew me that well and suddenly they see me riding down a float with two drag queens. They are like, “What? Who is this girl?”
Fenuxe: Speaking that, when you found out you were going to film “The Vampire Diaries” in Atlanta where you nervous about moving to a southern city?
Kat: Yeah, I really got nervous. I found out I was moving to Atlanta. I was moving to the south and I am thinking rappers, I am thinking, you know, mac and cheese and southern food and old men on their balconies with their shot guns. (laughs) I was like oh my gosh I am not going to fit in. And then I got here and discovered midtown and discovered Jungle and Blake’s and I was like I found where I belong. I found where my friends are. Atlanta has been a great place for me to find a home.
Fenuxe: You have been able to make some good friends here in Atlanta?
Kat: My first friends I met out here were all drag queens. The whole Brook’s family. They let me be a part of the House of Brooks. It is a big deal. It is a lot more than just sequins and dance music. This world is about empowerment, faith and self acceptance. It has completely influenced my life.
Fenuxe: That means your overall impression of Atlanta is a positive one?
Kat: I found peace. (At first) I was very nervous as to what kind of place I would be living in and if they would be accepting of who I was and who my friends were and my lifestyle and where I like to hang out. I found that in Atlanta and I found it above and beyond what I thought it was going to be. There is such a beautiful amazing community out here. I am just in love.
Fenuxe: You shoot a lot of your stuff in Covington right?
Kat: We shot out in Covington, but we also shoot in Decatur. Most of my stuff that I shoot is in Decatur, but we have a loving community out in Covington. A lot of the fans come out.
Fenuxe: Can fans come watch the filming?
Kat: If fans want to see us film that is the place to see us. When I find out we are shooting in Covington there are a few ring leaders for the fans. I usually figure out a way with them and take them all out to ice cream and talk. Georgia has really made me humble and kept me so grounded. When I am in LA there are like paparazzi and weird thing that I am still not used to. But in Georgia there isn’t any of that. People are sweet and they just want to get to know ya.
Fenuxe: In LA they all want to hand you a script.
Kat: Yeah, in LA everyone is out for something. I understand it, but in Georgia people just want to be around it because it is cool and they like it. It is just very humbling and you just wanna be around people like that.
Fenuxe: How has it been working on the Vampire Diaries as it has grown into a hit?
Kat: From the beginning I knew it was something more than just a pilot from the CW. I mean the amount of crew and the trucks with equipment. I had shot five pilots before this and we had never had a production like this the way we shot the pilot. I knew there was something going on. The way it unfolded it just kind of took me by surprise. We shot the pilot in Vancouver and weeks between finding out if the pilot got picked up and then we were all flown to Georgia and that started.
Fenuxe: So, you were shielded a little from everything at first?
Kat: By the time we headed back to LA for our first hiatus, it had just gone to another level. We go from southern GA living then back to LA with billboards all over the place and fans screaming. Then back to Georgia where no one cares. It has been insane. Now when I go back home I expect it. I don’t leave my house without my drag on, you know what I mean? I make sure I am on point. I have never had to do that before.
Fenuxe: Your star is definitely rising. Especially with the Teen Choice Award win.
Kat: Yeah, I won my first Teen Choice Award. I would literally sit at home with a bowl of Mac and Cheese and just watch as Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake were accepting their awards. They are holding their surf boards. I was like that is cool. I never thought that I would be on stage holding a surfboard and be the person that millions of fans vote for. But I was like that would be cool if that happened, but you never think. But as it is happening you are like wow this is actually happening. And this is only the second award I have ever been nominated for.
Fenuxe: What was that moment like when they called your name?
Kat: My biggest thing was that I was afraid I was going to step on my fringe and tumble myself toward the stage. I was shocked. I had people literally tweeting that were like, “Do it for the gays!” By the time I won I had to hold myself from not crying. And I was like this is happening and I can do it for the gays! I really bust my ass you know what I mean. You wake up, you read scripts, you do shoots. I feel like I am constantly tired you know and it never ends and I am always on call and I can never get a break for myself. But then I see my friends who work so hard for three minutes on the stage who get ready for hours and rehearse with dancers and lights and music just for some little club in Weho or some little bar in Midtown. And then I am like, I can pull it together. I have people who need me to win, who need me to represent them to tell their story.
Fenuxe: Of course we are gay men so we have to know which of the boys on “The Vampire Diaries” do you think is the hottest?
Kat: Oh that is such a mean question. What a bitchy question. You know you would think that on the same show with the same casting director that everyone would have a similar appeal, but every single one of the boys has a different appeal. I think Steven McQueen, who plays my boyfriend on the show, he has like that sweet boy next door innocent appeal. Then you have Ian Somerhalder who has that bad boy appeal. Then you have Paul Wesly who has a kind of like dark, serious, sexy appeal. Then there is Zach Roerig who has the country boy appeal. It really depends on what you are into. We literally have tastes for every man, boy and child. There is literally every single type of guy who has come on this show and people can say “Okay could get into that?”
Fenuxe: If you had to choose between acting, music or dancing which one would you choose?
Kat: I don’t know if I could. I don’t think I have ever chosen. I think for music, at some point in my career I am going to completely choose that and it may be sometime very soon because of the album. It is going to need sufficient touring and it is going to need my sole focus. I can’t even balance promoting a film I did that came out this year internationally with “the Vampire Diaries.” It is very hard to balance anything with a TV show or anything with a movie or anything with music. You do have to choose. Right now I have chosen “the Vampire Diaries.” And after “the Vampire Diaries” are done I can choose music because I have time. It is really about time. If I could buy more of anything I would buy more time. You know what I mean?
Fenuxe: Where do you get the inspiration for your fabulous clothes?
Kat: You know where I get my inspiration. (laughs) I get my inspiration from drag queens and trannies. That is where I get it from. I am not going to sugar coat it and say, “I read US Weekly.” I don’t read that, no, I am literally sitting front row at Jungle or I am at Home Depot with Phoenix looking at different chicken wire to make a shoulder piece out of.
Fenuxe: Do you make a lot of your clothes?
Kat: Yes, actually, I have Alissah Brooks coming over today to make clothes. We literally just make clothes. I sit with my girls and make clothes. Then sometimes I will go shopping in LA and find some vintage pieces. I will look at old school videos from the club kids in New York. I love the Blondes. I try and take things that are over exaggerated and try and sometimes tame it for the event. Depending on if it’s a charity, a teen awards show or a fashion show. I try and tailor what I wear to the event, but I try and keep it still flamboyant like Freddie Mercury. I look at artists like that who are into this kind of underground scene of just like crazy over the top stuff. And I even find away to make it or I find a way to get it shipped to me from overseas.
Fenuxe: What are you listening to these days?
Kat: I am listening to a lot of different stuff. I have been listening to a lot of “the Immaculate Collection.” A lot of 90s, super 90s inspired stuff. Even stuff like rock music from the 90s…Everlast, Marcy’s Playground, Nirvana. Then I will go into the pop lane and listen to Janet Jackson and Paul Abdul. I am letting the 90s completely infiltrate my life musically. I also love the Black Eyed peas. I love a lot of French singers like Edith Pilaf.