Shannon Jenkins, Associate Writer, Culture & Lifestyle
You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. Depending on whom you ask, that saying may not ring entirely true, especially if that person belongs to the House of Brooks.
Several of Atlanta’s well-known performers make up the happy drag family, whose matriarch is none other than the legendary Shawnna Brooks. The origins of the Brooks clan began in 1989 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when Shawnna performed drag for the first time in a talent show.
“That’s all it took,” she said of the birth of her drag career. “I’ve been working for more than 20 years. I’ve worked with the best, and I’m very grateful to still be working.”
It was Shawnna’s polished work that attracted the other performers who would become her family. Over the years Shawnna “begot” three children—Nicole Paige Brooks, Destiny Brooks, and Tara Nicole Brooks. Nicole and Destiny perform locally, while Tara Nicole works in North Carolina.
“A child is like your apprentice,” explained Nicole Paige Brooks, a season two “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant. “As a mother, you help polish the younger drag queens. You teach them all the tricks of the trade.”
When she first moved to Atlanta in 1999, Nicole Paige said she was obsessed with Shawnna.
“Every time Shawnna came out she had this crazy amount of energy, even when she was not moving,” Nicole Paige said. “She makes you look at her. You cannot not watch Shawnna.”
After seeing Shawnna perform, Nicole Paige followed her new idol everywhere until she started performing about a year and a half after moving to Atlanta.
“I started working at Blake’s, and Shawnna took me under her wing,” she said. “I was just Nicole Paige then because I had done drag in Oklahoma. Shawnna helped me calm down a lot and introduced me to a lot of people.”
In 2001 Nicole Paige added “Brooks” to her name. Then she had children of her own—Phoenix and Angelica D’Paige. And the Brooks family continued to grow with such additions as Janelle Paige Brooks, Alissah Brooks and more.
“I don’t even know half the kids that have my last name,” Shawnna said. “I have a million grand kids. It’s very flattering.”
Although the family has gained several members over the years, not just anyone can join the House of Brooks.
“You have to be voted in by everybody,” Shawnna said. “You have to get along with everybody. You have to have a certain ‘it’ factor.”
When they’re not showing off their “it” factor for crowds at various clubs around the city, they’re doing what any other family does.
“We all have dinner together,” Shawnna said. “We all go shopping together. We watch movies. We really are a family.”
Aside from the good times, being a family also means watching out for one another.
“In this business you have a lot of people who blow smoke up your ass,” Nicole Paige said. “Your family is supposed to tell you the truth. And, anything you need you just call your sister or your mother.”
As the head of the Brooks family, Shawnna makes sure she’s there for her girls. But she’s not one to coddle. She embraces the concept of “tough love.”
“I’m very hard on them,” she said. “I’m always checking up to see what they’re doing, what they have on, if they look right. I think they respect that.”
“Shawnna has really high standards,” Nicole Paige confirmed. “She makes sure we’re making our own costumes and we’re acting right. You need someone that you respect and will hold you to a standard.”
As part of her high standards, Shawnna imposes two particular rules on her family.
“Always be nice to people,” she said. “And always be humble.”