How “Drag Race” star Milan propelled Dominic Lim to write a drag queen romance

Plus, see the cover for Lim's "Karaoke Queen."

Karaoke Queen combines two of Dominic Lim's favorite things: karaoke and drag.

The author, who debuted in 2023 with All the Right Notes, is bringing his Filipino heritage and his love for the art of drag to the page in his sophomore novel. EW has your exclusive first look at the cover below.

The book follows Rex, who has a brilliant plan to help save his ex-boyfriend Aaron's struggling karaoke bar. Rex will bring out his drag alter-ego, Regina Moon Dee, to emcee at the bar. The only catch is that Rex is terrified to let Aaron know that he and Regina are one and the same. Will he continue to hide behind Regina to save the bar and his romance with Aaron? Or will he risk everything to tell the truth and find someone who loves him for all he truly is?

Lim tells EW that he first truly discovered drag through his friend Dwayne Cooper, who fans of RuPaul's Drag Race may know better as Milan. "My first experience [with drag] was at Oberlin College, where the Drag Ball was always the biggest party of the year," he tells EW. "Later, when I moved to New York to do musical theater, I ended up getting cast in a series of shows where — more often than not — I was asked to be in drag, even when the script didn't originally call for it. Who knows why?"

"Then I became friends with Dwayne Cooper, a triple-threat actor who went on to compete as Milan on season 4 of this little show called RuPaul's Drag Race. Maybe you've heard of it?" Lim continues. "Well, I'd go watch Milan at various gigs around the city and she showed me how powerful drag can be. (Dwayne/Milan is actually the main inspiration for Ujima in All the Right Notes). After that, I was hooked."

"I'd go to other drag shows at places like The Roxy, Fez, and Escuelita, none of which exist anymore," he concludes. "Nowadays, I get my drag fix by watching Drag Race, including many of the international adaptations. Drag Race Philippines is my favorite, along with Manila Luzon's show, Drag Den, which features Filipino drag queens. I think Filipinos are the fiercest performers, but I'm probably a little biased!"

We chatted with Lim about his lifelong love of karaoke, his go-to song, and why he wanted to get a bit more political in Karaoke Queen than he did in his debut All the Right Notes. Check out the cover and read more below.

<p>Abi Lee Designs/Grand Central Publishing</p> Karaoke Queen by Dominic Lin

Abi Lee Designs/Grand Central Publishing

Karaoke Queen by Dominic Lin

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to set a romance novel in/around a karaoke bar?

DOMINIC LIM: Karaoke is a huge part of my life, as it is for many Asians and Asian Americans. Every Filipino household I know owns a karaoke machine! At most family parties growing up, we'd end with a marathon session of karaoke singing that would go into the late hours of the night. When I got older and moved to New York, I held on to that tradition and went out to karaoke bars every weekend. There's something so freeing about being on stage and having your chance to feel like a star for those three to four minutes. It's also a great way to meet new people. When someone does really well, you can develop an instant crush on them, and complimenting them afterward is the easiest pickup line ever because it's sincere. At the same time, we've all heard renditions of karaoke songs that go hilariously wrong. So a karaoke bar is the perfect setting for a romantic comedy because it's a great place to find love and laughs!

What is your go-to karaoke track?

Definitely anything by George Michael. My favorites are "Father Figure," "Faith," and "Freedom '90." And "I Want Your Sex," which I definitely do not do at family parties.

<p>Ben Krantz</p> Author Dominic Lin

Ben Krantz

Author Dominic Lin

Everyone loved your drag queen supporting character in All the Right Notes. What made you want to put one front and center in this story?

Ujima is one of my favorite characters in All the Right Notes. They are so extra and unapologetic! But, like so many other drag queen characters in books, TV shows, and movies, Ujima only plays a supporting role in someone else's love story. I wanted to write a romance with a drag queen as the main character to show people that they're not just the comedy queen or the fashion icon or the untouchable diva. They're just like everyone else: they want to be loved and respected for who they are, not just for what they do. Drag queens deserve happy ever afters, too.

What do you think is a lesson everyone can take from drag?

First and foremost, that drag is for everyone. Not to say that everyone has to do drag. But it is an art form that's open and available for anyone to participate in and enjoy. Queer people, straight people, men, women, nonbinary people, adults, and yes, even kids. Drag isn't what alarmists are trying to tell the public. That it's some sort of effort to promote the gay agenda, although drag queens do make very good spokesmodels. Drag is a tradition, an art form that goes back centuries in many countries. It's artistic expression, a way of breaking through rigid societal constructs, and most importantly to me, it's a celebration of femininity. For so long we've had this ridiculous notion that being feminine means being less than. You throw like a girl. You're such a sissy. Drag helps people to understand that women are the opposite of weak — they are devastatingly powerful. Rex, the main character in Karaoke Queen, discovers a lot of these things when he first learns how to do — and then later, reclaim — drag. I hope that his journey of self-acceptance resonates with anyone who reads the book.

How does this book fit in with ongoing national conversations attempting to ban or censor drag?

Karaoke Queen — while full of joy and love and hopefully, a few laughs — will have one foot more firmly in the real world than my last book, which was largely free of any sort of issues of trauma or oppression. For this story, I felt it was important to not skirt around the issues surrounding all the anti-drag sentiment currently happening in the U.S. There have been dozens of anti-drag bills introduced nationwide over the past year, claiming to be "protecting children," but they're just thinly veiled attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. In my book, Rex becomes the victim of a homophobic attack early on in his drag career which causes him to put that part of himself away for years. This is exactly what the anti-drag side wants: to scare everyone into going back into the closet. I'm hoping that my story can remind people that there is no amount of hate that can make us turn our backs on who we are. That Rex and everyone else in the world should be able to express their gender and creativity and inner diva by wearing whatever clothes they want. And look fabulous doing it!

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.