Judging from his glamorous drag queen alter-ego, you’d never guess that Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen is a Templeton farm boy at heart.
“When you talk about that in New York, people are like, ‘I can’t believe you grew up in the middle of nowhere,’ ” said Dam-Mikkelsen, a celebrity makeup artist and model based in New York City. “My upbringing (was) very humble.”
But Dam-Mikkelsen, 29, is proud of his Central Coast roots — and excited to share his story as Miss Fame on the Logo TV reality competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Hosted by renowned drag queen RuPaul and scored by a panel of celebrity judges, the sassy show features drag queens competing in challenges that involve fashion design, modeling, lip syncing and more. The seventh season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres Monday.
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“This is a great public platform to share my love and my story: You can come from nowhere and you can dream big and you can see your dreams realized,” Dam-Mikkelsen said. “It’s a chance to leave a beauty mark on the face of the planet.”
Dam-Mikkelsen, who’s one of six siblings, had a typical North County upbringing. He helped out on his family’s farm; showed chickens, cows and rabbits as a member of 4-H and FFA; and took classes in agriculture beef management and welding atTempleton High School
“My family loved me and accepted me (but) they didn’t know how to deal with what I was,” said Dam-Mikkelsen, citing a lack of gay male role models. “I really did feel like a circle in a square family.”
After graduating from Templeton High in 2003, he attended beauty school and worked at a Paso Robles salon before moving to Sacramento in 2008.
Dam-Mikkelsen hadn’t considered a career in modeling before he agreed to pose for a friend’s portrait series.
“I saw myself through her eyes, and I felt beautiful for the first time. I felt confident,” he recalled. “That photographer showed me the light I wasn’t able to see myself.”
From Kurtis to Miss Fame
After catching the eye of New York fashion photographer Mike Ruiz at a Northern California runway show, Dam-Mikkelsen moved to New York City in April 2011. Although the public transportation system puzzled him at first — “You’re like, ‘I’ve never taken a cab before. How does this work?’ ” he joked — he quickly felt at home.
“The city was moving at a pace I was thinking at and moving at already,” he said.
Dam-Mikkelsen originally hoped to establish himself as a male model, but agents weren’t interested in a thin, tattooed guy with a mohawk dressed mostly in black. “I was very edgy,” he said.
So he started working as a makeup artist, spending 10 months with MAC Cosmetics before becoming a freelancer.
Around the same time, Dam-Mikkelsen was creating a drag persona: Miss Fame, an elegant, sophisticated beauty with the Old Hollywood glamour of actress Marlene Dietrich and the charisma of 1990s supermodel Linda Evangelista.
“I was transforming my clients, and I was transforming myself,” recalled Dam-Mikkelsen, whose list of high-profile clients includes R&B singer Martha Wash, talk-show host Wendy Williams and reality-show star Heidi Montag. He also shares makeup tutorials on his “Miss Fame” channel on YouTube.
Miss Fame, he said, is “an extension of my creativity. It’s a beautiful and colorful extension of my personality.”
His transformation from ordinary man to larger-than-life drag queen starts with the face, he said.
“That’s when I start to feel the transition from being Kurtis to being Miss Fame. It’s like channeling an energy from beyond my body,” Dam-Mikkelsen explained. “Doing my makeup is like meditation. I’m taking a moment to get in character.”
That character, he’s discovered, is a hit with New York City’s fashionable set.
In recent years, Miss Fame has walked the runway during New York Fashion Week, graced the pages of photographer Mary McCartney’s book “Devoted” and appeared in music videos by Brooke Candy, Gorgon City and RuPaul. Appearances on MTV’s “Snooki & JWoww” and in photographer Leland Bobbé’s “Half-Drag” portrait series garnered more attention.
Now Miss Fame is entering the national spotlight on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Being on a show like that is giving a lot of light to the gay community, the art community, the community of drag,” Dam-Mikkelsen said. By appearing as a contestant, he hopes to inspire “young gay kids wanting to find self-confidence and self-love,” he said.
“It’s a lot of pressure because I don’t want to let anybody down,” he said. “I always want to show up looking my best, feeling my best. I want to show up exuding who I am.”
Dam-Mikkelson will be in New York when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” premieres on Monday; he shares a home in Midtown Manhattan with his husband, Patrick Bertschy. But his Central Coast family will be watching at home in T-shirts and tank tops decorated with Miss Fame’s face.
Templeton resident Kirsten Dam-Mikkelsen said she couldn’t be prouder of the man she considers a brother. Although she’s technically Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen’s aunt, the two are only five years apart in age — so close they chat every day via Apple’s FaceTime app.
“I can’t believe he’s come so far from little old Templeton,” said Kirsten Dam-Mikkelsen, a stay-at-home mom of 4-month-old twins. “It’s just insane. It’s incredible. It’s amazing.”