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Borough drag queen debuts on national television

TimesLedger Newspapers

Drag queens from all around the country strive to win on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” but it is only in Season 4 that fans have gotten to watch a queen from Queens.

Sunnyside resident Paulo Arabejo, better known as Jiggly Caliente, is one of 13 contestants on Season 4 of the LGBT cable channel Logo’s reality show.

On “Drag Race,” female impersonators often face unique challenges such as fighting off drag queen zombies for fabric to make dresses, acting in a sitcom set in prison or posing for a photo on a spinning platform while being squirted with paint.

Famous drag queen RuPaul conducts the contest and the winner gets a trip, a lifetime supply of makeup, $100,000 and the opportunity to headline the show’s tour.

“It gave me the chance of a lifetime,” Caliente said of competing. “What person would turn that down?”

Only three episodes of this season’s program have aired, but with her round frame and penchant for lollipops, Caliente has already made an impression with fans and detractors alike. In the first episode, she won best photo shoot and saved herself from elimination with a rousing lip-synch to Britney Spears’ song “Toxic.”

But Caliente also earned criticism when another contestant, Sharon Needles, said she was dating another drag queen and Caliente made a disparaging comment. Caliente later apologized and Needles said on Facebook they had since made up.

“I had good and bad feedback from it,” Caliente said. “But that’s what you get from being on the show.”

Caliente said the fourth season has been focused on getting to know the contestants, including their sometimes painful stories. In the show and in the “Untucked” companion show, Caliente has talked about losing her mother, being bullied and her weight.

“This season, you get to know the people behind the mask,” she said, “behind the beauty, behind the makeup, behind the glamour.”

Caliente said while she cried a lot on the show, she made friends during filming last year with the other contestants, who helped her with her problems.

“Last summer was the best and biggest therapy I’ve had and it helped me grow so much,” Caliente said.

Growing up, Caliente said her mother wanted her to be a doctor or nurse, but she always wanted to work in the arts. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for comic book illustration but became a professional drag queen after she found she loved performing. Her drag name comes from the “Pokemon” character Jigglypuff and the Spanish word for “hot.”

“It’s basically an exaggeration of who I really am,” Caliente said of her persona. “When Jiggly’s around, I just go from a 7 to a 10.”

While California native RuPaul once called Caliente a queen “from the ’hood,” Caliente said that was the one part of the reality show that was not true. Caliente was born in the Polynesian Islands and lives with her brother in the Sunnyside apartment where she grew up.

“I’ve loved living in Queens and I’ll never leave,” she said. “I’m minutes from the city and I have the quiet of the suburbs.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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