Ekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova or just Katya is an authentic and atypical american drag queen character played by Brian McCook. Katya participated in a very popular LGBT reality show, RuPaul Drag Queen Race on Logo TV. Not long after the show began, she was one of the most popular contestants for season 7. Katya performs songs of many popular Russian singers and bands, such as Alla Pugacheva, TATU, GlukOZA and many more. Because of her spectacular performances, these songs have drawn a lot of attention in gay clubs worldwide. How did Brian come up with this “So-Russian” character? What is it like being an american, transforming into a Russian woman everyday? What actually lies behind the “happy” drag queen mask? Read on to find out.
How did you come up with Ekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova character? What story lies behind that name?
It’s just a composite of some typical Russian names and one of my favorite Russian gymnast – Elena Zamolodchikova. I also like the last name because it’s very long and impossible for Americans to pronounce!
How many times have you tried to say “Zamolodchikova” until you said it right?
I got it right the first time! Ha ha!
Where is Katya from?
Katya is the character that was born in Odessa, Ukraine and then has been raised in Moscow.
Has she changed since she moved to the US?
She is a lot happier now; because she feels that in the United States she is allowed to express the full spectrum of her sexuality (she’s bisexual!).
In fact, you aren’t of Russian origin. Where and why did you pick up this interest in Russian language and culture?
I’ve always loved foreign languages. I became very proficient in French, and then decided I wanted to try and learn another language that was very different. I’ve always loved the way Russian language sounds, so I chose that! I also became very interested in Russian literature. I love Tolstoy, Bunin, Bulgakov and I adore the poems of Akhmatova.
Did you read those books in Russian or in English?
I read them in English! My Russian language comprehension is not good enough to allow me to read these masters’ works in their native language.
Were you able to understand the meaning of «mysterious Russian soul»?
In many ways, I feel like I have a mysterious Russian soul! Well I’ve always had a tendency to relate to everything in life to some kind of a deeper, spiritual or philosophical importance. And also the darkness of Katya’s character is that she is always finding the deepest meaning in suffering. There is a quote by Dostoevsky, which describes this perfectly: “The most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything.” This is what inspires Katya, a very dark point of the world, through a lens of suffering, but it’s balanced with a silliness and absurdity.
Is there anything that you completely don’t get in Russians? Have you ever happened to think: «Why in the world that people are doing this or that?»
I was disheartened and a bit confused by the legislation in Russia towards the acknowledgment of homosexuality. But this kind of homophobic mindset is everywhere, which is very very sad!
Have you ever been to Russia?
I have not. I am dying to go!
What are the resemblances and differences between Brian and Katya?
Katya is a lot more mysterious, sexual, and sweaty. We’re both pretty weird though.
There’s an opinion that often in real life behind the clown’s mask is hidden a sad and lonely person. How would you describe yourself when you are being yourself and not in the character of Katya? What is Brian like when he is alone and not playing a role?
I definitely relate to the whole “sad clown” cliché. I guess it’s a cliché for a reason! Although, when I’m not in character, most of the time I’m very happy and positive, but I have moments of very dark sadness, doubt and loneliness. But I think Katya has helped me, as Brian, become more comfortable!
As I know, you are a big fan of Russian show biz? Who is your favorite Russian artist? What Russian songs do you lip-sync on your shows? What is your favorite song?
For many years I have only listened to Russian music. I love Alla Pugacheva, of course, and I have lip-synced to many of her songs. I saw her concert in Boston a few years ago, and it was magical. I also love Glukoza, Irina Allegrova, Verka Serduchka, Pelageya, Filipp Kirkorov, Valeriy Meladze, Kristina Orbakaite… Actually, the list goes on and on! Kirkorov did a Russian-language version of the musical “Chicago” that, I think, is better than the American version! I can’t pick a favorite though – there are too many of them.
Questions to you as an American who is into Russian culture: what are the differences that you see between Russians and Americans?
Russians are a lot more blunt. I frequently come in contact with the older generation who moved to Boston and who seemed to have preserved their Russian culture here in the States. They are direct and can seem cold, but I like it. They are not fake. They can come off as a bit rude sometimes, but when they smile, their smiles light up the room.
So you’re saying that Americans are fake?
Some are! Not everyone, of course, but it’s rare to find this directness, at least where I’m from.
You took part in RPDQR casting four times. How did you get into Season 7? Choosing between all 7 seasons, what season would you be in? What is your favorite season?
During my most recent audition I said to myself that that would be my last time auditioning, and I got it! This is by far my favorite season, and it’s exactly where I belong. There are so many different types of characters; it’s very refreshing.
I think what sets me apart is my unique sense of humor. You get a taste of this on the show, but it really comes across in my YouTube series. Also, I’m really honest, maybe, too honest HAHAHA, and I think people find that relatable. And I’m a nice person – it is not a very sexy thing for a reality competition show, but I really loved all the girls and still do, and was just so in awe of their talents. I also think that I straddled the line between two very distinct camps in season 7, especially among the top 5: Pearl and Violet were incredible on the runway, and Ginger and Kennedy were incredible in the challenges. I think for the most part, I did a very good job in both (besides episode 11 – yikes!)
Has your life changed after the show? Has your personality changed?
Things have already changed so much, and we’re not even halfway through the show. I have been traveling all over the country, and I have been getting a great response. Also, Russian people have been very excited to see me perform Russian songs, and that makes me very happy.
What have you learned from your experience on TV? How does it feel seeing yourself on TV?
I have learned not to doubt myself, and not to hold anything back. It’s very strange to see myself on TV. I become shy when I watch myself. It’s very surreal.
So now that you’ve been on a reality show, how real is that? Or is it all scripted?
People say all the time that it’s scripted or heavily edited, but for me everything is as real as it can be. It truly is a reality show, just with sound effects.
As a matter of fact, the more you show up on TV, the more you are becoming popular. But it seems that the popularity of reality show participants is dropping down right after the last episode of the show. What do you think about that? Do you have an idea of how to keep your popularity?
I’m trying to take advantage of the exposure to keep people interested in what I do. This is the purpose of my video series on my YouTube channel “welovekatya”. Each week I release a video called “RuGRETS” which is a self-deprecating treatment of the things that I regret from the show and also from my life – just a funny, light-hearted way of summarizing each episode. Then I have “RuFLECTIONS” which is a chance to show more of my Russian character. It’s more mysterious, absurd, and, of course, very silly, which is exactly how I would describe myself in drag. You should check them out! I hope to film an episode in Moscow one day.
Russia in your videos is very dark, depressed and kind of gothic country. Do you really see Russia this way or is it what your audience wishes to see?
I think it plays off how America views Russia, but I also like to add elements of absurdist humor and nonsensical philosophical musings, because I don’t want to just reinforce Cold War stereotypes of the way Americans view Russia.
When did you understand that you would take a career of a drag queen? And why have you chosen that path?
I didn’t plan it at all! It almost started as a joke. I was in art school, and I decided to play a Russian character to host a show. I modeled it after my Russian language teacher. And then I ended up really liking this character so I performed in drag shows and became popular!
Drag Queen is your lifetime career or maybe one day you decide to do something else? If yes, what would it be?
I would like to do this for a while, but in a bigger capacity. I would like to develop more characters, and I would love to have my own television show.
Was your family supportive from the beginning?
They are extremely supportive. I am so grateful and lucky to have their support. They are cheering me on very enthusiastically.
Do they come to your shows?
They have been to my show several times. They are absolutely wonderful. And, of course, they are very excited to watch me on Drag Race!
There are quite a lot of people out there saying and thinking: “I don’t get it. Why in the world a man would dress up into a woman?”… What would be your response to those people? Would you be able to explain that? Maybe even change their mind?
It’s just another form of comedy, and entertainment, and performance art. It’s like clowning, or acting, or even stripping! Also, drag queens have always been the mascots for the gay population. They are a colorful embodiment of the fun, intelligence, subversive humor and creativity that have long been a signature of the gay community.
You are an artist, a comical character. Your audience is always wants you to make them laugh. What do you do if you are not in the mood and it’s your turn to get on the stage?
Sometimes I’m not in the mood before the show, but as soon as I get on stage that changes and I always try my best.
Has it ever happened to you when you are on the stage and performing, but the audience just “isn’t behaving”? What are you doing to get their attention back on you?
I usually scream or throw something at them! HAHA
How much time does it take to turn from Brian to Katya? (makeup, costumes…)
I like to have 2 hours to transform.
Who is the most gorgeous woman in the world?
Svetlana Khorkina. 🙂
What Katya can do and Brian can’t?
It’s all mostly sexual, and too lurid to print here. Send me a message on twitter @katya_zamo, and I’ll tell you! 🙂
Andre Akimov, Konstantin Voronov for Russian Chicago Mag
photo: Sean M Johnson